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RUBBER PRODUCT

MANUFACTURING
INDUSTRY

Kristine Reyes
1/21/2010
Kristine M. Reyes 1995-55585 2

NATURE OF THE RUBBER PRODUCT MANUFACTURING INDUSTRY


The first manufacturers of rubber products were said to be the Amazon people. It was
only in the nineteenth century that Europeans started using rubber to create waterproof clothing
and equipment. Rubber product manufacturing was relatively small scale then and it was not
until 1839 when Charles Goodyear developed vulcanization that this industry grew.
Vulcanization is actually the technique utilized by rubber product manufacturers which modifies
the chemical structure of rubber making it strong enough to resist extreme heat and cold (Rubber
Product Manufacturers, 2005). At the turn of the twentieth century, “rubber boom” took place
resulting to expansion of rubber plantations and rubber product manufacturing worldwide. The
invention of bicycles followed by automobiles which requires the use of tires promoted the
global demand for rubber. During the latter part of the twentieth century, increasing costs of
natural rubber, mostly produced in Southeast Asia, paved the way for rubber product
manufacturers to utilize synthetic rubber compounds. New types of synthetic rubber compounds
with specialized properties and applications were developed by rubber product manufacturers to
meet the demands of an increasingly technological world (Rubber Product Manufacturers, 2005).
Synthetic rubber is mainly produced in industrialized countries such as the United States, Japan,
countries in Western and Eastern Europe. Brazil is the only developing country with a
significant synthetic rubber industry (Belisizky & Fajen, 1998).
The rubber product manufacturing industry is made up of businesses involved in
processing natural, synthetic or reclaimed rubber materials to generate various intermediate or
final products. More than 40,000 different products can be made from rubber. In most
countries, the industry is divided into two sectors: tire and non-tire. The tire manufacturing
industry comprises establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing tires and inner tubes from
natural and synthetic rubber and in retreading or rebuilding tires (U.S. Census Bureau, 2007).
Tire and tire products account for 60% of synthetic rubber use and 75% of natural rubber
consumption (Belisizky & Fajen, 1998). The non-tire sector covers companies involved in the
manufacture of other rubber products from belts, hoses, to footwears, birth control devices and
gloves. Non-tire rubber products are used by virtually all industries but the dominant market is
the automotive sector. Rubber hoses, belts, airbags, mats, gaskets and bumpers are just some
products that are being manufactured for use in automobiles.
ECONOMIC RELEVANCE OF RUBBER PRODUCT MANUFACTURING INDUSTRY
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The rubber industry has a tremendous global impact. Products made from rubber have
become vital to all kinds of human activities increasing their demand. In 2005, consumption of
natural rubber worldwide reached 8.74 million tons while utilization of synthetic rubber was
pegged at 11.92 million tons (Maspanger, Budiman, Syamsu, & Haris, 2006). The global
demand for industrial rubber products is estimated to rise to 4.3% annually through 2013 to
$97.8 billion (Rubber Industry Global Overview).
According to IBIS World U.S. Industry Report, the rubber product manufacturing
industry in the U.S. has total revenue of $15.3 billion in 2010 with a revenue growth of 3.2%. It
exported $770 million worth of merchandise to other countries. In 2004 the industry employed
173,000 workers in more than a thousand manufacturing plants. Approximately $2.8 billion was
generated by employees working in this industry in 2010.
A look at the rubber industry in the Philippines reveals that the country ranks sixth in
world rubber production with a total of 99.7 thousand hectares of rubber planting mainly in
Mindanao and Palawan (Maspanger, et. al., 2006). The domestic production of rubber has
grown substantially over the past seven years from 214,575 metric tons in 1999 to 315,600
metric tons for the year 2005 (Raymundo, 2007). The Bureau of Postharvest Research and
Extension (BPRE) reports that domestic consumption of rubber in 2006 was 160,000-180,000
with a 15-20% increase in demand annually. Seventy percent of the total natural rubber
production is utilized by the tire and construction industries while the rest goes to other non-tire
products. The rubber product manufacturing sector with about 160 companies employs almost
15,000 people, or an equivalent of more than 90 people employed per manufacturing
establishment. In 1996, the Philippines exported $61.5 million worth of rubber products. These
are exported mainly in Taiwan, mainland China, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong and Germany.

