A brief history of silicone rubber
What is silicone rubber?
Silicone rubber is a modern category of elastomer (rubber-like material). It differs from organic elastomers, such as natural rubber, latex and polyurethane, because of its mineral nature.
Silicone rubber is made from Silicon and Oxygen with some hydrogen and carbon.
This makes it a very unique material. It’s tough enough to use in jet engines yet safe enough to use in baby bottle teats. Silicone rubber is generally non-reactive, stable and resistant to extreme environments and temperatures (-55°C – 300°C).
Silicone developments before the 20th century
Silicon and Oxygen are the two most abundant elements in the earth’s crust. However, they mainly exist as silica and silicates in rocks.
During the Stone Age, people used quartz and other silica-based stones to create tools.
These were important for everyday survival and protection.
Romans then started turning sand (silica) into glass. Once scientists discovered this, they worked out how to gain silicon from sand in the 19th century. As we know, silicon is the basis of silicone rubber.
The 19th century saw silicone rubber develop in leaps and bounds.
Firstly, the element itself needed to be discovered.
In 1824, Swedish chemist, Jöns Jackob Berzelius first managed to isolate silicon on its own using potassium. He then heated silicon in chlorine, which had the effect of a vigorous combustion.
The result was silicon tetrachloride, one of the materials used to produce silicones today. We credit Berzelius as the founder of silicon.
Silicon in its more common crystalline form was not prepared until 31 years later, by Henry Sainte-Claire Deville.
In 1854, Deville obtained pure silicon via an electrolysis smelting process.
Many chemists continued to research the chemistry of silicon throughout the 19th century.
Commercial uses of silicone in 20th century
Then in the mid 20th century, chemists started to develop silicone rubber for commercial purposes from the silicon base. In 1930, J.F. Hyde first researched how to produce commercial silicones.
In 1940, English chemist Frederic Stanley Kipping called the material ‘silicones’. This is because he thought they were “sticky messes”. Yet, Kipping did not see the potential in silicone rubber. He believed there was no practical use for the material.
In the late 20th century, industrial uses of silicone rubber, elastomers and resins was on the rise.
Here’s a fun fact: Silicon Valley gets its name from the silicon used in computer chips. The nickname first appeared in 1971, in the newspaper ‘Electronic News’.
Everyday uses of silicone rubber
Today, we use silicone in our everyday lives, probably without even realising it.
This is thanks to the research and developments of scientists before our time.
Here are some everyday uses of silicone rubber:
- Medical devices – silicone is resistant to bacteria and therefore ideal for medical devices. These include defibrillators, heart pumps and catheters.
- Construction – its adhesive and stable nature means we use silicone rubber in construction. It can bind together building materials such as concrete, plastics and glass.
- Electronics – silicone is widely used in everyday electronic devices. Perhaps the most notable is the smartphone. For example, silicone seals help prevent water damage and silicone cases protect the phone.
- Aviation – Silicone adhesives seal crucial parts of planes like doors, windows, fuel tanks and vents.
- In the home – Products include water bottles, ice cube moulds, plastic gloves, silicone coated cookware and baby bottles.
The three forms of silicone rubber
Silicone rubber is available in three main forms:
- HCR (High Consistency Rubber)
- LR/LSR (Liquid Silicone Rubber)
- RTV (Room Temperature Vulcanising)
At Romar, we use the silicone that is appropriate for the part.
For example, Romar uses LSR for high volumes and quick cycle times. It is the most appropriate type of silicone for medical devices. It is also often used in micromolding.
Silicone at a glance
- Outstanding low-temperature flexibility and high-temperature resistance
- Excellent compression set
- High resistance to chemicals and to environmental influences
- Water-repellent surface
- Good transparency, can be pigmented as desired
- Good mechanical properties
- Good flame resistance, non-toxic combustion products in case of fire
- Odourless and tasteless
- Can be easily processed
- Can be adjusted electrically from insulating to semiconducting
- High radiation resistance
How we use silicone rubber at Romar
We have over 40 years’ experience manufacturing silicone at Romar. Silicone molding and manufacture is a specialist area of Romar’s, and we are very, very good at it.
People come to us from all around the world because of the quality of our silicone moldings. The expertise within the Romar team is significant. There’s no problem we haven’t encountered and found a solution for.
Products we manufacture using silicone include:
- silicone rings
- silicone molds
- medical grade silicone
- heat resistant silicone
Contact Romar today if you’re ready to collaborate with a team of experts who understand the precise requirements of silicone. Let us provide you with an innovative, end-to-end silicone design and manufacturing solution.