What is Rubber Used For?

Rubber Extrusions

Due to its mechanical properties, rubber is extremely versatile and can be useful in many applications ranging from automobile tyres to heart valves to gaskets in jet planes. One of the main advantages of rubber over other engineering materials is its elasticity. Rubber is often used in seals and gaskets as it can deform and elastically recover much more than other materials. Seals and O-rings are often made from rubber as it is durable, highly flexible and can be easily moulded to fit any shape. Many synthetic rubbers are oil-resistant which makes them a great choice of material for oil seals or petrol hoses. 

Rubber absorbs energy as it deforms and recovers, making it a great material choice for buffer sections to provide impact protection. Rubber is commonly used in springs and as shock and vibration absorbers such as car suspension, earthquake bearings, rail pads and bridge bearings. Rubber springs allow relatively high levels of deflection and can hold considerably more weight than other springs. When selecting a rubber for these applications it is important to consider the resilience of rubber. Resilience is defined as the capacity of a material to recover from deformation or to spring back. Depending on the application the rubber may be required to absorb or to give back more energy.  

Rubber Spring
Figure 7: Rubber spring.

In a shock absorber the rubber is required to absorb the external energy which is acting on it and therefore a low resilience rubber should be chosen. Low resilience rubbers exhibit better wear and less heat loss. On the other hand, a rubber with high resilience should be chosen for a spring like application as this will allow the rubber to “bounce” back and give back the energy which is put into it. Most applications require that the rubber exhibit a behaviour which is a balance between a spring and a shock absorber. 

Another use for rubber is in shock mats which can be used in gyms, construction sites and industrial workplaces. The rubber mats are used to protect the flooring and equipment by absorbing and dissipating the incoming energy. Rubber will return to its original shape even after being compressed for long periods of time due to its low compression set. 

Another important feature of rubber is its ability to insulate. Rubber is widely used in electrical mats and wire cables as well as being used for overhead power line spacers. Electricity cannot flow through rubber as the electrons are tightly bound and are not able to move freely. Rubber has a high melting and boiling point meaning that certain rubbers can be used in very high temperature applications. 

When choosing the right properties for a particular application, it is important to remember that the rubber does not always need to exhibit high levels of each material property. The rubber should be chosen based on the intended use of the material. 

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