Chromaflo Technologies Marks 50 Years of Coloring Latex

April 7, 2021

By Stuart Elliott – Marketing Manager Asia Pacific

While many industries have been ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 was a bumper year for rubber glove manufacturers in Malaysia, as the fight to contain the disease led to a surge in demand for disposable latex surgical gloves and other latex medical products.

Disposable gloves were first used in healthcare in the late 19th Century when technological advances enabled the manufacture of suitably flexible products made of natural rubber latex.

Today, about 240 billion rubber gloves – 68 percent of the world total – comes from Malaysia, as the Southeast Asian nation has carved a dominant niche in the industry. Exports were worth an estimated RM 32 billion, continuing the country’s streak as the world leader in rubber glove production for over two decades running.

Disposable gloves are primarily used in the healthcare and food industries. In healthcare, gloves are designed to protect healthcare workers and patients from bodily fluids and transmissible diseases. Typically, these gloves are colored for identification of the type of glove, aid in puncture detection and to help keep track of which gloves should be used in specific situations.

The global market for medical disposable gloves showed steady growth until a rapid expansion in the late 1980s in response to heightened awareness and concern about transmissible diseases, in particular the HIV virus. This growth in the market and increasing price competition led many European and US suppliers at that time to shift their manufacturing to South-East Asia, where labor costs are lower. This resulted in an accompanying explosion of glove factories. In particular, many companies began manufacturing in Malaysia, which is now one of the world’s leading sources of natural latex and the leading country for glove manufacture.

Malaysia’s dominance in the rubber glove industry is not simply due to its rich natural rubber resources, as its neighbors Thailand and Indonesia have a far smaller market share of 21 and three percent, respectively. Rather, the rubber glove industry has been specifically targeted for development by the government, and it now comprises over 70 percent of Malaysia’s rubber product exports. Owing to strong government support to industrialize the country’s natural resources and develop unique competitive advantages, Malaysia enjoys a leading edge in the still-expanding rubber glove industry.

Medical gloves are produced in two quality grades: examination gloves and higher grade surgical gloves. Contemporary materials used for the manufacture of medical gloves include natural rubber latex, synthetic rubber, nitrile, neoprene, and vinyl. Latex has excellent fit and feel, making it the preferred material for surgical gloves, and latex gloves comprise 40% of all global disposable glove sales (2012).

However, latex can lead to occupational allergy amongst healthcare workers, including contact dermatitis or (less commonly) respiratory tract symptoms such as wheezing. Consequently, there is a growing market for gloves less likely to induce allergy, including protein depleted and powder-free latex gloves, and gloves manufactured from latex-free petrochemical polymer materials. In particular, demand for nitrile gloves has grown, spurred by anti-latex policies in hospitals or other healthcare settings.

One of the pioneers of the industry was the Ansell Rubber Company which was founded in Melbourne by a former Dunlop employee, Eric Ansell, in 1905. Initially, it manufactured balloons and other products. In 1925, it manufactured the first household gloves. In 1945, Ansell designed and built the first automatic dipping machine that produced 300 dozen pairs of synthetic gloves in eight hours. Ansell introduced disposable surgical gloves in 1964, which won the company an Export Award in 1967. Further international expansion over the next two decades saw Ansell become the world’s largest producer of latex gloves for household and medical use. The latex technique used in this remarkable development was a major Australian innovation.

Chromaflo Technologies has supplied colorants for latex products since the 1970s and is a supplier of colorants to many of the Malaysian manufacturers in the latex glove industry. Chromaflo’s predecessors supplied colorants to Ansell’s Australian operation from the 1970s onwards. As Ansell expanded their operations overseas, we continued to support their colorant requirements in ASEAN, Sri Lanka and Mexico.

From our humble beginnings in Australia, Chromaflo has since expanded its reach, customer base and infrastructure, supplying colorants to the latex industry in ASEAN, China and the Indian Subcontinent. Our regional manufacturing plants based in Malaysia, India and China are located within the key countries supplying latex gloves and receive support from our technology hub in Malaysia.

With our extensive experience, technology and unique history in supplying color to the latex market, Chromaflo Technologies is well-positioned to support requirements for the coloration of latex products today and into the future.

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