CTS Rubber Program History
Rubber came into its own during WWII as industries worked overtime to supply the American war effort. When the natural rubber plantations came under Japanese control, the race was on to develop synthetic rubbers. As a result, the US government poured money into related projects. Years after the war, rubber remained a big industry and the US was a major player.
The National Bureau of Standards (NBS, now the National Institute of Standards & Technology or NIST) for several years had provided Standard Reference Materials (SRMs) to various industries, but were unsure how individual laboratories used those standards to improve the quality of their measurements. In addition, NBS wanted to know what steps were taken when such standards were not available. Through answering those questions, NBS hoped to be able to assist labs in improving test measurements. While people were not unfamiliar with interlaboratory testing, the majority of those studies had concentrated on validation of a test method. In 1969, specifically for the rubber industry, NBS created something revolutionary: a large-scale proficiency testing program that focused mainly on overall lab performance.
The NBS rubber program originally focused on vulcanized rubber. The initial testing round had 72 participants, a large number for a first-of-its-kind venture and a reflection of the need in the industry. Participation remained strong, and it became clear that the NBS program was more than a research study. Since CTS had already worked with NBS on interlaboratory programs for paper and color measurement, NBS also turned to CTS for assistance in running the rubber program. CTS expanded it in 1971 to include tests for other characteristics of raw and vulcanized rubber. Complete responsibility for the program's operation was formally transferred to CTS in the mid 1970s. Key to the program’s enduring success was the fact that, as other projects took priority, the effort to develop rubber SRMs at NBS/NIST had all but fizzled by the mid 1990s. Left to the private sector, such work was found to be too expensive, with few standards available to date. Thus, an on-going proficiency testing program became an incredibly cost-effective way to validate a lab’s results – so much so that several of the original participating organizations are still enrolled in the program today.
Starting in the mid 1980s, the Rubber Division of the American Chemical Society (ACS) created an Advisory Committee on Testing Procedures to provide guidance to providers of rubber testing programs. Several instrument manufacturers also work with CTS to ensure that the program remains relevant to the industry. Today, laboratories from around the world participate in the CTS rubber program and perform more than 250 tests each quarter to continuously monitor their performance and prove measurement reliability.