What is Rubber and Latex?
This is about to get confusing, but we have made the explanation as black and white as possible.
Latex and Rubber are not the same thing.
Before synthetic latex rubber was produced as early as the 1930’s there was no confusion over the terms ‘latex’, ‘processed natural rubber’ and ‘natural rubber latex’. They were all the same.
These days, synthetic rubbers are made of similar physical and chemical properties as natural rubber latex. The confusion has come about because synthetic versions of rubber have coined the name ‘latex’.
So, you can get natural or synthetic latex rubber. Unfortunately many people use the terms interchangeably so it can be hard to distinguish between the different forms of rubber.
Here are some rubber definitions:
The word latex does not refer to natural rubber latex by itself. Latex is actually any polymer in a water based liquid or viscous state. For example latex paint.
Natural Rubber Latex (NRL)
This is the white sap that is drawn from Rubber Trees. It is in a sticky, white liquid state until it’s processed.
NRL gets dried (vulcanised) so that it is easily transportable and stored in bales. This dried NRL is then compounded with processing aids to be made in to the rubber products you use every day.
The physical properties are similar to NRL but differs due to the compounding and vulcanising processes.
Synthetic Rubber is man-made and can be produced so that impurities and physical and chemical properties can be tailored to specific needs.
Obviously, synthetic rubber has similar physical and chemical properties to Natural Rubber and is perfect for people with latex allergies (This is much more important in the medical industry than rubber tracks. E.g. Latex gloves).
Comparing Natural and Synthetic Rubber in Rubber Tracks and Pads
Natural Rubber – Benefits
- High tensile strength – Natural rubber does hold shape and is more flexible.
- Tear Resistant – Natural Rubber resists against tearing and chips.
So summed up, Natural Rubber in Rubber Tracks does provide you with superior strength and tear resistance which ultimately results in longer lasting tracks. And that is the most important factor when it comes to buying rubber tracks. The next question is, why all rubber tracks aren’t made from 100% natural rubber? Well that’s because of the following reasons:
Natural Rubber – Drawbacks
- It’s expensive
- Traction performance – Natural rubber doesn’t perform too well in wet traction surfaces. Which isn’t ideal for wet and muddy job sites.
- Rolling Resistance – Not very good at reducing rolling resistance. Rolling resistance is associated with friction and can assist with fuel consumption.
- It is affected by temperature – In warmer temperatures natural rubber may flex and mold.
Synthetic Rubber – Benefits
- The cost advantage – Natural rubber is more expensive
- Reliable – Has more constant quality so it can be more reliable.
- It’s temperature resistant – A common synthetic rubber used in the production of tires and conveyer belts is Styrene Butadiene Rubber. This can tolerate temperatures between -40 degrees Celsius and 100 degrees Celsius.
- It’s tailored – Producers can tailor synthetic rubber characteristics for specific performance needs. For example, Formula 1 tyres vs truck tyres.
Right, so now synthetic rubber is looking pretty good too.
Synthetic Rubber – Drawbacks
- Environmental impact – It’s a derivative of crude oil. So this means two things. It’s not great for the environment and the price of synthetic rubber is strongly correlated with oil prices.
- It’s not exactly the same – Natural rubber is best at what it does and that’s difficult to replicate perfectly.
So what rubber is best for Rubber Tracks?
The last thing we want to do is discredit the importance of Natural or Synthetic rubber quantities in the use of Rubber Tracks and Rubber Pads. Essentially both forms have got their advantages and disadvantages, which are generally offset by each other.
From what we can tell, it is important that whatever Rubber Track, Rubber Pad or Tyre you’re buying has a degree of natural rubber content due to its really important benefits. So all of the claims you see from suppliers are all true.
Conversely, synthetic rubber is getting itself a bad rep when there doesn’t seem to be much wrong with it.
The practicality of synthetic rubber means that it can compensate for the drawbacks of natural rubber by changing the chemical characteristics in any batch. This makes it pretty important in the production of quality rubber tracks.
Ultimately, the combined amount of Synthetic or Natural rubber latex in your rubber tracks and rubber pads probably won’t dramatically affect the wear life. It is important that your tracks have a percentage of natural rubber in them, but keep in mind that the synthetic rubber used is chemically designed for the job at hand.
Other factors such as the continuous steel cording and the on-site maintenance of the rubber tracks will more likely have a larger effect on their wear rate.