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The evolution of health and safety in rubber manufacturing

By January 25, 2018 No Comments

With a proven track record in the field of rubber-to-metal bonding, we’ve been creating highly engineered rubber compounds for numerous applications and environments for over 80 years. This extensive experience has seen the process used to “construct” the required rubber compounds change somewhat over time.

Nowadays, the process is cleaner, safer and more efficient than ever. In this blog post, Bill Mortel focuses on three key areas we have transformed to make the manufacture of rubber products healthier and safer for both those in the manufacturing process, and the end user too.

 

Carbon Black

For rubber compounding, carbon black is a key component. Mixed with elastomers, curatives, processing oils and various organic processing chemicals, these elements produce rubber compounds for a variety of different purposes. The prime purpose of the carbon is to reinforce the rubber to improve its physical strength and other engineering properties, making it a crucial element and a difficult one to substitute (although alternatives are available, carbon blacks are still the prime selection for this purpose). However, being finer than soot, carbon black is notorious for dirtying factories and workers across the world.

Historically, it has been handled in various ways, but still has a tendency to allow some level of contamination. The very fine nature of this material can easily result in it spreading over a large area, and once it has made its mark, it’s difficult to clean up after or repaint over. In recent years at Trelleborg, we’ve introduced processes which have massively improved the cleanliness of our factories and health of our workers. Through operational design, filtering, containment and enhancing handling practices, the amount of exposure employees – and our neighbors – now have to carbon black dust from the manufacturing process is minimized. This leads to healthier and cleaner work environment for all.

 

Rubber Mixing Process

The manufacture of rubber compounds can be compared to baking a fruitcake. There are lots of different small ingredients added in by the baker and mixed together to get exactly the right outcome. As identified earlier, the basic ingredients for rubber are the elastomer, carbon, oil and a selection of chemicals to enable curing, processing and environmental protection. Within our industry the selection of chemicals are often known as “small powders” because relative to the total batch size they are small (possibly 5% or less of the total batch weight).

A factory worker (the baker) may at times be exposed to those powders. For a long time, there was little known about the potentially harmful properties of some of these chemicals, which could lead to (over)exposure for employees. Over many years there has been continuous development and improvement in the handling and understanding of these chemicals in the manufacturing process. REACH legislation has further highlighted and clarified the material categories. At AVS we have worked hard to understand the impact of all the chemicals used in our manufacturing process and to either remove the materials, or put in place the correct mitigation to prevent hazardous dust and fumes.

 

Solvents

The impact of solvents on changing and enhancing modern life is also an area for continued scrutiny. To put it into perspective, without solvents many products we use in our everyday life would not meet the same standards. Businesses like ours have traditionally used them to make products, clean and degrease components, and utilized within various types of paints and adhesives. However, they are also a potentially harmful emission from the manufacturing process. It has become apparent to everyone that the release of solvents into the atmosphere can cause a potential risk to health, and have also been directly attributed to the reduction of the Earth’s Ozone layer.

Legislation was clearly needed to establish standards of what’s allowed to be sent out into the atmosphere from factories. Introductions including the Solvents Emissions Directive have done just that. As part of our mission for a sustainable and safer future, we have implemented solvent capture methods linked to a filtered air extraction system. In this way, we can ensure we are protecting the environment and meet the toughest industry standards. At open days local residents have expressed amazement about our manufacturing processes which they cannot detect from their homes (unlike the local recycling plant!)

One thing is for sure: the rubber manufacturing industry will continue to get cleaner, safer and more effective through innovation and understanding. Our core values include a responsibility to protect people and the environment and to achieve this we will continue to implement all necessary measures and procedures.

About Trelleborg AVS

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