Art made of Therban

Background report: Creation of the ARLANXEO sculpture at the global headquarters

At the headquarters of ARLANXEO in Maastricht, something immediately catches the eye: a sculpture made of rubber strands with an integrated ARLANXEO logo. A number of challenges had to be overcome before the idea of creating a sculpture out of ARLANXEO products could become reality.

The sculpture was created at the Rubber Technical Center in Leverkusen, Germany. Working on a piece of art was a completely new task for Jörg Kirchhoff, head of Polymer Testing, and his team. “Usually, new rubbergrades are subjected to thorough testing here. None of us had ever worked on an art exhibit like this one before.”

The idea for a sculpture is born

“The idea was for ARLANXEO products to be represented on the premises of the new group headquarters building –and for this to take place in an artistic way,” says interior designer Frank Mitschke, describing the plan.

Together with the experts from the Rubber Technical Center in Leverkusen, he worked to implement the project. The company’s logo also had to be combined with the rubber, but how could such an exhibit be designed? The idea soon emerged to create a sculpture consisting of rubber extruded into strands. With a length of 2.3 meters and varying diameters of 20, 30 and 40 millimeters, these strands could be stretched from the ceiling to a platform. The structure of the rubber was intended to have a predominantly natural and roughened effect. So as not to darken the room, furthermore, the strands had to be white rather than the typical black color of rubber components.

Selection of the most suitable material

Thus the specifications were defined and the experts at the Rubber Technical Center went to work. Which material best meets the specifications? How can the desired properties be achieved in such a way that they can be reproduced? After all, the goal was not for the exhibit to be a product of chance. Various rubber grades were tested. “We tried out numerous things. Eventually we chose Therban, as this material was best able to meet all the specifications,” reports Christian Müller, who is responsible for this rubber grade at Polymer Testing.

At ARLANXEO, Therban is produced by the High Performance Elastomers (HPE) business unit, where it is part ofthe HNBR/NBR business line’s product range. Therban is usually used in the production of timing belts, seals, hoses, cables and in oil extraction.

Yet it wasn’t until the basic material had been selected that things really started to heat up. The formula of the rubber blend had to be tested and optimized with regard to its processing qualities and use. As the polymer and additives were not available in the laboratory in the desired quantities, the procurement of the raw materials at short notice presented another challenge.

Extrusion and vulcanization in the salt bath

The production specifications were also complex: once the blend was produced, it was extruded into strands with defined roughness. In extrusion, the plastically formable rubber blend is continuously pressed through a nozzle usingan extruder and thus shaped into strands. The next processing step is vulcanization, in which the soft rubber blend is transformed into solid rubber through a high-temperature chemical reaction and the special form of the strands is fixed. For vulcanization, the extrudates had to be individually placed into a salt bath with a temperature of 200° C. It was a complex process, recalls Nikolaj Caspers, group leader for Mixing and Vulcanization at the Rubber Technical Center: “Each strand remained in the salt bath for 10 minutes individually. A total of 100 strands were produced. In total, therefore, just the vulcanization process for the sculpture took nearly three working days.”

And the schedule was ambitious: “Overall the strands were produced within one week of great teamwork. The team members were very committed to the project. Everybody worked together intensively and purposefully to finish the task on time,” reports Jochen Kroll, who coordinated the project at Polymer Testing.

Assembly of the sculpture at the headquarters building

The production was a precision landing. Punctually, on Friday before the inauguration, all the strands were loaded onto a truck, packed and transported to Maastricht. Only three weeks had passed since the final decision on what the sculpture would look like. The more than 100 strands with a total weight of in excess of 250 kilograms were stretched from the ceiling to the floor. At the end, the ARLANXEO logo was mounted onto the strands. The sculpture found its place on the premises of the headquarters building: directly in the lobby.