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Non-tyre rubber and sustainability

I usually focus on the tyre industry, but this month, I want to talk a bit about the non-tyre segment of the global rubber industry.

Outside the tyre industry, the global rubber industry is going through a period of change. The most obvious sign is the rise of the compounders, but another aspect is the increasing focus on sustainability.David-Shaw400

In early July, the German rubber industry met in Nuremberg. This is probably the best meeting in the world for the non-tyre rubber sector and it runs every three years.

Comparing the 2015 meeting with previous events, I got the impression that the number of specialist compounders increased. That’s a trend which we are likely to see in India and other parts of Asia.

A few years ago, most rubber processors mixed their own compounds. The compound was regarded as the heart and soul of the business. It was how component manufacturers distanced themselves from the competition. If your compounding team could develop a product to meet the specification, but using some little-known compounding trick, they could cut the price, or improve the performance, that often meant business success.

As the mixer got a bit old and needed refurbishment or replacement, the business was faced with a decision: either spend a lot of money upgrading the mixer, or out-source the compounding function. Most choose to out-source, and take advantage of the greater purchasing of the compounder as well as their experience with a range of different materials and customers.

Mixing and compounding

Once that step is taken, some continue to retain compounding skills in house and instruct their supplier about specific compounding procedures, while others start to let go of that activity and rely more and more on the compounder’s expertise across a range of materials, and increased buying power. There is no universal model of how that works.

That change has yet to happen in India, but it is coming. Two-roll mills are good for low-grade compounding, but they do not manage dispersion as well as internal mixers. Good compounds today require good dispersion.

As customers in India and export markets start to require higher quality, the Indian rubber processing sector is likely to face many of the same decisions. Already we have seen some European compounders coming to India – SPC; Kraiburg; and even Wacker for silicones, are all in India and seeking business from the suppliers to the automotive industry.

By David Shaw, Head of UK-based Tire Industry Research

(Full text in PTA Aug/September issue)

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