Method Development

Official industry standards are created, approved, and modified by designated expert committees within a standards organization. Many of the standards used within North America are set by ASTM (American Standard Test Method International). Typically, these committees meet a couple times per year to review changes and additions needed. They rely on submitted data and experimentation from the industry as guidance for establishing the methods. This process can take years depending upon the complexity of the standard and the schedule of the committee. The rapid speed of innovation has created an increase in the demand for new test method development. Since many of these innovations can’t afford long delays, test method development is determined during the development of the product. Instead of requesting a specific international test method be performed by a laboratory, they must review everything this product experiences in end application. From that a laboratory can begin to establish parameters and specifications. Simulation models for durability are often used to help identify potential limits.

Specialized Testing

With innovation comes unique applications. Often these applications require elastomers to perform in new, dynamic ways. Existing test equipment and methods sometimes can’t create the needed correlation to the end application. This requires specialized test fixtures and methodologies to be developed specific to that product application. Instead of asking a laboratory to test their product to a specific method, customers are now asking laboratories to find a way to simulate their product’s life cycle at an accelerated speed. This involves designing and engineering fixtures that create end application aging on the test specimen at a rapid rate. Once baselines are established, correlations must be drawn to actual field application. Matching these correlations will allow for product life cycle expectations to be calculated.

Customized testing can become an accredited test method even if it isn’t an international standard test method. If the laboratory creating and performing the test method is ISO /IEC 17025 accredited they can follow the procedure to have it added to their scope of accredited test methods.

Electrical Vehicle Technology

The automotive industry is one of the largest sectors for elastomers. When an industry sector that large innovates technology, it can dramatically change the landscape of the raw material sources feeding it. With current combustion engine technology many rubber products on an automobile are designed around heat and oil resistivity. Raw material selection and compound designs are centered around these specifications. A transition to full electric vehicles will completely change the desired properties of rubber products for the automotive industry. Electrical and thermal properties will soon become the two new buzz words. This transition dramatically swings the polymer selection and other raw material requirements. Additionally, it will change the types of testing required. Currently ASTM D2000 is a household term for a rubber chemist. As testing requirements continue to shift from oil aging and fuel resistance to surface resistivity and thermal conductivity, laboratories will be switching out aging blocks for multimeters and capacitors.

New methods will be required to best match the demand and strain seen in this application. Automotive companies are pushing weekly to extend battery life, speed charging, and find ways for continuous charging. Each of those improvements often result in changes to auxiliary products supporting the battery technology. The automotive industry has an aggressive timeline to transition towards electric vehicles. This requires the rubber industry to innovate products and test methods at rapid speeds.

Compliance Testing

On August 30, 2018 the amended version of California Proposition 65 took effect. This added a new layer of regulatory compliances to consider when making materials for the rubber industry. Depending on the where end products containing rubber components end up, there might be several compliance regulations in which one needs to conform. As the environment grows as a priority, globally the regulatory lists grow. This means rubber products entering these regions must be tested to see if they contain any of the elements or chemicals listed. Testing to identify these materials is typically done by X-Ray fluorescence (XRF) scanning or by extractions methods such as Inductively Coupled Plasma (ICP).

Higher Performance Requirements

We now live in a time where automobiles regularly last past 200,000 miles, airplanes travel half the distance of the globe on a single flight, and high-tech instruments orbit space for decades. This means each component of these products must improve. Specifications on rubber components on automobiles have been updated several times over the past decade. The low temperature stability of aerospace gaskets have continued to get lower. Test specifications continue to grow in length every year. Suppliers of these products must have them tested by an accredited laboratory at specified recurrences to ensure they comply to these standards.

Going Forward

Innovation will continue to increase the demand for laboratory testing along with research and development. In an industry losing more technical people than it is gaining, that demand can become an issue. Third party and independent laboratories will need to bridge the resource gap while keeping up with the innovation demand. Recruitment of next generation engineers, chemists, and technicians is critical to the industry. Innovation cannot afford to be bottlenecked by rubber industry resource constraints.

As published in InsideRubber Q3 2019 edition