The People, Process, and Product: A Handmade Hose Company Since 1881

FEATURED STORY The People, Process, and Product: A Handmade Hose Company Since 1881

Recognized as one of the oldest continuously operating rubber manufacturers in the United States, The Home Rubber Company has dedicated itself to perfecting the engineering process of high-quality rubber hoses and tubing. Utilizing several traditional methods and practices, the company continually exceeds the expectations of its customers by providing products tailored to specific applications. Its commitment to quality materials and compounds coupled with its vast repertoire of knowledge has earned Home Rubber the trust of distributors and end users worldwide.

Hose + Coupling World had the pleasure of speaking with Richard Balka, Owner of The Home Rubber Company, to discuss the company’s unique manufacturing processes, the technical advantages of its proprietary products, and how the collective know-how and dedication of the staff and front-line factory workers allow these high-quality, bespoke solutions to come to fruition.

By Angelica Pajkovic

The People

Following the boom of the Industrial Revolution, many rubber manufacturers chose to leave their homes on the East Coast, in the Rust Belt region, in search of additional space and opportunity. To re-create the workflow model and adopt new forms of automation, those businesses grew and expanded their capacity. Headquartered in Trenton, New Jersey, The Home Rubber Company likewise grew significantly from a family-run business to a globally recognized manufacturer that produces a full range of rubber hoses, tubing, lathe-cut gaskets, and specialty sheet rubber, along with several other specialty products. It did so, however, without ever changing its location.

“Unlike other rubber companies who sought additional space to re-imagine the rubber-making process, The Home Rubber Company realized that its attachment to the community was more significant than the need to automate. This resulted in the company’s choice to remain true to its roots and continue to employ touch labor, effectively becoming a niche manufacturer,” explained Balka. “This decision was fortified in the early ‘90s when globalization became a dominant practice and manufacturers began relying on imported goods. As the founders had already committed to becoming niche, the company steered away from this trend and put its trust in the hands of its local employees.”

“The longevity, and therefore the success of the company, can, in my opinion, be attributed to the wonderful individuals who work here.”

Motivated by a passion to provide tailored solutions for its close-knit hose community, the individuals at The Home Rubber Company have dedicated their vast range of expertise to producing quality rubber products in the Trenton, NJ factory. With roughly 50 loyal employees, the company serves a broad range of industries including aerospace, military, transportation, food, mining, petrochemical, packing and seals, electrical components, and general industry.

“The longevity, and therefore the success of the company, can, in my opinion, be attributed to the wonderful individuals who work here. We have maintained a traditional approach to making all types of rubber polymer based products; a practice that is only possible due to the commitment of those who have spent years perfecting the processes,” relayed Balka. “There are many factors that need to be considered to develop our compounds, and this can only be learned with perseverance and time.” By adequately understanding the nuance of each customer’s specific need and not only developing but also producing bespoke solutions, the rubber experts at The Home Rubber Company add an unmatched intrinsic value to the products they create.“The dialogue that our employees develop with our customers is truly what separates us from other commodity-based manufacturers,” added Balka.” Anyone can go online and select a hose from a catalogue; taking the time to listen to the customer’s unique specifications, and manufacturing a hose from raw ingredients to meet the needs of the applications is a team-based operation, and we could not do it without each member.”

The ’Old School’ Process

Following a thorough analysis of the application’s specifications, The Home Rubber Company uses the highest quality raw ingredients and custom formulations, to mix and compound the necessary materials to produce uncured rubber stock – the base for everything it makes. Depending on the intended use of the final product, the rubber is then calendared or extruded to be used as the basis for hand building, press curing, or machine building the finished goods. In some cases, the customer will provide a drawing or written specifications, and the design engineers will create their own internal specification or the terminal spec sheet, to specify the proper process and materials to be used to maximize the product’s effectiveness. In other cases, the customer will merely convey their needs or describe what is not working with an incumbent solution. Rather than fitting its customers’ needs into its current capabilities, or into its existing inventory of finished goods, The Home Rubber Company is driven by its desire to create tailored, quality solutions; it is never just a matter of getting the job done.

