BEACHWOOD, Ohio—An ExxonMobil official painted a bright future for the rubber industry as long as the key players along the entire value chain focus on innovation and the factors driving rising demand.
In the coming years, global rubber demand, currently estimated at about 26 million metric tons a year, is forecast to grow on average nearly 4 percent each year, well above the increase in GDP, according to Kurt Aerts, ExxonMobil Chemical's vice president of specialty elastomers and butyl.
"This is a great time to be part of the rubber industry," Aerts said during his keynote address at the recent spring technical meeting of the ACS Rubber Division in Beachwood. "We are all playing a remarkable role in creating better lives for millions of people, and making products that enable the progress of humanity, just as we've done for the last hundred years or so."
Of course, understanding the needs of customers and where innovation comes into play are key elements to being successful in the industry, he said. In many industries, there will be periods of relative stability with continuous improvement, but then something comes along to disrupt the rules of success.
One such time in the rubber sector came during World War II, when the U.S. government launched a major effort to develop a synthetic rubber alternative to counter the shortages of natural rubber during this period. From there, innovation hasn't stopped, Aerts said, citing first the introduction of oil extended rubber and, more recently, the use of silica in tires.
"Rubber is now one of the most widely used products in our day-to-day lives," he said. "Thanks to continued innovation, synthetic rubber—a war-born material—has become indispensable in the progress of modern civilization."