The rubber industry has an exciting and dynamic history. Academic records of rubber date back to the 1700s. The world history of rubber dates back thousands of years, when indigenous cultures first began using natural latex from the Hevea tree.
Since 2000, rubber history has been shaped by industry partnerships, natural disasters, regulations, price fluctuations, and an increased focus on sustainability. The events of the 21st century will have lasting effects on the world history of rubber.
2000-2004: Digital platforms, terrorist attacks, and national disasters make rubber history.
In 2000, six major players in the tire and rubber industry teamed up to create RubberNetwork.com. RubberNetwork.com was a first-of-its-kind online hub, created with the goal of improving purchasing, procurement, and logistics for manufacturers, customers, and suppliers in the industry. The founding members of RubberNetwork.com were Continental AG, Cooper Tire & Rubber Company, The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, Groupe Michelin, Pirelli SpA, and Sumitomo Rubber Industries. Hankook Tire Company, Toyo Tire & Rubber Company, and the Yokohama Rubber Company joined shortly thereafter.
In 2001, Kent Elastomer Products (KEP) purchased Precision Latex Inc., expanding the company’s dip molding capabilities and expertise.
In September 2001, the United States was struck by four coordinated terrorist attacks. Two highjacked airplanes were flown directly into the World Trade Center Twin Towers in New York City, a third plane was flown into the Pentagon, and a fourth crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. The aftermath of the attacks sent a massive ripple through the rubber industry. Many companies had to close plants, lay off workers, and file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Raw material costs fluctuated well into 2002, including carbon black and styrene-butadiene rubber (SBR).
In 2002, KEP opened a state-of-the-art extrusion facility in Mogadore, Ohio.
In late 2004, southeast Asia was struck by an earthquake and a tsunami. Nearly 230,000 lives were lost. While no rubber plants in the region were hit, infrastructure sustained significant damage, including ports. Natural rubber shipments were delayed well into 2005, with many manufacturers feeling the ripple effects of the disasters.
2005-2011: A turning point in the history of synthetic rubber, new legislation, and record-high prices in rubber history
2005 marked a significant moment in the history of synthetic rubber. Synthetic rubber overtook natural rubber latex, representing 58% of global rubber production. The automotive industry is a major consumer of synthetic rubber, representing 80% of the total market.
In 2006, KEP acquired the dip molded product line from Hospira Inc. and added synthetic polyisoprene to its line of non-latex materials.
In 2007, the European Union introduced new chemical legislation called REACH: Registration, Evaluation, Authorization, and restriction of Chemicals. The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) requires all manufacturers to disclose whether any of their products include any chemicals covered in REACH. Many rubber product manufacturers were forced to add an extra assessment step to their processes to ensure REACH compliance.
In 2010, as the Great Recession of 2008 came to a close, natural rubber prices hit an all-time high. The price increase was largely caused by months of droughts across Thailand, a major supplier of natural rubber, which affected rubber supply. A wide variety of rubber product manufacturers were affected. Many companies chose to absorb the change by increasing prices for their customers.
2012-2021: Acquisitions, lean manufacturing, and sustainability initiatives shape rubber history
In 2012, Bridgestone Corporation purchased land in Arizona to begin research on guayule, a perennial shrub, as an alternative source for natural rubber. At this point in history, the tire industry primarily relied on the Hevea tree for natural rubber. Bridgestone announced its first guayule tires in 2015.
In 2013, KEP’s extrusion facility in Mogadore, Ohio, received an environmental sustainability award. KEP also launched a line of crimped tubing for the food and beverage industry.
In 2015, KEP received the Evolution of Manufacturing award from Small Business Magazine in recognition of the company’s lean manufacturing practices. KEP had begun a ten-year journey toward increasingly lean practices in 2005.
In 2019, in response to growing consumer demand for sustainability, a new initiative was formed. The Global Platform for Sustainable Natural Rubber (GPSNR) is a group of raw materials suppliers, product manufacturers, and nonprofit organizations dedicated to improving sustainability throughout the natural rubber latex industry. Since then, at least a dozen major tire manufacturers have announced natural rubber policies aligned with GPSNR.
In 2021, the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company purchased the Cooper Tire & Rubber Company for $2.5 billion. This historic moment in rubber history was one of the largest acquisitions the tire industry had ever seen, making a significant impact on Goodyear’s global market share.
KEP Stays Consistent Throughout Rubber History
Kent Elastomer Products has been in the rubber industry since 1960. We’ve witnessed the ebbs and flows of rubber history for decades, and we can help you weather changes into the future. Our team understands the natural fluctuations of the rubber industry, and we’ve mastered lean manufacturing practices so we can stay agile in the face of unexpected change. We’ll help you make your mark on rubber history.
You can count on KEP for expert material selection guidance and high-quality manufacturing. We can also handle packaging and labeling your products, so you don’t have to manage multiple vendors and complex logistics when supply chains are in flux.