Nizhnekamskneftekhim’s synthetic rubber production celebrates its 50th jubilee

A milestone was marked at Nizhnekamskneftekhim PJSC, which is a part of TAIF GC, 50 years ago — the first block of synthetic rubber was made at SKI-3 No. 1 plant. It is one of the successful examples of import substitution in the Soviet era — our synthetic rubber was to replace natural rubber. Now, this production is considered to be one of the biggest subdivisions of the petrochemical company. Over 60% of the world’s operating capacities to make polyisoprene rubbers are concentrated in the Russian Federation. The state’s firm position in this segment of the world market of synthetic rubbers is Nizhnekamskneftekhim’s merit. Read in Realnoe Vremya’s report about how the unique production was born and developed.

The “firstborn” is carefully stored in the museum

8 October 1970 is a memorable date in the history of the Nizhnekamsk petrochemical factory. The petrochemists took the first block of isoprene rubber into their hands at 3.15 a.m. As specialists claimed, it totally met technical GOST requirements in terms of quality.

The big victory Nizhnekamsk won allowed considering the chemical factory an operating integrated plant.

“Everything happened step by step. Isopentane was made of a broad fraction of crude hydrocarbons — associated gas — coming through a pipeline in the central gas fractionating unit. Then the huge complex refined it into isoprene-monomer. After several shops of SKI-3 No. 1 plant, isoprene finally turned into a pressed block of synthetic rubber,” reads the book History. Events. People that came to the light by Nizhnekamskneftekhim’s 50th anniversary.

A big work done in the plant, which was named SKI-3 No. 1 then and was one of the first subdivisions of the Nizhnekamsk petrochemical factory, preceded the milestone. Its work history was written by people who arrived in Nizhnyaya Kama in the 1969-1970s from related enterprises of Kazan, Krasnoyarsk, Ufa, Yefremov.

The factory became an art workshop for them where the workers fully used their knowledge, perseverance, inventiveness and other positive qualities in performing tasks that were set. An uneasy task of assembly, adjustment, launch of very complex foreign equipment fell on their shoulders. Maintenance repairmen, operators, masters, mechanists pursued the goal of producing Nizhnekamsk rubber sparing no effort and without counting time.

People didn’t leave their workplace for days, they rested on folding beds set up in amenities buildings. Complications arose with rubber-producing equipment made by America’s Anderson company. The factory’s innovators hit the ground running. The masters pondered and made changes to the overseas equipment. They turned out to be so successful that the equipment ran smoothly even decades later.

Esfir Lemayeva — the spouse of first Director General of the factory Nikolay Lemayev — remembered her husband saying her on a weekend morning: “I will go to see how it’s going at work”. He worried if everything was fine with the first synthetic rubber unit. A day later, Lemayev entered the room and put a small, rubber ball into her hands. It is a tiny piece of the first Nizhnekamsk rubber.

The “firstborn” that weighed 30 kilograms was solemnly welcomed near the factory’s conveyor belt where hundreds of workers gathered. Everybody who was directly implicated in this launch signed autographs on the block that is carefully stored in the museum for history. In March 1974, isoprene rubber obtained the state Quality Seal.

New plants and a wider assortment

Synthetic rubber that is such a necessary feedstock for tyre plants that Nizhnekamskneftekhim continues supplying to many countries of the world significantly changed the feedstock balance of our country during those years and eliminated the necessity of purchasing natural rubber abroad.

A big group of engineers, constructors, assembly workers and employees of the factory received a reward for the design and construction of the isoprene-monomer plant and SKI-3.

New victories awaited the petrochemists in the following years. The second stage of isoprene rubber plant at SKI-3 No. 2 was launched don 5 October 1978. The millionth tonne of rubber was made in August 1979, the plant reached the two-millionth output in October 1984.

This year, on 27 July, the synthetic rubber has produced the 11-millionth tonne of isoprene rubber. No worker could assume 50 years ago, on the production day of the first block that this rubber would be known worldwide and reach such summits. This became possible thanks to the incredible hard work, high professionalism of factory workers as well as determination, farsightedness, wisdom of the management of the company.

Today the whole world knows and appreciates Nizhnekamskneftekhim’s products. The characteristics of isoprene rubber are unique because of a low content of gel, high homogeneity and stereoregularity of macromolecules. It is widely used in the production of tyres for lorries, lightweight vehicles and agricultural machinery as well as rubber goods.

According to the petrochemists, every producer sets all necessary requirements for rubber in advance, moreover, these settings are different. But the factory’s staff knows all technology to meet consumers’ various requirements. Only synthetic rubber is used where extra-strong tyres are needed. A lot of tyre manufacturers in Russia and CIS countries are among consumers of NKNK’s synthetic rubbers.

Gradual expansion of production capacities

Several years ago, Nizhnekamskneftekhim’s management developed a strategy for further expansion of capacities of isoprene rubber production to 330,000 tonnes a year. For this purpose, feedstock infrastructure was significantly strengthened — formaldehyde, isobutylene and isoprene units were built and launched at Isoprene-Monomer Plant. SKI-3 plant eliminated all problems, launched additional capacities for fully-fledged production of a “larger portion” of the legendary Nizhnekamsk rubber.

The plant pays a lot of attention to the quality of products made. The quality is controlled at all manufacturing stages: from reception of feedstock to end product shipping. A whole control system functions at the final production stage that checks every block of rubber for compliance with quality indicators, the presence of impurities and deviations in visual characteristics without exceptions. And only after this, when all these parameters are met, it is packed. Consumers of Nizhnekamskneftekhim’s synthetic rubbers constantly note the high-quality work during traditional supervisory audits.

The launch of isoprene rubber production was a big impulse to develop the rubber area at Nizhnekamskneftekhim PJSC. Given high research intensity and multi-stage production, it was easier for the company’s specialists to master new synthetic rubber plants in the future. The first block of neodymium isoprene rubber (Nd-IR) was manufactured in 2004. The production of halobutyl rubber (HIIR and BIIR) was mastered in 2004 too. Nizhnekamskneftekhim has been a supplier of a wide range of rubbers for the tyre industry since this moment.

In 2007, the company expands the area of application of its synthetic rubbers and starts to produce rubber to modify polystyrene plastics (lithium polybutadiene rubbers). In 2013, butadiene-styrene block copolymer SBS-2012 designed to make ABS plastics replenishes the collection of “non-tyre” types. Today Nizhnekamskneftekhim PJSC is preparing for a very important event — the launch of solution-polymerised styrene-butadiene rubber (SSBR).

Nowadays SSBR is one of the most popular types of synthetic rubber in the tyre industry. It is important to note that before the launch of the SSBR plant Nizhnekamskneftekhim will be making all necessary types of rubbers to make tyres except for natural rubber.

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By Liliya Yegorova. Photo courtesy of Nizhnekamskneftekhim PJSC