LONDON—Vip-Polymers Ltd. recently revealed details of a collaborative project to manufacture a new low-smoke and low-toxicity natural rubber matting system for use on the London Underground.
The development project, for Entrance Matting Systems Ltd., involved close cooperation by specially selected partners across the supply chain, said a VIP release.
According to Vip, the material is the first natural rubber-derived compound to meet the requirements of the EN 45545-2 (2013) fire retardancy standard for the floor composite category. It is also the first natural rubber-derived compound to meet London Underground's own standard for floor matting, which is based on EN 45545-2(2013).
The rubber was compounded by the Tun Abdul Razak Research Centre, the England-based research and promotion center of the Malaysian Rubber Board. It is mixed by BD Technical Polymer Ltd., in Corby, England, and then molded by Vip at its factory in Huntingdon, England.
The entrance mat is already in use in 18 stations across the London Underground network, said VIP, which is better known as a manufacturer of seals and gaskets.
The fire-retardant used made the rubber a demanding materia" to work with throughout the development and production process, noted Peter O'Connor, technical services manager at Vip.
"In particular, its consistency made it challenging to mold, while retaining the finish quality needed," he said.
In dealing with these challenges, Vip applied its expertise as a rubber compounder, a mixer and as a manufacturer.
"This allowed us to see the product's potential, and gave us the confidence to work with our partners in the process," O'Connor said. "It wasn't always straight forward, but everyone involved could always see the light at the end of the tunnel."
The material was developed specifically for the rail industry by the head of TARRC's industrial support unit, Principal Scientist Marina Fernando. She said that previously the only rubber matting that met London Underground's fire retardancy standard has been synthetic.
"In a six-month trial at one London Underground station, our natural rubber-based compound proved to be significantly harder wearing than synthetic rubber alternatives," Fernando said.
BD Technical Polymer used its expertise in compounding and blanking to ensure rubber mixing cycles and blank production were precisely aligned with the requirements to produce the matting in a multi-cavity mold on VIP's 1,000-ton 3.5m strip press.
"The high quality of the final product, which has to withstand what must be among the highest mass transit footfalls in the world, could only be achieved by everyone working together and being on top of their game," said Deepak Shah, BD technical polymer director.