Rubber clay’s the way

The rubber clay models can be placed inside aquariums and water-filled containers.

Rubber eraser manufacturer Armcrest Industries has found a new lease on life with an ingenious new product called rubber clay, which can be used for modelling and even to make artwork on canvas. MEK ZHIN investigates.

AN unmet need in the market for modelling clay that even mothers would approve of led local manufacturer Armcrest Industries to come up with the first ever natural rubber version.

Called Eco Rubber Clay and ACI Rubber Clay, it is slowly making its mark in the market.

Company director Chai Main Jye says the idea for the product occurred to him after he observed his family’s antics at home.

“One day, both my kids brought home some plasticine, and after playing with it, discovered it was both oily and left colour stains. In other words, it created a dirty mess, which in turn made my wife unhappy.

“And that was the end of that product under my roof,” he recalls.

Later on, they got the children Play-Doh, a well-known modelling clay brand. But they felt it was a little on the pricey side.

Armcrest workers processing the rubber clay before packing it.
Armcrest workers processing the rubber clay before packing.

“That didn’t last long, either. My kids, who would be playing with it for a bit, then put it aside to do something else, and come back to it about three hours later, only to find that it has somewhat dried up.

“The brittle bits would litter the floor, and my wife was again unhappy with it all, so that became history too,” Chai shrugs.

At that point, Chai, along with a few partners, had just taken over Armcrest, a manufacturer of rubber eraser, for a year and were looking to expand their product range.

“We were looking for something else to manufacture, and then this happened and I thought, why not? So we went into research and development for a year and, after much trial and error, our rubber clay was finally ready,” he says.

According to Chai, the difference between what they manufacture and what’s available in the market quickly becomes apparent after people start using it.

“It isn’t oily at all, the colour doesn’t run, and mixing two different colours to create new ones is very fast and easy,” he points out.

“It also doesn’t harden or dry out with exposure to air because rubber oxidises under such conditions, and it creates a kind of protective layer over the material,” he explains.

Chai also says that they don’t skimp on quality. Only the best ingredients are used in their rubber clay, including imported colour pigments that are certified safe under international standards.

“The main ingredient of our product is rubber, of course. It makes up to 30 to 40% of it. We tried a few different kinds and eventually found that our local ones are still the best, so that’s what we are using,” he says.

Chai says they produce their rubber clay in batches of 70kg each. The rubber clay’s characteristics make it very easy to create delicate shapes that incorporate multiple colours.

“When we first wanted to market the product, we needed some kind of impressive demonstration. In the beginning, I was not too enthusiastic about exercising my creativity but I was forced to. I then discovered that it was a lot of fun, especially when I created something that could be appreciated by many,” he remembers.

Chai says people usually like his underwater creations made with rubber clay.
Chai says people usually like his underwater creations made with rubber clay]

Chai started with creating little figurines and miniatures but his love for nature and all things underwater eventually led him to create what became his trademark product – clay plants, corals, rocks and all kinds of underwater creatures that can be placed in water-filled globes and aquariums.

But what takes most, if not everyone, by surprise is when they see that Armcrest’s rubber clay is capable of canvass works that could easily be mistaken for acrylic paintings. Chai says rubber clay is a forgiving material to use, and at the end of the day, it is entirely up to the creativity of the user as to what it could be made into.

“Many educators accept this concept with ease and encourage it. In fact, when we do demonstrations for teachers or head of schools, more often than not, they become immediately interested in our rubber clay and its potential as a teaching tool,” Chai reveals, adding that it has even been used in history lessons on occasion.

This is good news to Armcrest, and the company has set its sights on introducing the product to schoolchildren, and schools are their chosen platform for this.

“We believe in slowly introducing the product to the market, and it is important to educate people about it to get them to understand the difference and improvements ours have in comparison to other items that they already know. Children are also a great group to educate on new products like this,” Chai says.

This is also why Armcrest only work with book distributors who share their point of view and are willing to go the distance with them.

“Those who are only interested in making a quick buck may not work well with the brand-building plans we have in mind. We first found the patient kind who believe in our products in Penang.

“Right now, more than 350 primary and secondary schools are using it regularly,” says Chai, adding that he estimates some 40,000 students are now familiar with the product and are able to differentiate it from others.

Armcrest has used various ways to introduce the product, including organising clay art competitions at schools and even encouraging school fundraising projects whereby student clay artworks are sold.

Interest from Negri Sembilan, Kedah, Kelantan and Selangor is slowly building, says Chai.

According to Chai, their participation in an international fair has also led to the export of the product to Australia and China, and the company is also in discussion with interested parties representing Singapore, Japan, Germany and America.

In the local market, the product comes in retail-sized packaging under the brand Eco Rubber Clay, which is held by his distributor, while schools continue to purchase the larger sets marketed under Armcrest’s own name.

Eco Rubber Clay is a pack of 100g and features easy to measure square bits for each of the six colours whereas for the larger set, each of the six colours comes in 100g rectangular blocks. The former retails at RM18 and the latter at RM98.

Chai reveals that he has found that the products is also suitable for the elderly, in particular those in need of hand, eye and brain coordination exercises.

“In physiotherapy, they use a kind of putty for hand exercises. When we let them try our rubber clay, they immediately take to it and tell us that they like the texture very much,” he says.

Chai says Armcrest Industries could see that the natural eraser business is slowly losing ground.

“These days, students are using pens from standard four onwards. They use correction tapes and liquids in their work. Then there is also the trend of using technological gadgets, including tablets in schools. Manufacturing erasers is a sunset industry,” he admits.

But he says branching out into rubber clay is now seeing results.

“Last year, rubber clay only made up 10% of the company’s yearly turnover which was about RM2mil. In the first half of this year, though, we saw triple the sales volume for rubber clay compared to the whole of last year alone. This is very encouraging, and we foresee that in three years’ time, rubber clay will make up half of our turnover,” Chai predicts.

For those who are interested in Armcrest’s rubber clay products, check out their Facebook page for more details. There are certainly some interesting examples of what you could do with rubber clay.

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