PROCESSES IN RUBBER PRODUCT MANUFACTURING


There are seven basic processes in manufacturing rubber products: mixing, milling,
extruding, calendaring, building or fabrication, vulcanizing and finishing.
The first step in the rubber product manufacturing process is mixing which involves the
production of rubber mix from raw and/or synthetic rubber and the addition of various additives.
The additives depend on the desired composition of the product and usually include filler,
extender oils, accelerators and antioxidants. The process requires weighing and loading of these
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ingredients in a mixer, known as “Banbury” mixer, in order to combine them. The mixer creates
a homogenous rubber mass which is then discharged to or placed in a rubber sheeting mill. This
equipment will form the rubber into long strips or sheets. During this process, the formed sheets
of rubber pass through water-based “anti-tack” solution to prevent them from sticking together.
Then the sheets are cooled using cool air or through contact with cooling water. After cooling,
the sheets or rubber are passed through another mill to warm them up for further processing on
extruders and calendars.
Extruders transform the rubber into various shapes by forcing it through dies. Calendars,
on the other hand, receive hot strips of rubber from mills and squeeze them into reinforcing fiber
or cloth-like fiber materials to form thin sheets of rubber coated materials. Non-reinforced,
thickness-controlled sheets of rubber can also be produced by calendars.
Next, extruded and calendered components are combined with wire, polyester and other
reinforcing materials to produce various rubber products. To enhance the bonding of the various
product layers, adhesives called cements may be used. This fabrication, reinforcing, pre-curing
and bonding process is referred to as building.
All rubber products undergo vulcanization or curing. During this process, the elastic
quality of the rubber is enhanced through cross-linking of the polymer chains in the rubber
matrix. There are three widely used methods of curing: press mould curing, autoclave curing,
and hot air curing. Press mould curing uses high temperature and pressure and is often used for
tire and engineered rubber products. Autoclave curing utilises saturated steam and high pressure
and is predominantly used in non-tire rubber manufacturing facilities. Hot air curing involves
the passing of uncured products through a chamber with a heated atmosphere. This process is
used to final cure preformed products. The last process is finishing which may include grinding,
printing, washing, wiping and buffing to remove rough edges and other blemishes from the final
product.

OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH AND SAFETY CONCERN


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The process of manufacturing of rubber products entails health and safety hazards from
the raw materials and from the various equipment used. This section discusses the different
hazards present in these manufacturing plants.
A. Chemical hazard
The manufacture of rubber products subjects workers to exposure to various
chemicals. These chemicals are grouped into various functional categories: elastomers,
fillers, antidegradents, vulcanizing agents, solvents, accelerators, activators, retarders,
reinforcing agents, pigments and dyes, antitack agents, bonding agents and miscellaneous
chemicals (Sullivan, Van Ert, & Lewis, 2001). Exposure to these chemicals may be
through inhalation or skin absorption. Concern for cancer risk among rubber products
workers was raised even in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Various studies revealed excess
deaths from bladder, lymphatic and hematopoietic, lung, stomach and colon, prostate,
liver and biliary and esophageal cancers among these workers. The lymphatic and
hematopoietic cancers were associated with exposure to benzene (which was widely used
in rubber industry many years ago) and 1,3-butadiene.
Adverse respiratory effects are also reported in some studies conducted by
Harvard University. Increased prevalence of respiratory symptoms and chronic disabling
pulmonary diseases such as emphysema were noted among rubber workers in the curing,
processing (premixing, weighing, mixing, and heating of raw ingredients), and finishing
and inspection areas of tire and non-tire plants (National Institute for Occupational Safety
and Health, 1997).
Direct contact with rubber and the different chemicals used in this industry have
resulted to cases of adverse skin reactions such as irritant contact dermatitis, allergic
contact dermatitis, contact urticaria (hives), aggravation of pre-existing skin diseases and
other less common skin disorders such as oil folliculitis, xerosis (dry skin), miliaria (heat
rash) and depigmentation from certain phenol derivatives (Taylor & Leow, 1998). The
most common skin reaction is irritant contact dermatitis caused by exposure to strong
chemicals or weaker irritants found in wet work and frequent use of solvents. Allergic
contact dermatitis is due to contact with accelerators, vulcanizers, anti-oxidants and anti-
ozonants.
B. Physical hazard
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Rubber products workers are also exposed to noise. Machines used in the
different process operations are the main source of noise in the work environment. Noise
exposure may be attributed to machine operation, generator operation, boiler operation,
mechanical workshop and cutting, grinding and finishing operations (Maspanger, et. al.,
2006).
Heat poses a concern for workers stationed in the curing or vulcanizing process.
Rubber products are shaped in their desired forms through application of high
temperature and pressure. Workers are at increased risk for burn injuries secondary to
contact with hot surfaces of curing machines. In hot air curing, workers are exposed to a
hot environment because this involves passing uncured products through a chamber with
a heated atmosphere.
C. Ergonomic hazard
Musculoskeletal disorders have been reported in rubber product manufacturing
plants particularly in tire industry. Risk factors that were identified include static,
awkward postures in the back, shoulders and wrists, rapid motions in the wrist and back,
and large weights handled, as well as large forces applied to the trunk while handling
large pieces of rubber during tire building (Marras, 1998). Back injuries are common
problems as well as wrist problems like carpal tunnel syndrome and tenosynovitis. In
tire-building operations, disorders of the lower back are attributed to the heavy loads
being handled. Performing this task during asymmetric motions of the trunk and for
longer duration aggravates the problem.
D. Safety hazard
Safety hazards are largely observed in the operation of milling and calendaring
machines. Running nip accidents (getting caught in the rotating rolls) are common
causes of injuries. Several issues are identified with the problem of mill safety: mill
height, the size of the operator, auxiliary equipment, the way the mill is worked, the tack
or stickiness of the stock and stopping distance. These concerns contribute to the overall
safety of the workers when it comes to the operation of the mills.
Sources of injuries in the operation of calenders include clearing jams and
adjusting material, running nip injuries, threading up and communications. The increased
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speed in calenders and lack of sensing device likewise serve as factors for most of the
accidents associated with these machines.

PRIORITY HEALTH AND SAFETY PROGRAM


In the rubber product manufacturing industry the predominant hazards that are identified
are chemical agents. A comprehensive program covering issues regarding this hazard should be
implemented. First of all, a complete inventory of the chemicals used for each process should be
made with corresponding MSDS for each chemical made available and displayed. Proper
storage and labelling of containers for these chemicals should be observed to avoid accidental
spills or mix-ups. Workers directly in contact with them should undergo proper training on their
handling and use as well as training on the appropriate personal protective equipment to be
utilized. Engineering controls should also be placed or applied to eliminate or reduce exposure
such as isolation, local exhaust ventilation and automation. Measurements of concentration of
the chemicals in the work environment (if available) can also be done periodically to monitor if
TLVs are still being met.
Noise exposure should also be addressed in this industry. Audiometry should be included
in pre-employment and annual physical examinations. Engineering control measures involve:
structural and mechanical modifications; proper maintenance of the machines; provision of
silencers on compressed air exhausts; replacement of old gear drive motors with new belt drive
ones; plugging of air leaks; reducing the transmission path of noise from the source to the
receiver; and providing proper acoustic enclosures, vibration insulator paddings for the noise-
generating machines and generators (Maspanger, et. al., 2006). Regulating the length of noise
exposures by proper shift scheduling or job rotation can also be adopted by the management.
The workers should be educated on possible consequences of excessive exposure and the
importance of the use of PPEs and their correct usage and maintenance.
Safety hazards can be minimized by ensuring that workers understand and observe proper
procedures when operating the machines. New machine operators must undergo training before
going on board and regular retraining thereafter. Safety signage must be in place as reminders
for workers to reduce work-related accidents or injuries. Vital to the program on safety hazards
is the implementation of engineering controls. The following can be adopted when appropriate:
use of electrical switch off systems and mechanical breaks to stop blade rotation when workers
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are in close proximity to the revolving parts; installation of emergency stop switches within
reach of operating stations; use of guards to prevent access to material feed openings and
discharge points; use of screens or flaps to protect against material flying out; and use of lock
out-tag out procedures. Regular maintenance of the equipment and machines should also be
observed.

