On this page, find out how our products are manufactured in our Australian & Chinese factories. Information on production time and a piece about the history of the invention of neoprene, the first neoprene coolers, and recycling is also covered.
How Our Products Are Made
There are no shelves full of pre-manufactured products, waiting to be instantly printed and sent on the same day. Instead, there is a complex chain of raw materials, machinery and people at our factory to complete your order. There is also a ‘production queue’ of other client’s orders — see below.
All of our products start life as a flat sheet of neoprene: generally 3 m long by 1.5 m wide (+/- 4% variability). Each product has a specific template: a blank, which is cut from the neoprene sheets prior to printing and manufacture. Either a giant sliding cutting knife is used — in the case of square or rectangular blanks, or a punch for irregular shaped blanks — similar to a giant scone or biscuit cutter. To save on production time, and therefore cost to you, several layers of neoprene sheets are cut at once. Up to 3% variance may occur in the size of the blanks during the cutting process.
Once you have approved the artwork, the blanks are printed, (see printing techniques) with either single colour screen print, multiple colour — from 2 to 6, plastisol transfer print, or unlimited colour dye sublimation print. Of course, we can supply unprinted products as well. Where a seam is required, most products are initially glued together with a two-part neoprene adhesive prior to stitching. Stitching is either zigzag with tacked ends; full loop, cup seam, with tacked ends; or running stitch with tacked ends — depending on the product. The thread used is a strong, black, poly-cotton. Other thread colours are available — please enquire. We do not use glued or heat applied Mauser tape for fixing the seams — which is, in our opinion, inferior to gluing and sewing. Our product is strong and durable with a neat finish.
Where a base is required, each unit is pushed onto a metal sleeve, with 2 part neoprene adhesive applied to the inside of the product, and the outside of the base. For coolers that normally sit on their bases, we use a checker plate/fish scale pattern raw neoprene finish, which provides grip on tabletops. After positioning the base, the product is pulled from the sleeve and dried. Unlike manufacturers using a single part, non-neoprene specific glue, our bases are not prone to falling out.
For added visual impact and extra strength, some product’s seams have their exposed edges bound with 13 or 20 mm black piping (Mauser tape). Nylon strapping can also be sewn to various products for use as a hand, neck, or shoulder strap. Additionally, a plastic clip can be added for attaching the product to a belt.
Another seam fixing method utilizes two-part Velcro strips, which are stitched to the unit: see product codes 003, and 019. Product codes 009, B3T2 and 552 use the same two-part Velcro fixing system to form closure mechanisms. Alternately, product codes such as 006, 007 and 008’s closure mechanisms are a zip-fastener. Two different grades of zip are used; both have nylon runners, with metal sliders and are fixed in place with either zigzag or running stitching, and tacked at the ends. In some products, metal staples are also fixed in place to ensure the zip slider does not come loose.
For exact specifications, visit the product page, and click on the item you’re interested in.
The Production Queue
At any time of the year there is generally at least a week of forward orders at either factory, which ensures certainty of full time employment for our workers.
Printing of the pre-cut product blanks is the first step of the process & can often take place on the day you place your order. Gluing, sewing and adding the various straps, zips, clips, or piping is the most labour intensive part of the process.
This production queue will vary according to seasonal demand. Even at the busiest time of the year — the start of the Australian summer — there’s generally no more than 3 weeks of forward orders in the production queue at either factory. We will always try to meet specific deadlines for you by shuffling other non time-specific orders to push yours forward. On the rare occasions that this may not be possible, I’ll let you know early in the quote/ordering process, which will allow you time to find another supplier.
Please note that the Australian factory is closed for three weeks over the Christmas & New Year period (as well as all national & Queensland gazetted holidays). The factory in China is closed for two weeks, for the Chinese New Year celebrations, which vary from year to year. As you’d understand, any orders that come in over this time will build up in the production queue, so allow some extra time if you want neoprene goods at these times.
