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Glut In Natural Rubber Seen Shrinking

Glut In Natural Rubber Seen Shrinking As Prices Drop And China Car Sales Rise

Natural rubber supplies ballooned in recent years as Asian producers cranked up the tree taps and consumers curbed their demand. Now, the glut appears ready to pop. The global surplus is poised to shrink by nearly 50 percent in 2015 as the trends reverse, according to the International Rubber Study Group.

Rubber production will exceed demand by 202,000 metric tons next year, compared to 371,000 tons this year and 650,000 tons in 2013, the Singapore-based inter-governmental group confirmed to Bloomberg News. Actual inventories of rubber are still expected to grow.

Harvesting rubber, a $25 billion industry, is still a fairly low-tech business. Farmers cut through the tree’s bark — though not deep enough to slash the trunk — to access the milky white latex, which flows through a spout and drips into a bucket hanging off the tree. The rubber is primarily used to make automotive and airplane tires, and it also supplies the latex for surgical gloves and condoms. About 70 percent of the world’s supplies comes from Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia, and most producers are small-scale farmers.

Three years ago, record-high rubber prices drove producers to ramp up their output. But as more product hit the market, China — the world’s top rubber buyer — experienced an economic slowdown, and new Chinese car sales dropped. The resulting rubber glut caused futures prices to drop 28 percent this year, hitting the lowest level in nearly five years in June, Bloomberg reported.

In response to low prices, producers are tempering their activity at the taps — all while China regains its automotive appetite.

Global vehicle production is slated to rise by 21 million units to 106 million units per year by 2021, with China making up half the growth, according to ISH Global Insight’s automotive forecasting arm. “If we turn the focus to China and emerging Asia we are bombarded by announcements that capacity will be increased,” Mark Fulthorpe, director of ISH’s global vehicle production forecasting, told CNBC this spring. About 70 percent of rubber consumed in China is used to make tires for lightweight vehicles.

The rubber surplus could shrink even further as some producing countries diminish their domestic industries.

In Thailand, the top grower and exporter of rubber, government officials want to replace about 8 percent of the country’s total rubber-growing area with more profitable oil palm trees, the Wall Street Journal reported last week. While rubber trees need about seven years to reach a rubber-tapping stage, oil palms can be harvested within three or four years of planting, giving them a quicker return. “Many farmers have already stopped tapping rubber trees as the returns are poor. Palm oil will provide better returns,” Pongsak Kerdvongbundit, managing director at Von Bundit Co., one of Thailand’s biggest rubber exporters, told WSJ.

Even so, total rubber inventories will jump to 4.33 million tons in 2015, about 15 percent more than 2014’s expected total and about 50 percent over 2013 amounts, The Rubber Economist Ltd. projects, Bloomberg noted.

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Buying Rubber Floors. Style and Options

Buying Rubber Floors: Style and Options

Long gone are the days when black and gray were the only choices you had for rubber flooring. Now there are countless options available to you, giving you the ability to evoke a wide variety of floor styles and designs using rubber . This has caused it to become a popular material in numerous residential and commercial, as well as interior and exterior environments.

Rubber Flooring Size Options

Rubber Tile: Much easier to install than sheet flooring, rubber tiles come standard in 12”X12”, 18”X”18”, and 36”X36” squares. Supple and easy to cut and shape, these tiles can be cut down into rectangles or triangles of varying sizes in order to create unique patterns within the surface of your floor. One of the advantages of tiles is that if a single piece is damaged, it can be removed and replaced relatively easily.

Rubber Sheet Rolls: These materials generally come in sheets that are four feet or more in width, and can be twenty to thirty feet in length, allowing you to completely cover most rooms with just one or two rolls. Far more difficult to self install than rubber tiles, rolls are especially difficult to size properly, and even small mistakes can ruin large sheets of material. The advantage is that there are fewer seams in the floor, which can make for a more resistant, water tight installation.
skirtboard_roll
There are also smaller rubber flooring sizes that are specially made to use as runners and stair tiles.

Rubber Floor Surface Options

Textures: One of the great things about rubber tiles and sheets is that they can be textured during the manufacturing process, allowing you to add depth and dimension to your flooring design project. Available textures include rivets, dimples, or studs. You can also get more complex textured patterns such as waffles or mottled surface features.

You can also purchase rubber materials which are perfectly flat and smooth. The problem is that flat polished rubber floors can become extremely slippery when water is present. That is why in wet environments such as kitchens, bathrooms, and laundry rooms, a textured material is generally used.

