Laboratory testing is an incredibly valuable tool for assessing the performance and quality of latex and elastomer materials. Whether you’re in the early stages of product development, seeking validation for product launch, or investigating the cause of a product issue, lab testing can deliver the vital data needed to make informed decisions about your latex or elastomer products and materials.
The Purpose for Testing Latex & Elastomers
There are three key purposes for conducting laboratory testing of latex and elastomers: safety, industry requirements, and performance.
Testing for Safety
Of course, safety testing is critical from the perspective of simply protecting people from unnecessary risk and harm. But it’s important from a company liability perspective as well. And safety regulations differ between industries. For example, in the healthcare industries, safety testing for latex and elastomers is heavily focused on patient exposure. Elastomer materials used in medical devices and pharmaceutical products must undergo intensive testing to assess whether the material poses any risk to the patient. In the automotive industry, on the other hand, safety is more focused on performance of latex and elastomer materials in the field. Virtually every component in the vehicle will undergo some sort of testing to measure whether it can withstand the rigors of everyday driving and continue to perform its function even under duress. Every industry is governed by its own set of safety standards based on the unique risks of a given product or component.
Testing to Industry Specifications
There are a number of regulatory bodies, such as ASTM International and the United States Pharmacopeia (USP), that develop safety, performance, and environmental standards for countless industries. In some cases, these industry standards have been adopted by government agencies as law. But many of these standards are categorized as “voluntary consensus.” In other words, a company is not technically required to meet a given standard, but they may struggle to find customers if they can’t objectively prove that their products meet the standard. Reliable data from an independent, third-party testing laboratory data is often required to demonstrate compliance with a given standard.
Testing for Product Performance
Industry specifications hold comparable products and materials to a shared standard for performance. But some companies may strive to achieve greater performance as a way to differentiate from the competition or achieve some other business goal. Laboratory testing is a great way to benchmark multiple products or materials against each other. This data can be used to inform material or design choices that may give a manufacturer an edge in a competitive market.
It’s worth noting that any of these three testing motivations can dovetail into more nuanced reasons for testing. For example, laboratory testing can uncover the cause of a product failure or create a quality control database for imported products.
What is Natural Rubber Latex?
Natural latex rubber, is a non-vulcanized rubber that comes from the rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis) or other natural sources. While latex is not the same thing as plant sap, it’s often extracted via tapping methods that closely mimic those used in the process of making maple syrup.
In its processed form, latex offers many beneficial material and performance properties. Latex has excellent tensile and elongation properties, making it a popular choice for stretchy products such as rubber gloves. Latex is quite resilient: It holds up well against abrasion and doesn’t tear easily. In its most basic form, latex is less heat resistant than similar materials, but chemical additives can protect the material from corroding under the sun.
What is an Elastomer?
An elastomer is a polymer with elastic properties. Elastomers can be synthetic or natural and are used in a wide variety of applications.
Elastomers have many performance properties and attributes that are attractive to manufacturers. Elastomers are often defined by their weak intermolecular forces, which contributes to incredible elongation and elasticity. Think of a rubber band: You can stretch it over and over, and it will still snap back to its original shape. Additionally, many elastomers can maintain performance under high temperatures—though it’s worth noting that an elasticity of an elastomer will be compromised if the material gets too cold.
Elastomers are used in many types of sealants and adhesives throughout the construction and automotive industries, to name a few. In fact, elastomers can be found throughout most vehicles, from seals to tires. Many industrial, medical, and consumer products are made with elastomers.
What is Elastomer Testing?
Elastomer testing refers to a wide range of laboratory assessments designed to measure and quantify a product’s chemical composition, durability, or performance. This can range from chromatography and spectrometry analyses to abrasion resistance testing. Elastomer testing conducted in a laboratory environment is especially valuable because it removes environmental variables, so you can isolate and quantify specific variables.
Different Types of Lab Testing for Latex & Elastomers
There are three general categories of laboratory testing for latex and elastomers: physical properties testing, analytical testing, and processing.
Physical testing for elastomers and latex
The purpose of physical testing is to assess the physical and material properties of elastomer, latex, and other materials. This can help you predict how the material will perform in service and how it will react to various environmental factors. For example, physical testing data can tell you how well a given product will handle being subjected to repeated tensile force while in service. Alternatively, if your product will be used primarily outside, you can observe how the material behaves in extreme temperatures by testing in a laboratory first.
Common physical test methods include abrasion testing, compression testing, fluid aging testing, temperature testing and environmental conditioning, tear resistance, and more.
Analytical testing for elastomers and latex
Analytical testing is key to understanding an elastomer product or latex material on a chemical level. Using advanced analytical techniques, a testing laboratory can deliver a comprehensive report of a material’s chemical composition or identify impurities within a compound. Analytical instruments can identify miniscule quantities of a given element or impurity, so there’s no mystery regarding a material’s chemical makeup.
Analytical test methods include chromatography, spectrometry, FTIR, moisture analysis, ICP-MS, wet chemistry, and more.
Processing analysis for elastomers and latex
Many manufacturers will jump at the chance to test the processability of a small batch of a latex or elastomer material before investing in full-scale production. Many manufacturing tests can be conducted in a controlled laboratory environment, giving manufacturers a preview of what to expect at scale. Testing data can deliver valuable insight into how the entire process might be optimized.
Processing tests include extrusion flow analysis, mold flow analysis, and small-batch mixing.
Process of Testing Latex and Elastomers
The testing process for elastomers differs greatly depending on the type of testing being conducted. But most elastomer testing processes can be sorted into one of two categories: material properties testing and chemical analysis.
For physical testing of elastomer materials, the material itself is cut into precise, identical sample pieces. The specific shape may differ depending on how the specific testing machine works: It may be a barbell shape, a rectangle, or a small circular piece. The samples are then fed into the machine for testing.
For chemical analyses, sample prep varies greatly. Some chemical analysis instruments require a carrier gas or fluid to process the sample, while others will simply accept a small sample piece in the appropriate compartment.
The testing machine or instrument is carefully calibrated in compliance with quality assurance practices and programmed based on the test protocol and desired data. Every step is managed by a scientist or trained technician to ensure quality and reliable data.
In some cases, a sample will undergo only one test. However, complex testing protocols may require a sample to undergo multiple tests and assessments to measure property changes and other differences in the material.
The experts at ACE Laboratories have years of experience delivering high-quality lab testing data for latex and elastomer materials. With their diverse industry experience and laboratory backgrounds, our team members bring a well-rounded perspective to any testing project and can offer you the next-level guidance you need. Whether you’re looking for a custom protocol or an industry standard testing, you can count on ACE for the fastest turn-around times in the industry. Learn more about our latex and elastomer testing capabilities >