If you need a flexible, cushioning material that’s also resistant to moisture, then rubber may be thought of as the most appropriate choice for use in industrial settings. There is, however, another major contender when you’re looking for an alternative that offers many of these properties. That material is a unique synthetic known as neoprene.
Both rubber and neoprene are considered polymers. Rubber is derived from natural sources, although synthetic rubber is widely used, while neoprene is a synthetic material that was first developed in 1930 by DuPont scientists. It has become widely used for the production of commercial products like laptop sleeves, mousepads, drink insulators, wetsuits, and hammers and tips used in musical instruments including pianos and drum pads.
But how does neoprene measure up to rubber for heavy duty, industrial applications? Rubber provides sealing and cushioning advantages in many different settings, serving as gaskets and spacing components that are capable of sealing in liquids and gasses.
There are a couple of considerations when it comes to using rubber parts and components in industrial settings. First, natural rubber can become brittle in low temperatures. It can also harden over long periods of time and lose some of it’s sealing capabilities as a result. This usually means it must be checked and replaced periodically.
Vulcanization can help to solve some of these problems. Through a chemical curing process involving sulfur, peroxide, or bisphenol, natural rubber and similar materials can be made more durable, while retaining properties of elasticity, flexibility, electrical insulation, and sealing. The vulcanization process can also expand the temperature range in which rubber retains its structural and performance integrity.
For industrial applications that are subject to a more expansive range of temperatures, which still require components or parts that are insulating and flexible, neoprene can deliver those results. For example, neoprene flat washers and shims are frequently used for cushioning and vibration damping in addition to load distribution. They may also be used to seal off moisture, functioning as a gasket or seal. Durometers refer to the degree of hardness a specific type of neoprene will deliver, which is important for applications pertaining to construction, civil engineering, automotive manufacturing, and more.
Neoprene’s enhanced durability and extended resistance have made it a widely used alternative to rubber. It may therefore seem like the better choice across the board, but there are still situations where rubber, whether natural or synthetic, remains the preferred option.
It’s also worth noting that there are other materials that have similar properties, including silicone, which may also be considered for industrial uses. Be sure to check the unique specs of your application and carefully evaluate all pros and cons before you make the decision to swap out any materials in an industrial setting.