What Is Scuba Fabric?
Scuba fabric is a term that is commonly used to refer to Neoprene, which is a type of synthetic textile. This fabric was originally developed by the DuPont Corporation, which remains one of the biggest innovators of new products in the world. DuPont also created nylon, and it has developed many other types of products outside of the textile industry.
Neoprene was originally created as a substitute for rubber during the 1930s. At the time, rubber could only be created by harvesting a particular type of tree, and this substance was already in short supply as World War II dawned. The war’s increased rubber needs, however, threatened to exhaust the global supply of this material, which prompted DuPont and a number of other leading corporations to find a solution to this problem.
Out of the many synthetic textiles that DuPont created, Neoprene ended up being the best rubber replacement. Neoprene is DuPont’s trademark of this substance, which is chemically known as polychloroprene. Due to its ability to replace rubber in many contexts, this substance is also known as chloroprene rubber.
After the war, it was discovered that Neoprene had a variety of uses beyond military equipment. For instance, manufacturers started making wetsuits with this material, and Neoprene became incredibly popular among surfers and scuba divers.
One of the issues with scuba diving at the time was the fact that most other fabrics to make scuba suits were water permeable. Neoprene, however, makes a total water barrier between the skin and the environment surrounding it, which makes it ideally suited for scuba diving gear.
While neoprene might be a dream come true for scuba divers, this waterproof feature detracts from its performance in the wider world of apparel. Neoprene isn’t breathable at all; any sweat you exude while you’re wearing this scuba diving material will stay between your skin and the material until you take the piece of Neoprene clothing off.
This factor makes it so that Neoprene is only truly suited for loose-fitting clothing or clothing that doesn’t cover a large portion of the body. While its stretchiness would make it an ideal material for tight-fitting sportswear, its lack of breathability detracts from this benefit significantly.
How Is Scuba Fabric Made?
The base material of neoprene is chloroprene, which is a colorless monomer. This substance can be made in two different ways; in one process, the base compounds used to make chloroprene are reacted with butadiene, which is derived from petroleum oil. In the other process, these base compounds are reacted with a limestone derivative.
Both petroleum-derived chloroprene and limestone-derived chloroprene are then each exposed to a process called free radical emulsion polymerization to make the polymer polychloroprene. The resulting substance is in a liquid state, and it is usually then delivered to textile factories in this form.
Once it arrives at a factory, the production process is the same for both limestone and petroleum polychloroprene. This textile is produced on an assembly line, and it can only be produced with industrial equipment.
First, the textile manufacturer adds any additives that are desired to produce a certain result. Additives may be used to increase elasticity, for instance, or they may be added to improve fire resistance.
Once these additives are in place, the substance is moved into a huge mixer. This mixer is placed in an industrial oven, and the substance is then baked. Once it is removed from the mixer, the hardened chloroprene rubber is in the form of a loaf measuring around two feet tall and eight feet wide.
This baked rubber is then allowed to cool, and it is then run through a slicing machine. This slicing machine can slice polychloroprene in various widths; for instance, fabric that’s about 2 millimeters in width can be sewn with a domestic sewing machine, but industrial machines can handle polychloroprene fabric that’s up to 7 millimeters wide. On average, this fabric is cut in widths between 3-5 millimeters.
Each of these thin sheets is about the size of a sheet of plywood, and they are placed on a large conveyor belt one after the other. The sheets are then sprayed with a special epoxy, and they are laminated with a modified form of nylon. Once the nylon has dried, the chloroprene will have increased elasticity.
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The finished synthetic rubber is then sorted by thickness, and it is loaded onto pallets to be shipped to manufacturers of apparel, scuba gear, or wet suits. Once a pallet of these sheets arrives at a textile factory, the manufacturer creates a stack of about 10-15 sheets. The pattern of a wet suit or a different type of apparel is then traced onto the top sheet with a crayon, and a sawing machine cuts around the pattern. Depending on the type of end product that is being created, this process may be completed multiple times for the same stack.
In the case of scuba gear, the pre-cut templates are then adorned with decals and equipped with zippers, pockets, and any other types of added materials necessary. A special type of cement is used to connect separate pieces of chloroprene rubber, and then the final product is sewn together with an industrial sewing machine. Finally, the finished product is washed, and it is inspected for any defects.
How Is Scuba Fabric Used?
Polychloroprene fabric is widely used in a variety of consumer and industrial applications. For instance, this type of textile is commonly used in the medical field in a variety of different forms. Neoprene gloves have become more and more common as the medical industry has become more sensitive to the needs of latex-allergic patients, and this fabric is frequently used as cushioning in cases that are used for medical instruments.
This substance is also used in military and transportation applications. Neoprene gaskets are excellent for sealing windows and electrical enclosures, and they are also used as noise isolators in power transformers. In addition, this substance is used to make shock absorber seals, hose covers, and power transmission belts. Neoprene is even used to make various components that are used on the International Space Station (ISS) and in other spacecraft.
