Trends in Rubber Industry
The rubber industry is a dynamic market sector that has grown and changed dramatically over the years through innovation and discovery. A number of rubber industry trends are impacting industrial and consumer product manufacturing worldwide. These trends include growing demand for synthetic rubber, the rising popularity of electric vehicles (EVs), ongoing supply chain disruptions, and consumer demand for sustainable rubber products and materials.
While the natural rubber market remains strong, synthetic rubber is growing in popularity.
A variety of factors are driving increased demand for synthetic rubber over natural rubber.
One advantage of synthetic rubber over natural rubber is the fact that it can be produced domestically on most continents. This is especially crucial when unpredictable factors make it difficult to source rubber materials or slow down procurement timelines. Rubber material supply may be affected by:
- War. In the beginning of World War II, the United States was cut off from the natural rubber supply in southeast Asia. The country was forced to scramble for alternatives, which led to a massive collaborative effort to produce synthetic rubbers for military and commercial use.
- Natural disaster. In recent decades, devastating fires have struck rubber plantations in Liberia, India, and Thailand, to name a few. Because rubber trees, or Hevea brasiliensis, take seven years to reach full maturity, fires and other disasters have lasting consequences for the global rubber supply. Recovery can be a years-long process.
- Supply chain disruptions. Virtually every industry was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the rubber industry was no exception. Disruptions included labor shortages, raw material shortages, and production and distribution slowdowns, as well as major price fluctuations.
90% of the world’s rubber supply comes from Asia. Synthetic rubber, on the other hand, can be produced domestically on most continents. With the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic still affecting the entire rubber industry, synthetic rubber is a more accessible option in many situations.
Synthetic rubbers are also highly customizable and can be engineered to outperform natural rubber in specific areas. This might include abrasion, thermal resistance, chemical resistance, and processability. Not all synthetic rubbers exceed natural rubber in these areas, but for some applications, a customized synthetic rubber might be the superior choice.
Rubber industry trends driven by rising demand for electric vehicles (EVs).
Consumer demand for EVS is growing in the United States, Europe, and China. In the past few years, multiple countries, including China and the United States, have announced long-term goals to increase the percentage of EVs on the road. This shift toward electrification is already causing significant ripple effects in the rubber industry.
Internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles generate heat and consume oil in operation. As a result, ICE vehicles have traditionally utilized a lot of nitrile rubber due to its excellent heat and oil resistance properties. Because EVs run without oil and produce heat very differently than ICE vehicles, these properties are less important.
When it comes to rubber materials in EVs, the greater focus is on thermal insulative values, electrical conductivity, and weatherability. Lightweight materials are also very important in EV production.
Due to the differences between ICE vehicles and EVs, there is a shift away from nitrile rubber and toward ethylene propylene diene terpolymer (EPDM), silicone, thermoplastic elastomers (TPE), and thermoplastic vulcanizates (TPV).
While the automotive industry is seeing worldwide demand for electric vehicles, the Asia-Pacific region—especially China—represents the largest share of EV sales. A significant portion of EV production and manufacturing is located in Asia as well. As a result, rubber demand in Asia is trending upwards.
Supply chain disruptions continue to impact rubber industry trends.
Pricing, material shortages, and allocations remain major issues for the rubber industry. Many companies are struggling to get the materials they need, especially if their competitors or other industries are also attempting to source.
In some cases, companies are turning to alternative suppliers for materials. These materials need to be recertified by an independent, third-party testing laboratory to maintain compliance and ensure quality. Efficiency is critical to minimize any delays in production.
Limited supply and massive price fluctuations have forced some companies to switch to completely different materials. This often requires adjustments to compound formulations to ensure that the alternative material can match the performance attributes and quality of its predecessor. Many companies rely on independent rubber testing labs to mix and test multiple experimental formulations in a short time frame so they can choose a new one quickly and get back to full production.
Consumer demand for environmentally-friendly rubber.
A growing number of industries are striving to meet growing consumer demand for environmentally-friendly products and practices. In the rubber industry, this applies to both rubber materials and the overall performance of rubber products.
Recycling rubber is an effective way to extend the life of rubber materials and is a priority for many key players in the rubber industry. Recycled rubber is a sustainable alternative to new materials, and many industries are finding creative ways to use it. Hospital flooring, playground and landscaping mulch, and rubberized asphalt are commonly made with recycled rubber. Recycled rubber is also a popular choice for infill on synthetic turf, indoor tracks, and other athletic surfaces.
Recycled rubber often comes from a variety of sources. It is critical to test each batch of recycled rubber for hazardous materials, such as mercury or lead, to ensure that the material is safe for commercial use. A rubber testing laboratory can utilize sophisticated techniques to identify and quantify any impurities to determine whether recycled rubber meets safety standards.
Another key sustainability trend in the rubber industry relates specifically to the performance of rubber products. The most obvious example is tires. A key performance attribute of a car tire is rolling resistance, which refers to the energy needs to keep the tire rolling consistently. The rolling resistance of the tire can have a significant impact on its overall fuel economy.
Rolling resistance is meaningfully impacted by the rubber compound utilized in the tire tread. The tire and rubber industries have invested ample resources into research and development in search of an optimized tire tread compound that reduces rolling resistance—and thus improves fuel economy—without sacrificing other key performance attributes. If adopted on a global scale, an optimized tread compound could make a meaningful difference in worldwide fuel consumption. This industry-wide pursuit of a greener tire has had ripple effects throughout the rubber industry.
ACE Stays Up to Date
The team at ACE Laboratories has years of diverse experience in the rubber industry. We’re laboratory testing experts with rich backgrounds in product development and other key areas on the industry side. Our experts are deeply knowledgeable about the rubber industry as a whole and how it’s evolved over the years, giving us a unique perspective on what the future holds.
ACE Laboratories is proud to offer the shortest lead times in the industry, so you can adapt quickly to the unexpected and minimize disruption to your product timelines. You can count on ACE Laboratories to help you stay nimble when rubber industry trends impact your business. Learn more about our laboratory testing services >