From time to time we will provide a general overview of the key raw materials that go into the medical products used every day. We are starting with Nitrile Butadiene Rubber (NBR), a key component for medical exam gloves.
Bottom Line Up Front
Nitrile butadiene rubber (NBR), is a synthetic rubber used in the production of healthcare exam gloves, in addition to a number of other uses in many different industries because it has an excellent resistance to oil, fuel, and other chemicals like chemotherapy drugs. NBR production requires several highly volatile chemicals that serve as the base material, catalyst, and solvents in the manufacturing process, along with large amounts of energy. These inputs make it challenging to manufacture NBR in the United States, where the cost of raw materials and energy is higher, and environmental regulations are more stringent. This limits the intended resiliency of manufacturing these products (like exam gloves) domestically, as NBR must still be imported from international sources and are subject to the same supply disruptions as simply importing the finished good.
Nitrile butadiene rubber, also known as NBR or Buna-N, is a synthetic rubber compound widely used in a variety of industries, from automotive and aerospace to oil and gas, due to its excellent resistance to oil, fuel, and other chemicals. Specifically in healthcare, NBR is the base material for most exam gloves due to its protective qualities from chemotherapy drugs. NBR is a copolymer of butadiene and acrylonitrile that is produced by a complex process involving several major cost inputs.
The first and most important cost input in the production of NBR is the raw materials. The two main ingredients used to produce NBR are butadiene and acrylonitrile. Butadiene is a highly reactive and flammable gas that is usually derived from the cracking of crude oil or natural gas. Acrylonitrile is a clear, colorless liquid that is produced from propylene and ammonia through the ammoxidation process. Both of these raw materials are highly flammable and toxic, which makes their transportation and storage very expensive.
The next major cost input in the production of NBR is the catalysts. NBR is produced by the copolymerization of butadiene and acrylonitrile using a variety of catalysts, such as organic peroxides, metal oxides, and transition metal complexes. These catalysts are expensive and require specialized handling, which adds to the overall cost of production.
During the production process, solvents are used to dissolve the raw materials and the catalysts. The most commonly used solvents in the production of NBR are n-hexane and cyclohexane. These solvents are highly flammable and require careful handling, which increases their cost.
The production of NBR is an energy-intensive process that requires large amounts of electricity and steam. The raw materials are heated and mixed in a reactor under high pressure, which consumes a significant amount of energy. The energy cost is also affected by the type of production process used, as different methods have different energy requirements.
Labor and Equipment
Finally, the cost of labor and equipment is another significant cost input in the production of NBR. The production process requires specialized equipment, such as reactors, distillation columns, and pumps, which are expensive to purchase and maintain. Skilled labor is also required to operate and maintain the equipment, which adds to the overall cost of production.