Rubber is one of the basic materials used in the manufacture of soles and sole components for footwear (soles, top-pieces, heels, socks, etc.). The many possibilities which the material offers with regard to the adaptation to different wear purposes, from high performance footwear (military, professional, sports), to medium or low performance footwear (street, fashion, indoors, etc), makes it an indispensable material in this industrial sector, with a consumption level exceeding 25% of the total footwear produced. However, the rubber has to be vulcanised in order for it to be used subsequently and this operation is traditionally carried out in the footwear industry statically way by means of hot-plate presses, which unfavourably increases manufacturing times and energy consumption. This involves slow, unflexible and costly manufacturing processes which greatly limit production. The main objective of the project is to develop an alternative system to the traditional processes of rubber vulcanisation in the footwear industry, by means of microwave technology. For this, a pilot scale microwave oven prototype will be designed and built as well as microwave transparent moulds and rubber compounds sensitive to their heating action. All these elements will allow the vulcanisation of rubber components for footwear in a continuous manufacturing system. Microwave technology offers many advantages as compared to traditional processes: direct heating of the rubber mass and not of the moulds, faster, more even and selective heating, higher performance, less energy consumption, better quality and reproducibility of the finished product, less energy leakage to the environment, cleaner, less space for the installation, easier maintenance, electronic operation and control, automation capacity and a more comfortable working environment. The versatility of the above mentioned prototype will make the application of this technology possible not only for the vulcanisation processes related to the footwear sector, but for other industrial sectors involved in rubber vulcanising processes.
Funding SchemeCRS - Cooperative research contracts
UB8 3PH Uxbridge
CM0 7EH Southminster
LE13 0PB Melton Mowbray - Leicestershire
SY1 1RW Shrewsbury