by Breana Cronk, IQS Editor
Though not quite fall, several elementary schools across the nation are already back in session. Despite the summer sun still beaming in the sky, patient children sit eagerly anticipating the next lesson to be learned, hanging on the every word of their dear teachers. Well, that I am sure would be the dream of most teachers anyway. In reality, if we all take a minute to think back, no matter how much we did or did not enjoy the learning process from time to time our young minds surely wandered to that sunny window and the playground it overlooked in the distance. Ah recess, a time of fun filled bursts of energy, but also the source of many lasting scars. The playground at my school was a sea of swings, hot asphalt, gravel and all sorts of metal contraptions to climb over, swing on and occasionally fall from. While the longing for recess has not changed, the apparatuses of recess have. Instead of finished metal, rubber to metal bonding now provides playthings that offer a new layer of protection for students so recess can be spent bonding with friends rather than the pavement and subsequently the school nurse.
Just as the friendship forming and bonding time provided by recess is crucial to our upbringing, the growing field of rubber to metal bonding is crucial to our safety. Once made of wood or metal alone, many playground staples such as jungle gyms and monkey bars are now made through bonding rubber to metal. The benefits of this, like the materials, are twofold. Combining two unique materials means that each component retains the strength and stiffness of metal as well as the elasticity and damping capabilities of rubber. As one could easily imagine, such benefits are useful far beyond playground construction. The construction industry in general actually employs rubber products underlined with metal as they help decouple translational movement for bridges and buildings. Outside of building, parts made of rubber bonded to metal are increasingly vital to the success and safety of numerous industrial manufacturing processes and the products they yield. The use of sturdy metals combined with the damping qualities of bonded rubber reduce both vibrations and noise pollution in industrial facilities, leading to increased productivity, reduced equipment wear and improved workplace safety.
The smooth operations provided by conjoined rubber and metal parts are important to the process of creating bonded metal and rubber as well. At first glance the basic process seems relatively simple; child’s play, if you will. Some bonding applications simply glue rubber to metal, though most industries use injection molding. For this a bonding layer or adhesive is applied to the preformed metal component which is then inserted into a mold. Depending upon the desired thickness of rubber coating the gap left around the metal in the mold may be very thin, as in most playground equipment or several inches thick, as with automotive suspension and breaking systems. In any case hot, nearly viscous rubber is uniformly injected into the mold where it bonds, cools and cures to form the finished product. Though the steps are limited, they are involved and require a good deal of knowledge about all three components. Adhesives, metals and rubbers may vary significantly as the properties needed for playground equipment differ significantly from other applications such as structural components for automotive and aerospace industries.
While some of today’s children may grow up to be race car drivers and astronauts, others will fulfill the critical role of engineering the rubber to metal bonded parts needed to sustain safe practice in virtually every other field. Rubber to metal bonding provides the parts that not only support other components, but maintain the overall function and safety of the workplace. The skills and knowledge necessary to fulfill this task are pressing, leading one to hope that the kids who grow into this profession are not too distracted by recess. For now though, let’s let kids be kids and follow the time-honored tradition of bonding over recess escapades and rendezvous on a better, bonded playground.