Foam, foam, rubber or latex are all synonyms for the most important part of the goalkeeper glove. The foam or latex is the first thing that comes into contact with the ball when a goalkeeper tries to catch a ball. So latex is a very important raw material for goalkeeper gloves. Not only for goalkeeper gloves, latex is a very important raw material, but for a lot of products today. Think of car tyres, condoms, boots. Before we zoom in on the production process, we will first discuss its history.
The history of latex goalkeeper gloves over the years
The history of rubber takes us back in time to a few centuries ago. The ancient Indians, as for example the Mayans are understood, discovered a method to make one for their important raw material. They made notches in the bark of a tree. This tree then dripped a white and sticky sap that they caught in trays. For this reason the Maya called the (rubber) tree crying wood. After catching and drying, a sticky but firm substance emerged. Today this is known to us as rubber. The Maya turned it into balls, toys and means of payment. With it they also had a material with which they could make clothes waterproof. The rubber as they knew it in this period was very valuable.
Around the year 1770 it was the Englishman Joseph Priestley who accidentally discovered that you could erase pencil marks with rubber. The English verb to rub out was used to indicate that pencil stripes were removed. Actually, this is where the word rubber that we use now really came into being. Rubber was only used on a relatively small scale and that was due to two major disadvantages of the product that was known at the time. On the one hand, the rubber became very hard under cold conditions and crumbled easily. On the other hand, rubber became very soft under warm conditions and became sticky.
Latex is for so much more than just goalkeeper gloves
A handy product that rubber, but not yet ideal. In 1839 Charles Goodyear’s experiments led to a product that did not have these drawbacks. He discovered that heating the rubber with sulphur changed its properties in a positive way. This so-called vulcanised rubber was many times stronger, but also retained its elastic properties.
Since the discovery of Charles Goodyear, economies of scale have been taking place in the rubber industry. Many plantations are being built to meet the increasing demand. However, demand continues to outstrip supply and alternatives are emerging. This is partly due to the labour-intensive process of natural rubber. Only after 6 to 7 years can a rubber tree be harvested.
Synthetic rubber on the rise
At the beginning of 1900 the first patent for synthetic rubber was applied for and granted. Years later, it was only possible to produce synthetic latex in a successful process.
At the time of the Second World War the production of synthetic rubber only really took off and took over the number one position of natural rubber in terms of production. The synthetic version is easier and faster to produce, which makes it an ideal substitute for natural rubber. Today there are about 25 different types of synthetic rubber.
Use of rubber worldwide
World rubber consumption is estimated at around 25 million tonnes per year. About 40-45% of this is natural rubber consumption and the rest is synthetic rubber consumption. The major consumer in this story is the tyre industry. They consume a sloppy 70% of the total consumption. The consumption of this rubber is used for the manufacture of: tyres, shoe soles, boots, buckets, bicycle saddles and so on. The most important countries where production of natural rubber takes place are: China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. An emerging player is Africa.
The production process of natural rubber
So, as the above story shows, there is natural rubber and synthetic rubber. We now take you step-by-step into the production process of natural rubber and everything that goes with it.
Rubber extraction on the plantation
Rubber trees are planted on rubber plantations that are mature enough for the production of rubber after six or seven years.
Collection of latex
By making a notch, the sap that circulates in the tree is brought to currents and is collected with a spout and finally collected in a catch basin. After 5-6 hours of flowing, the tree gets a few days rest before a new notch is made
Sieves and acids
Then the juice is sieved and poured into a plastic tub. Formic acid or acetic acid is added to the mixture and this causes it to solidify.
Rolling and rinsing
After about half an hour, the mixture is firm enough to be passed through a roller. The roller squeezes out the excess water and leaves a ripple pattern which causes the rolled rubber to dry faster. Then the ant or acetic acid is rinsed away.
Drying and storage
These rags are then hung to dry for five hours. In this way the rags become thicker, stronger and darker in colour. The rags are kept until the next step.
The rags are removed from the pile and soaked in a bath for 20 minutes. This way the worst dirt is rinsed off. Immediately after that, the rags are passed through a brushing machine which cleans the rags completely.
Sorting and drying again
The appearance of these rags is quite different. This is because the mats have different thicknesses and the age of the rubber tree also plays an important role here. The rags are now once again dried on a rack.
The rags are hung in a stone oven and go into a smoking room for 5 days. With this method they prevent the rags from becoming mouldy. Insects and other dirt are cut off where necessary, but not everything. Otherwise little of it would remain.
The rags are viewed with a bright lamp. The less pollution the rag has, the higher the selling price. The rags are selected on the number of holes and contamination and then go through a press. From the rags a block is pressed that can easily be shipped.
Spraying before shipping
Before shipping, all blocks are provided with a spray consisting of calcium carbonate and solvents to prevent mildew. This also prevents the blocks from sticking together.