Polychloroprene was developed in 1931 in a DuPont lab headed by the American chemist Wallace Hume Carothers. The material was initially called Duprene. Neoprene has since become the generic name of DuPont’s product, which is essentially a synthetic rubber. Closed cell neoprene contains minute bubbles of nitrogen gas, which has a low thermal conductivity that gives the product its fantastic insulation properties. Neoprene is made when a chemical reaction takes place to form large rectangular blocks, which are then sliced horizontally into sheets. Finally a layer of coloured jersey is glued to each side, which becomes the neoprene sheet colour.
The Invention of the First Neoprene Can and Bottle Coolers
Due to its flexible, durable and insulative properties, divers and surfers found neoprene to be an ideal material for wet suits worn to protect the user against heat loss while in the water. Developed in the mid 1950’s, several surf goods manufacturers claim they were the first to make a neoprene wet suit. At about the same time, legend has it that the first neoprene ‘can/stubby/stubbie cooler/holder’ was created: an Australian surfer cut the end off a damaged wet suit arm, and pushed a beer can into it. Again, several surf goods manufacturers in Australia and overseas claim they were the first to commercially produce neoprene coolers.
The sheets we use are actually 25% neoprene, and 75% elasticizors, and again, the generic name for this product is neoprene. We use a similar grade to that which is used to make good quality divers and surfer’s wet suits. Because of the high-grade material and construction methods we use, our products can be easily cleaned by popping them in with a load of clothing in a washing machine and hanging on the line to dry. There are no commercial scale manufacturers of closed cell neoprene sheets in Australia, so we import from Asia by the 6 metre container load. We stock 2mm., 3 mm., 5mm., and 8mm. thickness sheets — see our colour charts.
The wet suit cooler is now known across Australia as a Stubbie cooler/holder — a stubby is a 375 ml glass beer bottle; can cooler/holder, or Echo cooler/holder — an Echo is a 375 ml glass beer bottle which seems to be an exclusive South Australian term. Our company and many others have proceeded to develop and manufacture neoprene coolers to fit most beverage containers worldwide. We can also supply sun glass straps, computer mouse pads, mug/glass coasters, CD/DVD holders, pencil cases, golf ball + tee holders, floating key rings, sun visors, sun glass cases, lanyards and even neoprene flying discs (similar to a Frizbee™). Take a look at the product page to learn more.
Everything we sell is designed for a very long life, however like most things in life our products will eventually wear out, or become too stained to show a logo or message effectively. Neoprene can’t be placed in kerbside recycling bins in Australia, however please don’t let your used neoprene products end up as landfill!
Because I’m in the neoprene product business but also ‘human’, mistakes have occurred where a wrong print colour was applied, or the wrong neoprene colour was used for a particular order, so I’ve occasionally ended up with boxes of spare products. These are mostly ‘002’ cylinder with base can/stubbie coolers, as they are by far the most popular product we sell. Besides using some as samples, and dropping bagfuls to every party I attend, I’ve come up with a few novel ideas for ‘expired’ neoprene products.
One of my first experiments was to stuff a bean-bag full of coolers, but this was a bit too heavy and did not allow the same ‘give’ as the polystyrene balls normally used. Instead, I’ve found that cutting the neoprene into small chunks and stuffing into cushions works wonderfully. These cushions are particularly useful outdoors, as the neoprene doesn’t absorb excessive moisture and can be left out in the elements.
Another use is for pipe insulation. The product’s neoprene can be cut and wrapped around hot water pipes, then over wrapped with duct tape. In the case of cylinder style products, the base can be removed — with quite a bit of effort, as the glue we use is very strong — and slipped over PVC piping for insulation in a situation where hot or cold air is being moved from one place to another.
Because neoprene is a great shock absorbing material, it can be wrapped around almost anything to prevent contact damage: e.g. bicycle handlebars, roll bars in motor vehicles.
If you’ve got any other great ideas, I’d love to hear them, and add to this page. I’m an avid recycler, so please contact me so I can share your ideas with the rest of the world. To find out more about the other ways we at Tropical Coolers try to lessen our impact on the earth, please visit the environmental ethics page.