Neoprene’s ability to insulate against heat or cold as well as repel water led to this substance’s early rise as a wet suit material. Before the advent of Neoprene, divers were forced to use complex contraptions that limited movement and the time they could spend underwater. However, this fabric’s success in scuba gear gradually led to its use in wet suits for surfers living in colder climates. Today, almost all wet suits and scuba suits are made with Neoprene or a similar generic fabric.
Interestingly, Neoprene has recently been making waves in the fashion industry. Since this fabric is form-fitting, it is popular among young women, and it has been commended as an ideal summer material by fashion magazines. This fabric is also commonly used in swim suits. Beyond apparel, Neoprene is used in general consumer goods like cases for electronics and covers for car seats.
Where Is Scuba Fabric Produced?
While the USA is the only producer of Neoprene, China is the biggest producer of chloroprene rubber. Since Neoprene is simply a trade name of chloroprene rubber, it can be safely said that China is the biggest producer of this product, but technically, the United States is the biggest (and only) producer of branded Neoprene.
However, some of the biggest companies that produce this substance aren’t located in either the United States or China. For instance, ARLANXEO Holding B.V. is based in the Netherlands, Deka Co., Ltd. is headquartered in Japan, and Zenith Industrial Rubber Products Pvt. Ltd. is based in India. Though Japan is a country with limited major exports, chloroprene rubber is one of them, and some of the biggest players in this industry are Japanese.
How Much Does Scuba Fabric Cost?
In general, Neoprene and other polychloroprene fabrics are somewhat more expensive than other types of synthetic materials. When sold in bulk, this material is less expensive; an average price per sheet for ten sheets or less is around $50-60, but this price drops down to $20-30 when 100 or more sheets are purchased.
Different types of polychloroprene fabrics also cost different amounts. Due to the prestige and high quality standards demanded by this corporation, Neoprene made by DuPont is generally more expensive than generic forms of chloroprene rubber that are made by different corporations.
In addition, limestone-based chloroprene fabrics may be more expensive than petroleum-based fabrics due to their perceived environmental benefits. However, the cost to produce limestone-based polychloroprene will drop as more companies switch to this method to produce their fabrics.
At the level of the end consumer, polychloroprene products are significantly more expensive than products made with other synthetic materials like nylon or polyester. This increased price is partially attributable to the fact that wet suits and scuba gear are generally considered to be niche equipment.
It’s relatively costly to sew, glue, and otherwise prepare these types of products for consumer use, and many companies that make these products enjoy relatively high margins due to the steep prices that aquatic hobbyists are willing to pay for this type of apparel. Other types of apparel that are made with Neoprene or similar substances, however, may be close to the same price as polyester or nylon at the consumer level.
What Different Types of Scuba Fabric Are There?
There are two major variants of this type of fabric:
• Petroleum-based polychloroprene: This type of chloroprene rubber is the original form that was created by DuPont in the 1930s, and all scuba fabric that’s labeled “Neoprene” is petroleum-based polychloroprene. Its chloroprene is created with butadiene, which is a fossil fuel-derivative. This form of polychloroprene is unsustainable since it is derived from petroleum, and it is also inferior to limestone-derived polychloroprene.
• Limestone-based polychloroprene: This form of polychloroprene was only developed recently. Unlike butadiene-based polychloroprene, the chloroprene used to make this polymer is manufactured with the use of a chemical that’s derived from limestone, which makes limestone based polychloroprene more sustainable than Neoprene.
While it will take the Earth millions and millions of years to produce more petroleum, it is constantly producing more limestone, which means that deriving chloroprene rubber using this method is more environmentally-friendly. In addition, surfers and scuba divers report that limestone-derived chloroprene rubber is more comfortable than petroleum-derived chloroprene rubber due to its higher-density closed cell structure.
How Does Scuba Fabric Impact the Environment?
The degree to which scuba fabric impacts the environment depends on the type of Neoprene that is made. The production of petroleum-based chloroprene rubber, for instance, uses up a limited resource, and it produces waste that frequently isn’t disposed of properly.
The production of limestone-based chloroprene rubber, however, is somewhat better for the environment. Limestone isn’t in as short supply as petroleum, and it can be acquired more easily than this fossil fuel.
Both types of polychloroprene, however, are not biodegradable. Therefore, once Neoprene or limestone-based chloroprene is discarded, it remains in the environment as a pollutant. It may take thousands or millions of years for chloroprene rubber to be reabsorbed into the environment, and in the meantime, this fabric will have blocked waterways, filled up forests, and impacted many other ecosystems around the world.
Various pollutants are also created during the process of making polychloroprene. If the correct manufacturing processes are followed, however, it’s possible to mitigate the impact that these toxic chemicals have on the environment.
Scuba Fabric Certifications Available
A variety of certifications can be awarded to polychloroprene fabric. Since this type of textile is synthetic, it is not possible for chloroprene rubber to be certified as organic, but certain certifications are offered if this textile meets the general standards of polychloroprene production.
If polychloroprene fabric meets some basic manufacturing standards, for instance, it is eligible for ISO 9001 certification, which is offered by the International Organization for Standardization. This organization also offers ISO 13485 certification for chloroprene rubber textiles that are used for medical equipment.