“While to some it may seem illogical that we have opted out of automating our systems, there are several advantages to our traditional approach,” relayed Balka. “In automated rubber mix processes, all the ingredients are pushed through rotors with enormous plungers, utilizing an internal mixer. The plungers operate at such high speed, pressure, and intensity that the components soften and compound all at once. The consistency from one batch to the next, and the ability to create large quantities at once are the largest benefit of this method. The primary drawback is that the physical properties of the rubber is often not as high grade as the compounds made by hand on open mills.”

Using ‘old school’ skills and tactics, Balka and his team therefore continually produce grades of materials that outperform its competitors. As nearly all its rubber is produced in-house, The Home Rubber Company can mix batches as small as two pounds without having to rely on outside vendors for rubber, fractioned fabric, or metal components. There is also less reliance upon supply chains and a greater ability to control quality at every step in the process. “It is not unheard of that we get a call from a customer who is serving a steel mill that has a hose blowout and needs a replacement in a day or two. Because we can pivot quickly, we are able to satisfy complex needs more often,” he continued.

Once a product is finished, it is inspected, tested as required, labeled as needed, certified, and then packaged and shipped in a timely manner. “As we do our own mixing and compounding, we have a full technical lab where rigorous testing takes place,” explained Balka. For example, tensile strength, elongation, and curing tests are conducted on each batch of rubber that is made. “In addition to the various tests done in the initial mixing phase, we can also conduct oven and fluid aging on compounds and then pressure tests once a hose is completed.” Overall, high-grade ingredients, technical acumen, experienced craftsmen, and diligent attention to quality are integral to the successful fabrication of everything that The Home Rubber Company makes.

The Final Product

While its manufacturing capabilities remain very broad, The Home Rubber Company has dedicated its focus on solutions that lay outside commodity products. “Our position as a niche manufacturer has been very advantageous, as it has allowed us to become experts on innovative specialty products. The 2006 acquisition of Ivanhoe rubber, a specialty manufacturer of military and aerospace rubber compounds, brought in new compounds, ingredients, and techniques that increase chemical and abrasion resistance, as well as resistance to low and high-temperature serviceability of all of the company’s products,” expressed Balka. One of its most recent innovations is a combination of a hose and bumper with multiple ply of fabric, Neoprene on one end, and Natural Rubber on the other end, all within a 10” wide length.

“Our position as a niche manufacturer has been very advantageous, as it has allowed us to become experts on innovative specialty products.”

Looking Forward

The rubber hose industry is continually working on ways to improve the technology it uses, and The Home Rubber Company is no different. Despite its advanced knowledge of a wide variety of compounds, the company strives to be innovative at every opportunity and dedicates significant time to developing new, more robust, and abrasion-resistant hoses. “It is the ambition and the collective know-how of the staff that allows not only these high-quality bespoke solutions to come to fruition, but also provide the company with the desire to continually progress and evolve. As we look to the future, I am excited by all the advancement possibilities I foresee,” stated Balka. “We are implementing a lean manufacturing initiative to make our operations more efficient, and also expanding our capacity and capabilities in terms of hose lengths and diameters. I hope to increase our lines from 50 to 100 feet within the next five years, and to expand our ability to offer long hoses with large diameters.”

By keeping abreast with current technologies and utilizing ‘old school’ tactics that rely on the expertise of knowledgeable people, The Home Rubber Company will be able to continue to provide unmatched solutions to the hose market. “Longevity is our best milestone, and longevity says it all,” stated Balka. “We have been in the handmade hose business since 1881, and we do it very well.

Previous articleValve World Americas’ Expo and Conference Steering Committee Meeting Brings Together Top Industry Experts
Next articleAluminum Camlock Coupling by Fuzhou Hengsheng Hardware
Shopia Ketheeswararajah is a feature editor contributing to Pump Engineer, Stainless steel World Americas, Hose and Coupling World, and other related print & online media.