Rubber is a material that is critical to modern industr […]
Rubber is a material that is critical to modern industrial civilization, with applications surrounding us everywhere; yet rubber is probably the least understood material that engineers use. The most notable application of rubber occurs in modern transportation, which relies entirely upon rubber tires for propulsion, whether by truck, car, motorcycle, or bicycle. Rubber is the ideal material for this because of its ability to accomplish multiple critical functions simultaneously: sealing the pressurized cushion of air that softens our ride.
providing an extremely flexible and durable membrane to contain this air so we can realize the benefit of the cushion; and offering high surface friction to give the vehicle traction for propulsion, steering, and braking.Although engineers may employ many other options to achieve any of these purposes, rubber often performs with greater elegance and lower total cost than the alternatives, and certainly with the highest degree of flexibility. In addition, rubbers can be molded into extraordinarily complex configurations, and can be bonded to virtually any substrate material to form a composite component, greatly enhancing the engineer's ability to tailor a component's function.
One reason that most engineers know so little about rubber is its complexity. Rubber is the most complex material that an engineer can draw upon, and its very complexity gives rise to its flexibility. The first level of complexity is the molecular nature of rubber itself: rubber polymers possess the highest molecular weights and longest chain lengths of all substances. This sheer size and length allows rubber molecules to bend and flow with extreme freedom, and it is this microscopic movement that translates into macroscopic deflections that are 10 times greater than any other materials.
The engineering definition of a rubber material is "any material that can stretch to at least 100% of its original length, and return to its original shape without permanent deformation". Although the term "rubber" originated from true natural rubber derived from trees, today the term is used to refer to a host of different engineering materials, most of which are synthetic, and all of which exhibit the hallmark flexibility of natural rubber.
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