REFERENCES
Rubber Product Manufacturers. (2005). Retrieved January 18, 2011, from Meere Industries:
http://www.meererubbermolding.com/rubber-product-manufacturers.htm

Rubber Product Manufacturing. (2010). Retrieved January 20, 2011, from IBIS World:
http://www.ibisworld.com/industry/default.aspx?indid=529
Kristine M. Reyes 1995-55585 9

Belisizky, L. S., & Fajen, J. (1998). Rubber Industry General Profile. In J. Stellman (Ed.),
Encyclopedia of Occupational Health and Safety (4th ed.). Geneva: International Labor
Office.

Bureau of Postharvest Research and Extension. (2007). Philippine Postharvest Industry Profile:
Rubber. Retrieved January 18, 2011, from
http://www.philmech.gov.ph/phindustry/rubber.htm

International Finance Corporation. (2007). Environmental, Health and Safety Guidelines for
Metal, Plastic and Rubber Product Manufacturing. Retrieved from International Finance
Corporation:
http://www.ifc.org/ifcext/enviro.nsf/AttachmentsByTitle/gui_EHSGuidelines2007_Metal
PlasticRubber/$FILE/Final+-+Metal,+Plastic,+and+Rubber+Products+Mnfg.pdf

Marras, W. S. (1998). Rubber Industry Ergonomics. In J. Stellman (Ed.), Encyclopedia of


Occupational Health and Safety (4th ed.). Geneva: International Labor Office.

Maspanger, D., Budiman, A., Syamsu, Y., & Haris, U. (2006). Priority Integration Sector
Specialist–Rubber Based Products. ASEAN Secretariat.

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. (1997). Special NIOSH Hazard
Review:Rubber Products Manufacturing Industry. Retrieved January 18, 2011, from
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/rubberhr.html

National Pollutant Inventory. (2001). Emission Estimation Technique Manual for Rubber
Product Manufacture. Australia.

Raymundo, R. B. (2007). Determining the Role of the Philippine Natural Rubber and Rubber
Based Products Manufacturing Industries in the ASEAN Economic Integration Plan.
Manila.

Rubber Industry Global Overview. (n.d.). Retrieved January 18, 2011, from Industrial Rubber
Goods: http://www.industrialrubbergoods.com/global-overview.html

Rubber Industry Job Descriptions, Careers in the Rubber Industry, Salary, Employment. (n.d.).
Retrieved January 18, 2011, from http://careers.stateuniversity.com/pages/604/Rubber-
Industry.html

Sullivan, J. B., Van Ert, M. D., & Lewis, R. (2001). Tire and Rubber Manufacturing Industry. In
J. B. Sullivan, & G. R. Krieger (Eds.), Clinical Environmental Health and Toxic
Exposures. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
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Taylor, J., & Leow, Y. H. (1998). Rubber Contact Dermatitis and Latex Allergy. In J. Stellman
(Ed.), Encyclopedia of Occupational Health and Safety (4th ed.). Geneva: International
Labor Office.

Townhill, J. R. (1998). Rubber Industry Safety. In J. Stellman (Ed.), Encyclopedia of


Occupational Health and Safety (4th ed.). Geneva: International Labor Office.

U.S. Census Bureau. (2007). Plastics and Rubber Products Manufacturing. Retrieved January
18, 2011, from U.S. Census Bureau:
http://www.census.gov/naics/2007/def/NDEF326.HTM

“This is an original work submitted by the undersigned in fulfilment of the requirements of OH


206. References are cited accordingly.”

Kristine M. Reyes
1995-55585