Finishes: Generally rubber flooring is going to come with a flat matte finish that will be subtle and subdued. However you can deepen the colors found in the material by polishing it with a water soluble wax emulsion. This will not only make the surface more durable and stain resistant, but it will also give it a shimmering glistening sheen.

The matte finish is a good choice for bedroom and social living areas, as the soft hues won’t overwhelm the other colors in the space. A polished finish is better if you want your flooring to stand out, with a strong, perfect, almost corporate presence that will tend to dominate the space where it is installed.

Thickness and Backing

The thicker your material is, the more expensive it is going to be. However thicker materials will also be softer underfoot, and can provide greater insulation against heat loss, as well as noise.

Interior rubber flooring will usually range from 1/4” to 1/2” in thickness. There are also economy style extra thin sheets and tiles that can be as little as 5-8 millimeters in thickness. Exterior pieces need to be thicker in order to withstand the elements, and are usually at least one inch. For playgrounds used by small children 2” and 3” pieces may be used to create extra cushioning which can protect against falls.

In some cases the material will be mixed with cork during its manufacturing process to make it even softer while still retaining the durability of rubber. Tiles can also have cork, fabric, or foam backing.

Style and Design With Rubber Floors

The fact that it is now so easy for manufacturers to print colors and patterns onto rubber flooring means that you have more style options than ever when using this versatile material. There are so many different colors and multi-colors available that you are free to get really creative with your designs, envisioning new surfaces of color and texture that will express your innermost artistic spirit.

When choosing a material it is important to match the colors used to the type of textures found in the material. If you have a very busy pattern of wild hues in the surface of a tile, you want to avoid complex textures that may clash chaotically with them. On the other hand solid colored tiles and sheets can be enhanced by dimensional effects, that can add subtle interest to what would otherwise be a quiet, unnoticed floor.

Rubber tile will allow you to create repeating patterns of color across the surface of your floor. Rubber sheets will create a more consistent appearance, with fewer seams and a single running pattern traveling along each roll.

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Production of Natural Rubber

Natural Rubber / Latex – Production of Natural Rubber

Background
Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia are the largest producers of natural rubber in the world. Figures from the World Trade organisation posted on www.thailand.com indicate the following worldwide natural rubber production in 1998.

Natural rubber comes from the Havea brasiliensis tree, which grows in tropical regions. They typically reach 20-30 metres in height on rubber plantations, and are able to produce commercial quantities of latex at about 7 years of age, depending on climate and location. Economical life span of a rubber tree is between 10 to 20 years, but may extend past 25 years in the hands of a skilled tapper and bark consumption.

It should be noted that latex is different to tree sap.

Dry Rubber Production
Tapping Rubber Trees

Havea trees are not tapped any more often than once per day, with 2 or 3 days being the norm. In countries such as Thailand, tapping usually takes place in the early hours of the morning, prior to dawn due to the high day time temperatures and the protective clothing worn to protect against snakes etc. Also flow rates are increased due to higher turgor pressures at these times.

A tapper uses a sharp hook shaped knife to shave a thin layer of fresh bark from the tree. This exposes the latex vesicles. The cut is typically done at 25-30° to the horizontal, as this exposes the maximum number of vesicles. The same incision is re-opened the next time (typically the next day) by shaving off a small amount of bark. Virgin bark is exposed first working around in panels. The same area may be exploited again after about 7 years.

The thickness of the layer is important as too thick a slice will damage the tree and reduce its productivity and life, while too thin a slice will not produce sufficient latex. Bark is removed in a localised area for a period of time, and then a new area is tapped allowing the tree to repair itself.

The latex runs down and is collected in a cup. Each tree usually produces about half a cup of latex per day and is collected later in the day. Latex will flow for approximately 1 to 3 hours after which time the vesicles become plugged with coagulum.

Processing of natural rubber involves the addition of a dilute acid such as formic acid. The coagulated rubber is then rolled to remove excess water.
Then a final rolling is performed using a textured roller and the resultant rubber sheet is dried. Following this, the rubber is ready for export of further processing. This type of natural rubber accounts for about 90% of natural rubber production.

Natural Rubber Production
Natural rubber is used in a pure form in some applications. In this case, the latex tapped from trees is concentrated using centriguges, removing water and proteinaceous materials. It is then preserved using a chemical such as ammonia.

Applications of Natural Rubber
The natural rubber is used for making products such as:

• Glue
• Tyres
• Toys
• Shoes
• Condoms
• Gloves
• Catheters
• Balloons
• Some medical tubing
• Elastic thread

At the end of a rubber trees’ useful life, the wood is used to make furniture and souvenirs.