Rubber and rubber-based products have long been among the best-known exports from Sri Lanka. Rubber (Hevea brasiliensis) cultivation started in Sri Lanka in 1876 while Sri Lanka, then called Ceylon, was under British hegemony. Natural rubber is composed of long isoprene polymer chains, loosely connected. The chains reattach themselves when pulled apart, which lends rubber its elasticity. Compared to synthetic rubbers, which are made from petrochemicals, natural rubber is made from the latex sap - a thick, creamy white, milky emulsion, although sometimes it may be a thin, clear, yellow or orange, aqueous suspension – produced by the rubber trees.
Even though many other plants such as artichokes, chamomile, chicory, dandelions, escarole, lettuce, sunflowers, oyster plants, tarragon hops, marijuana, hackberries, poinsettias, figs, mulberries, Osage-orange, banyan trees etc also produce latex, rubber trees are the most efficient at producing rubber, which makes them the suppliers of latex for 99% of natural rubber.
The natural rubber has flexibility and strength. Compared to other rubbers, natural rubber is one of the most flexible types, and it's resistant to water and certain chemicals. It's also resistant to cutting, tearing, wear, fatigue, and abrasion, with a working range between -58 to 212 degrees F. That apart, it has high tensile strength and adheres easily to other materials.
Natural rubber is used in applications that require a high degree of wear and heat resistance. Also, it's used in applications that require flexibility, adhesibility, water-resistance and high tensile strength, etc. Since there are practically countless applications where natural rubber is more or less used, we'd like to list here some of the best-known uses of natural rubber as a representative sample.
Tires: Today, automobile tires are made up of 50% natural rubber, and tires used for aircraft are made out of 100% natural rubber. The reason for this is that the properties of natural rubber make it optimal for creating "radial" tires, a design that emerged in the 1970s and is far superior to its predecessor. About 50% of the global natural rubber produce goes into the manufacture of tires.
Other automotive components: Natural rubber is used to manufacture seals and various forms of padding for many automobile parts. For example, it pads the brakes and is in the seals of the windows and windshields. It is also used to produce airbags that protect drivers and passengers from being injured in high-impact accidents.
Clothing: In its fibrous form, natural rubber forms elastic, which is used to manufacture tight-fitting and stretchable clothing such as wetsuits and cycling shorts.
Flooring: Many gymnasia, commercial kitchens, animal shelters, and even playgrounds choose rubber as the material for their flooring. Rubber provides a surface that prevents fatigue, offers padding, and is both slip-resistant and waterproof. It’s easy to maintain and durable, which makes it an ideal flooring material there.
Natural Rubber Gaskets: Gaskets are used in between two or more mechanical parts, usually to prevent leakage or to fill less-than-perfect mating space between them. Gaskets are vital to the proper functioning of any type of machinery.
Nozzles: Creating nozzles with rubber allows for them to spray rubber latex and more substances and rubber nozzles are more durable than other spray nozzles.
Erasers: Joseph Priestly, in 1770, discovered that the product could rub away marks made from pencils on paper, thus giving the material its name and sparking off the production of erasers.
Products made from a Natural Rubber Sheet: The natural rubber sheets can be cut and fashioned into many different products such as hoses, belts, and seals among a multitude of similar products.
Ducting: Rubber can be turned into a variety of ducting products.
Adhesives and Coatings: In its latex form, rubber can be used as an adhesive or a protective coating for many surfaces.
Rubber Gloves: Rubber gloves from Sri Lanka provide hand protection for people working in many industries from dentistry to mining
Anti-vibration: Rubber can be turned into pads or mounts for machinery to ensure that vibration does not affect its performance. It can also be used to produce soundproofing materials.
Lining: Rubber is an optimal material for lining bins, chutes, and mixers that are used industrially. Its protective qualities such as being water-proof, resilient, and an insulator make it perfect for these applications.Flotation: Rubber goes into the production of things such as inner tubes which serve to keep surfaces and even people afloat
Due to the unique properties and attributes of natural rubber, it yields some valuable advantages which are reflected in the aforementioned industrial applications.
High resistance to wear & tear
Due to this, tires that are made 100% of natural rubber or some percentage of it last long whilst they help maintain the right grip or friction on the road so as not to slide or skid.
Comparatively inexpensive to produce
Sourcing natural rubber or latex sap isn't very expensive where labour comes cheap since natural rubber production is a simple process that doesn’t require expensive manufacturing facilities etc. The skill of tapping rubber trees to collect latex sap isn’t hard to learn either so even complete novices can learn it in no time.
Good low-temperature flexibility
Rubber has a working temperature range between -58 to 212 degrees F, which means it’s pretty much flexible in such a low temperature as -5 degrees F.
High tensile strength
Rubber has such high tensile strength that stretching cannot easily break or tear it, which makes it a safe material for many important applications.
Low odour (compared to synthetic rubber)
The low odour of natural rubber makes it an ideal material for a whole range of products that come into close and frequent contact with people.
Because rubber is water-resistant, even constant exposure to water doesn't cause rubber products to age or weaken or chip away or break.
Because natural rubber is 100% hypoallergenic, it can be safely used in clothing and footwear or watch straps, gloves, condoms, and the likes that closely contact the skin.
Since natural rubber inhibits bacterial growth, natural rubber products are very unlikely to be an agent or carrier of bacterial diseases.
Natural rubber is biodegradable, so it doesn't contribute to the pollution of the environment.
Rubber inhibits the dust mites or allergens that may cause many health problems indoors.
It’s equally usable outdoors as well as indoors
Since exposure to the elements has little effect on rubber, it can be used for all kinds of products used indoors and outdoors.
Sustainable and green production
Rubber is eco-friendly as its latex sap is derived from the rubber trees which help to produce oxygen and counter global warming and when the trees die, the land can be strategically reforested to continue the production without unsettling the ecological balance.