VIP-Polymers Ltd has collaborated with other suppliers to manufacture a ground-breaking new low smoke and low toxicity natural rubber matting system for use on the London Underground.
Development of the innovative product, on behalf of Entrance Matting Systems Ltd, has been made possible by close partnership working within a supply chain specifically put together to develop it.
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 (TARRC), the UK-based research and promotion centre of the Malaysian Rubber Board.
It is mixed by BD Technical Polymer Ltd, in Corby, Northamptonshire, and then moulded by VIP at its factory in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire.
VIP’s prime focus is manufacturing seals and gaskets. However, it is using its technical expertise and specialist equipment to support the development and manufacture of the new entrance mat, which is already in use in 18 stations across the London Underground network.
Neil Creasey, Entrance Matting Systems’ General Manager, said: “Thanks to the collaborative approach and expertise shared across the supply chain, we have the opportunity to offer our customers an innovative, sustainable natural rubber product that we’re confident already has the hallmarks of a market leader.”
Peter O’Connor, Technical Services Manager at VIP, said: “This has been an excellent and very productive collaborative project, with everyone in the supply chain working very well together to develop an impressive product.
“The additives TARRC had to put into the rubber to make it fire retardant made it a demanding material to work with throughout the development and production process.
“In particular, its consistency made it challenging to mould, while retaining the finish quality needed. What VIP could bring to bear was our expertise across all disciplines, as a rubber compounder and a mixer, as well 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. It wasn’t always straight forward, but everyone involved could always see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
The material was developed by the Head of TARRC’s Industrial Support Unit, Principal Scientist Dr Marina Fernando, specifically for the rail industry, which has increasingly specified the need for rubber products to have low smoke and low toxicity.
She said: “Until now, 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. It also has additional sustainability benefits, because 80% of its content comes from renewable resources.
“VIP has played a significant role within the supply chain, firstly because they understood and believed in the product, and were willing to invest significant time and resources, including product testing, mould development, and many meetings with supply chain partners.
“Also, their quality assurance and technical knowledge across all product development processes was pivotal in resolving challenges in taking a material that was difficult to work with from lab-scale production to full production.”
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 mould on VIP’s 1,000-tonne 3.5m strip press.
Deepak Shah, BD Technical Polymer Director, said: “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.”