The rubber supply chain is quite a long process that starts with the industrial plantation of rubber trees and initially ends by distributing the tires of rubber to the factories. Caoutchouc is natural rubber when it is completely raw and not vulcanized yet. When the bark of rubber trees is pealed, tapped, or cut, the precious white latex substance is released. Later, it is used for making rubber to make various things such as tires, home appliances, and prosthetics.
The supply chain for using caoutchouc is quite complex as it consists of several processes and people. These include smallholder farmers, raw materials dealers, and processing plants, as well as traders and rubber product manufacturers. The latex is processed into coagulates, or clumps, and gets into refinement to make it usable.
Collection of caoutchouc
Caoutchouc is the key raw material for latex and is industrially harvested. Around 90% of the natural rubber comes from Asia. Only Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia produce 70% of it. To get the latex, rubber trees need to be tapped but only after 5 to 7 years of planting when the diameter of the trunk becomes 45cm.
It requires a special knife to make a fine incision of 2mm in the bark of the tree anticlockwise. The cut enables the milky white latex, or caoutchouc, to flow through a metal spout and be collected in a small container. Once the substance is collected in small cups, it is left to coagulate naturally and turn into latex.
Processing the coagulates
In the second step of the rubber supply chain, coagulates are delivered to the factory for further processing. First, it is rolled over through machines to make 5mm thick sheets. After that, it will be dried either in natural air or in a smoky chamber. The quality of the rubber is determined and divided into several parts for different use.
High-quality rubber is suitable for products that come in contact with food. Ribbed smoked sheets are graded into multiple classes based on the levels of contamination and used for making products. The quality standard of latex is determined by country and used for producing different types of products.
Distribution of final products
At the third step of the rubber supply chain, the latex is refined and converted into the raw material of rubber products. It has to go through many local regional, national, and international levels before it arrives for producing the final goods. The routes can be different for the same rubber because of many reasons. Even the supply zones for rubber are extensive. It highly depends on the location and distance of the rubber to ship to the factory.
Storing is also a part of the rubber supply chain because rubber can be stored for a long time and most factories have a partial and temporary stock. This is done so it doesn’t create a problem throughout the year when it is not the picking season of rubber production.
The demand for rubber supply chain
Rubber has high demand across the globe for various use, especially in the tire industries. Tire production requires 73% of the world’s rubber. Over 30 million people are dependent on rubber cultivation for their basic source of livelihood. To some extent, it is represented as small-hold or micro-farming.
The industry can flourish more by modernizing the process. Implementing a digital supply chain can be a solution as it enables end-to-end electronic connectivity with real-time visibility and decision-making. All the parties in the rubber supply chain can supervise production, processing, and distribution from their end. Because the demand will increase in the future and a little help can be great to make things work perfectly.
Photo credit: The feature image has been taken by Mohd Haniff Abas. All other images within the body of the article (1, 2) have been taken by Alexy Demidov and Tima Miroscnichenko, respectively.
Sources: Supply Chain Game Changer / ETRma / Suedwind