Have you ever wondered how companies produce latex? What is latex anyway? Here, we will go through everything you need to know about this incredible material. First, let’s take a look at how latex is produced and say a bit about its history.
Latex production history
The history of latex is quite long. In fact, many people are unaware that rubber was used by indigenous cultures that lived in Mesoamerica. One of the first mentions of natural latex and its use is by the Olmec culture, one of the earliest civilizations in Mesoamerica.
Interestingly, rubber was used to make balls for a game they were playing. And the tradition continued later on as well. Aztecs and Mayas also used rubber for making balls, but also for making various containers, and even making textiles waterproof.
One of the earlier papers on the properties of rubber was released in the 18th century, and it wasn’t long before rubber became popular in Europe. It wasn’t a surprise that South America remained one of the biggest sources of latex in the years to come. In 1876, a British explorer Henry Wickham smuggled seventy-thousands seeds from Brazil and brought them to England. After that, the rubber tree was sent to other parts of the world.
Today, the latex and rubber that you see from the LaidTex store are used in many industries and are an essential part of our lives.
Rubber trees farming and extraction
The first step would obviously be to plan the trees. Then, you will need to do a bit of waiting. But if we are talking about trees that are ready for farming, the situation is quite simple. We all know that rubber latex is extracted from rubber trees. But what is included in this process? After the first seven years, rubber trees will have an approximately 25 years long productive phase.
The container used to collect rubber is different for every location. Some will use coconut shells; others will go for pottery, aluminum, or something else. And then goes the tapping. The idea is to attach the cup to the tree, so the latex can flow into it. The entire process can take several hours, and it usually starts early in the morning to ensure the best flow.
The reason why this process requires precision is to avoid damaging the tree or even killing it. A goal here is to extract latex but to allow the tree to continue growing.
The number of natural rubber production
Using natural rubber is quite common. In fact, it is one of the essential polymers in production. There are over 40 thousand products that use natural rubber as their basis, from gloves to children’s toys. And we get natural rubber from latex.
There are 20,000 different species of plants that produce latex, but not all of them contain natural rubber. In fact, those that do contain it are in the minority. Only 2,500 species contain natural rubber. It only shows that rubber might not be as common as people believe.
Of course, the vast majority of these plants produce latex, which means that the production of this material won’t be as affected. It is worth mentioning that people have been trying to find an alternative for rubber in the past couple of years. The rubber trees are affected by numerous diseases (like South American leaf blight), and people might want to have more options. Finding an alternative also means that the new material might have the same characteristics without causing allergic reactions.
After the latex is collected in cups or containers, it is transferred either into coagulation tanks or into different containers with sieving for ammoniation. The process is necessary if the idea is to preserve latex and keep it for a longer period of time. From there on, latex is either processed into latex concentrate used for manufacturing or coagulated using formic acid.
The latter option is used in case there is a need to process it further into high-grade latex. The acid allows the latex to clump, making it easier to transport and roll into sheets. After the sheets are dried and smoked, the manufacturer will proceed to the process of prevulcanization, a chemical treatment and a heating process that makes the material usable and easier to transfer.
4 rubber manufacturing processes
There are many different manufacturing processes when it comes to rubber, but four are able to stand out. They are latex dipping, calendering, extrusion, and molding. Based on what you are trying to achieve, you will pick one of these four methods.
Latex dipping is one of the most common options. The idea behind it is quite simple. A person will take a mold, dip it into latex, and slowly pull it out. If they want the layer of latex to be thicker, they can just repeat the process.
Calendering requires counter-rotating rollers, and the material is pushed between them. The distance between the rollers will dictate the thickness. And the entire idea is used to create sheets of rubber. If you opt for this method, the sheets need to be vulcanized.
Extrusion uses a machine conveniently named extruder, and it uses unvulcanized material. Once it is inside the extruder, it will be guided to dye which is a tool used to determine the shape of the rubber. Once again, the product will require vulcanization after extrusion.
The final method we will mention here is molding. This method is quite old, and it exists in many different forms. Unlike the latex dipping, the mold here has a cavity. The material is pushed into the cavity, and once it cools down, it is possible to remove the mold leaving only a finished product.
Present day production
Some methods have improved a lot in the past couple of decades, while others remained mostly the same. It all comes down to what you are trying to achieve and whether you have resources for complex procedures.
For those that are looking to make clothing items at home, the simplest options are often the best. But if they plan on investing more, there are no limits to what they will be able to achieve.
Latex production has evolved a lot, and there is no doubt that it will change even further. With more and more people interested in buying latex clothing, the only thing that is certain is that we will see even more innovations in the future.