Polyurethanes are used in all types of industries and are ubiquitous in modern life from the insulation in your home to the parts in the car that you drive. Polyurethane is also used to make shoes, skateboards, and medical supplies. Why is this material such a popular choice among manufacturers in all industries?
Let’s look at what makes polyurethane so versatile, the various types you can find, and its many applications.
Versatility of Polyurethane
Because of the way that polyurethane is made, it is a versatile product that can be found in a number of unexpected objects. One of the best known uses is as a protective coating on wood. But, polyurethane is more than a protective coating in a jar. It can be molded into shapes and it can be used as a cushioning feature on cars, shoes, and furniture.
Modern urethane manufacturers are always looking for new ways to customize the product. Since manufacturers can control the softness, rigidity, flammability, or resilience of polyurethane it can be customized for a plethora of uses.
When you actually understand what polyurethane is made of, it is easier to understand why it is such a versatile material.
What is Polyurethane?
Polyurethane is a complex material that includes a polyol reacted with various catalysts or additives. With various polyols and diisocyanates, polyurethanes with slightly different structures can be used in a variety of applications.
Keep in mind:
Polyurethane is not rubber, but it is a type of plastic that can be rigid or flexible or anywhere in between.
There are two types of polyurethane, polyester, and polyether. These are both elastomers, so they have elastic properties. Both are abrasive resistant, while polyester has a sliding quality and polyether is abrasion-resistant.
Polyester resists high temperatures for long periods of time, and polyether resists changing temperatures, making it a better choice for exposure to low temperatures.
When it comes to durability, polyester is more tear-resistant, chemical-resistant, and shock-absorbing. Polyethers are better in moist or humid conditions and have better-rebounding properties.
Types of Polyurethane
Polyester and polyether polyurethanes can be used in a variety of ways. Most of them are designed to make life more comfortable and products more durable.
Flexible Polyurethane Foam
This type of polyurethane is most commonly used as a cushioning or protective material. It is found in furniture, mattresses and bedding, and vehicle interiors. It makes up about 30 percent of the polyurethane sales in North America.
It can be shaped into any form, flexibility, and durability. It is comfortable, lightweight, and supportive. After it has been shaped, it will return to the set shape after being slept on, sat on, or pushed into.
Rigid Polyurethane Foam
These foams are used in commercial and residential insulation because it is energy-efficient and versatile. This foam keeps buildings cool in the summer and warm in the winter. It also dampens exterior noises.
These polyurethanes are used to bind different materials and are commonly used in wood panels, flooring materials, and sand casting. Carpet underlays use binders. Construction materials like joists and structural sheathing are strong because of binders. They are also commonly used in many manufactured housing components.
Coatings, Adhesives, Sealants, and Elastomers (CASE)
Polyurethanes are commonly used to cover or seal different products. This collection of polyurethanes are called CASE and they are used to increase the durability and lifespan of various products.
They create tight bonds between different products, and they can seal products that need to be air- or water-tight. The CASE polyurethanes can be molded into any shape and they are lightweight with notable durability and environmental resistance.
Reaction Injection Molding (RIM)
RIM molding is used for items like car bumpers and computer enclosures. This type of polyurethane is used when injecting molding isn’t enough. It can have different wall strengths and sizes. It can also make parts that have strength with low weight.
RIM parts usually have dimensional stability with dynamic properties, which are popular with sporting goods, furniture, and automotive manufacturers.
This type of polyurethane can be used in many construction and automotive applications. It is elastic, flexible, and abrasive-resistant. It also withstands a range of temperatures and impacts.
TPUs are popular with manufacturers because they can be customized into different colors and shapes. TPUs can be extruded, injected, blown, or compressed.
Waterborne Polyurethane Dispersions (PUDs)
This type of polyurethane is used as coatings or adhesives, but with a water-based solvent. These have become popular in place of volatile organic compounds and hazardous air pollutants.
How Are Polyurethanes Used?
It is nearly impossible to find an industry that does not use polyurethane. It is used in everything from apparel to packaging and flooring to electronics.
This is a list of a few ways that this versatile product is used:
Cars have polyurethane parts from bumper to bumper. In fact, the bumpers are usually lined with polyurethane foams and covered with polyurethane, too. Polyurethanes are also used in the interior spaces as well as in doors and windows.
They insulate the car and they are also used in some of the drivetrain parts. These types of products are used instead of metal because of the durability and flexibility they provide. Polyurethane parts improve fuel economy and increase comfort for passengers.
When you are looking to reduce the weight of packaging components, polyurethane is the go-to material for your dunnage needs. It can be customized to the shape of any item for protection and cushioning. Polyurethane packaging foam (PPF) is used to package items like fragile glass and delicate electronics. PPF is versatile, cost-effective, and customizable.
Polyurethane is used to make fabrics like nylon and spandex. It is so popular in the apparel industry because the stretchy fabrics return to their original shape. They also offer an alternative to leather for people who prefer to live a vegan lifestyle.
Polyurethanes are used to make, coat, and cushion floors. They make floors durable, easy to maintain, long-lasting, and comfortable. They also reduce ambient noises and very few, if any, harmful volatile organic compounds and hazardous air pollutants when compared to other flooring materials.
The marine industry is loaded with polyurethanes that are used to make boats and seal their hulls. They are used in insulation and in engine tubings and hoses. Because polyurethane is so flexible and water-resistant, boaters appreciate how the material makes boats lighter and more energy efficient.
When you go to the hospital, the odds are good that you will come in contact with polyurethane medical devices. They are safe for people with allergies to latex, so they are commonly used in tubing, gloves, wound dressings, and bedding. They are also used in short-term implants.
Composite wood is made of wood products with polyurethane binders. You might better know them as medium-density fiberboard (MDF), long-strand lumber, and oriented strand board. These are popularly used in furniture and construction.
Non-foam polyurethanes (potting components) are used to seal, insulate, and encapsulate various electronic parts. They are used to make underwater cables and microelectronic components. They can be adhesive, dielectric, and temperature resistant.
Because polyurethane can be made into a firm shape or used as a foam, it can be used to insulate homes, electronics, and cars. Polyurethane works to maintain desirable temperatures and to keep exterior noises out of vehicles and buildings.
These are just a few of the different ways that polyurethane is used. It is easy to see how versatile this material is, and how industries benefit from its durability and flexibility. It is water-resistant, abrasion-resistant, noise-dampening, and cushioning. On top of all of these benefits, polyurethane is also cost-effective.
If you have the opportunity to use this versatile material in your manufacturing process, you won’t regret your decision.