The History of Rubber Tubing
Rubber tubing has been in use in some form or another since the 1800s. For example, in the mid-1800s, a number of different inventors created models for rubber tympanostomy tubes, which are tubes inserted into the eardrum to relieve fluid accumulation in the middle ear. These included the rubber tube by Lincke and the hard rubber drain by Ádám Politzer.
When people first began using it, rubber tubing was made from pure gum rubber (natural rubber). For several decades, latex tubing was the most popular rubber tubing. However, in the 1980s, allergists discovered that a small portion of the population had developed latex allergies. Once they knew this, they began decreasing their latex usage. In particular, they replaced latex gloves with non-latex gloves.
Long before this happened, though, manufacturers began producing those synthetic rubbers that made possible the switch from natural rubber to its alternatives. Scientists working for Bayer developed the very first viable synthetic rubber material in 1909. They had been seeking to create a synthetic rubber material so that they could make newly popular car tires more rapidly and more cheaply. After synthesizing the first rubber material, scientists quickly made many more, and began applying them other applications, including rubber tubing. Rubber tubing types like butyl rubber tubing became important during both World Wars I and II.
In 1957, the DuPont Company (formerly E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company) perfected another significant rubber tubing material, Viton. Viton, a fluoroelastomer, gave engineers in the aerospace industry the ability to create tubing with sufficient corrosion resistance, chemical inertness and temperature ranges for their purposes.
Today, rubber tubing continues to diversify and become available in an ever-wider range of shapes, sizes and materials. Rubber tubing provides exciting possibilities for professionals and end-users worldwide.
1. Material Preparation
a. Option 1: Latex Extraction and Treatment
The process of harvesting natural rubber involves extracting it from plants like the Pará tree. Extraction is achieved by tapping the latex-producing plant much as one would tap a maple tree for syrup and collecting the free-flowing latex with anything from a bucket on.
After it is extracted, the latex is mixed with other substances so that it might gain qualities to make it more useful.
Sometimes, for example, technicians add heat and Sulphur to it during a process called vulcanization. Vulcanized latex is stronger than non-vulcanized latex. Other substances may render latex rubber tubes: sterile, conductive, spark-resistant, explosion-proof, reinforced or extra flexible, elastic or resilient.
b. Option 2: Rubber Synthetization
During this process, manufacturers mix different substances in order to fabricate their own rubber material.
To actually fabricate the rubber tubing, manufacturers use the rubber extrusion process. During extrusion, an extruder forces uncured rubber to go through a die and adapts its cross-section.
3. Secondary Processing
After extruding the tubing, manufacturers may put it through a wide range of finishing and/or secondary processes. These include: cutting, curing, coating, drilling, labeling, etc.
Examples of rubber tubing materials include: natural latex/gum rubber, neoprene, silicone, vinyl rubber, EPDM, viton and more.
Considerations and Customization
Manufacturers make decisions about rubber tubing design based on application specifications like: intended environment (moisture, temperatures, pressure level, etc.) and the fluid to be conveyed. Using these details, they create tubing ranging in diameter and thickness from a few thousandths of an inch to several inches, with all sorts of properties, colors, shapes and attachments. Tubing may connect to instruments, tools or additional tubing with the assistance of hose barbs, fittings, gaskets, grommets and other attachments.
The latex used in latex tubing is derived from the Pará rubber tree and a wide variety of other plants. It is therefore considered a natural rubber, which is valued for its flexibility and chemical inertness. Latex is often used for conductive rubber tubing, surgical tubing, rubber hoses and black rubber tubing. Latex tubing, unfortunately, cannot be used for all applications because of its status as a somewhat common allergen. This is where synthetic rubber tubing like neoprene steps in.
Neoprene tubing is hypoallergenic, buoyant, elastic, lightweight and chemical and abrasion resistant. Neoprene tubing is used widely to transport liquids and gases, and it can also protect wires and cables.
PVC Rubber Tubing
PVC, or vinyl, rubber tubing offers a variety of favorable qualities, including: solvent resistance, acid resistance, alkali resistance and insulativity. Vinyl rubber tubing can be purchased as rigid or flexible tube, and it is available in clear pvc or in virtually any color. This versatile pvc tubing can be used many different applications, such as: food and beverage processing, brewing, drainage, pool cleaning, wastewater management, protective insulation and pharmaceutical processing.
Silicone tubing (silicone rubber tubing) is elastic, pliable, flexible, smooth and very resistant to heat, weather and water.
EPDM is another example of strong synthetic rubber tubing. Derived from ethylene propylene diene monomers, EPDM elastomer is most often used with industrial rubber and automotive applications.
Finally, viton tubing is quite new. Created in 1957 for use in the aerospace industry, it is the world’s first synthesized fluoroelastomer, which is a special, high performance rubber that resists substances and conditions that other rubber tubing cannot.
Microbore tubing is a type of medical tubing used for intravenous lines. It is strong enough to support itself while allowing the free flow of sensitive liquids. Also, it is sterile, ultra-smooth and inert.
Metal Rubber Tubing
Another new development is metal rubber tubing, which can be frozen, stretched and exposed to chemicals, and still return to its original state undamaged. This flexible and lightweight rubber tubing is made from polymers with metal ions.
Conductive Rubber Tubing
Rubber tubing that has been imparted with certain qualities may be named as such. This is the case with conductive rubber tubing, which is designed to prevent the harmful accumulation of static electricity and to shield electronic equipment from electromagnetic interference (EMI) and radio frequency interference (RFI). Among the most frequently conductive rubber tubing varieties are: conductive silicone rubber tubing and conductive latex rubber tubing.
Sterilized Rubber Tubing
Sterilized rubber tubing is tubing that is disinfected using chemical treating, gamma irradiation or dry heat.
Thermoplastic Rubber Tubing
Thermoplastic rubber tubing, made from any thermoplastic rubber, is generally elastic (flexible and stretchy, but able to return its original shape), stiff, durable and abrasion resistant. It can also usually be recycled.
Flexible Rubber Tubing
Flexible rubber tubing can be stretched and bent without the risk of breakage, kinks or weakening. Among other applications, flexible rubber tubing is ideal for beverage applications may that operate in very small or unconventional spaces, like bag in boxes.
Surgical tubing is, of course, made to accommodate the requirements of a medical setting and the human body. To help will free flow, surgical tubing is usually thin-walled.
Black Rubber Tubing
Black rubber tubing absorbs heat better than clear tubing, and thus lends itself to insulation and heat retention applications. One type of black rubber tubing, black nitrile rubber tubing, is especially resistant to vegetable oils, mineral oils and acids.
Hose Rubber Tubing
Hose rubber tubing is rubber tubing reinforced by stiff rubber or thin metal wires. These reinforcements help the hose assembly keep its shape even when it’s not in use. Rubber hoses are common as garden hoses, while industrial hose can be used for applications like material handling.
Foam tubing is solid, which means it is not used to convey fluids. Instead, it serves cushion, insulation or a grip to products like handles.
Advantages of Rubber Tubing
Rubber tubing provides its end users countless advantages, regardless of the type of rubber with which it is made. First, it’s affordable. Standard rubber tubing is less expensive than plastic tubing and much less expensive than metal tubing. Because metal pipes tubes are sold by weight, the longer the tube, the more you have to pay. This is not so with rubber pipe, which on average, cost less than $10 to start. Even with customization, you will still likely pay less for rubber tubing than you will for metal tubing. Speaking of customization, rubber tubes are super versatile. Rubber tube manufacturers can cater to virtually any aesthetic or tube characteristic goal. Next, because you can roll it or fold it regardless of its weight, rubber tubing is easy to tote around and store. Another advantage of rubber tubing is the fact that it is simple to maintain. To learn more, check out the information we provide under Proper Care for Rubber Tubing. Finally, rubber tubing is (literally) flexible. No matter the journey your tubing must take around your facility, it will be able to provide unhindered fluid flow.
Proper Care for Rubber Tubing
For the best results, you need to take care of your rubber tubing. For some advice on how to do that, keep reading.
The first thing you need to know is how to handle your tubing. Because rubber tubing is so soft and flexible, if you’re not careful it may tear or sustain abrasion or other damage. Even if your tubing has protective layers, it’s still a good practice to not rough handle it. Instead, treat it with care. Never let it drag on the ground while you’re carrying it. Store it up off the ground and away from moisture and dust. Never tie it in knots, crush it or place your weight on it.
Make sure you only ever use your tubing for its designed application. For example, do not use it to convey an alternative flow. If you do, any number of things could happen. For example, your tube could corrode or the rubber could leech into and contaminate the fluid. Your tube could even explode. If you have an additional application, go back to your manufacturer for new tubing.
Cleaning and Inspection
The final step in maintaining your rubber tubing is cleaning and inspection. Check with your supplier how often you need to clean it, then set up a routine based on that time frame. Usually, the best way to clean the tubing is with a cloth and soapy water, then letting the tubing air dry. Remember to also clean the attachments. Perform the other component of this routine, inspection, before cleaning the tube. Check the tubing for damage and spot leaks. If the leak is wide, you can either replace the tubing or cut of the portion of the tubing with the leak and then reconnect the two tube parts with a connector.
Before you purchase rubber tubing, it’s important to make sure it adheres to any applicable safety or performance standards.
If you are looking for explosion proof rubber tubing, for example, you need to make sure that it is certified explosion-proof. If not, you could have a very bad situation on your hands. In the United States, explosion-proof tubing should be certified by UL. You should also look to NFPA (National Fire Protection Agency), which offers many highly respected standards for fire and electrical safety.
Other applications with stringent standard requirements include: military and defense, food and beverage, healthcare and automotive manufacturing. For the best information, check with your industry leaders before making a purchase to make sure you get products with the right certifications.
Choosing the Right Manufacturer
You want to purchase your rubber tubing from the best manufacturer possible. The best manufacturer is the one that’s right for you. This means that they can meet all of your specifications and meet your budget and timeline while respecting your need for quality products. They will go above and beyond to make sure you’re satisfied. Find a manufacturer by checking those we have detailed on this page.