Polymer foams first started being produced in the 1930s and 1940s. Polyurethane was invented at the beginning of World War II and was used as a replacement for rubber and a coating to protect favorite materials of the era like metals and wood. After the war, polyurethane foam came about, being used for cushioning in the automotive industry.
In the modern world, polymer foams can be found virtually everywhere. They are used in a variety of applications, including disposable packaging for the fast-food industry and around the home when it comes to insulation and even chair cushioning. Let’s examine more about what makes polyurethane foam the ideal choice for all kinds of uses, in all sorts of industries.
Different Types of Polyurethane Foam
There are kinds that are more rigid and those that are more flexible—which is very useful because it makes the substance more versatile so that it can fit many different needs.
This is one of the reasons it is so highly valued in a lot of fields. The foams can be produced in several different ways which also adds to the appeal, such as pouring, extrusion, and molding. Additionally, it has a significantly lower density and therefore enables better weight reduction compared with other common options. Some polymer foams also have conveniently low heat transfer properties, explaining why they are fantastic insulators. Many of them are soft, too, and thus can help make bedding more comfortable.
One type of popular polymer material, polyurethane foam, can be further divided into two main kinds: thermoplastics and thermosets. Thermoplastics can often be recycled and further innovations are being worked on to make it even more environmentally friendly since that is one of the biggest concerns in the polymer foam industry—it is very important to assess the waste from disposal, including recyclability, as well as to be aware of flammability and the effect of blowing chemical agents.
How Urethane Foam Is Used Across Industries
Stated by polyurethane manufacturers, polyurethane foam is well-suited for countless industries due to the broad spectrum of items and materials that can be produced with the substance to meet consumer demands.
With flexible polyurethane foam, rigid polyurethane foam, CASE (coatings, adhesives, sealants, and elastomers), and TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane), to RIM (reaction injection molding), binders, and PUDs (waterborne polyurethane dispersions), there is virtually no vertical that cannot benefit from making the benefits their own.
Fashion and Apparel
Polyurethane foam can be made into very fine threads, and therefore can be combined with nylon for businesses seeking to make more stretchable, lightweight pieces of clothing. In more recent years, polyurethanes have been able to be worked into spandex and beyond. It’s especially useful when it comes to faux, animal-free leathers, sports garments, and accessories.
Appliances and Electronics
Revisiting the insulation aspect, polyurethane foam is an important component in refrigerators, freezers, and other major appliances that people use every day. Rigid polyurethane foam is a cost-effective alternative to what was being used prior, as it resists heat transfer and meets required energy ratings, rendering it more eco-friendly.
As for electronics, polyurethane foam can encapsulate, insulate, and seal pressure-sensitive, fragile, microelectronic components, as well as printed circuit boards and underwater cables. Special compounds using the substance are equipped to protect electronics, providing adhesive and dielectric properties. They also act as a solvent and are resistant to moisture and extreme temperatures.
As mentioned, polyurethane foam can be used for cars—but it’s not just about having comfy seats. Bumpers, interior ceiling areas, parts of the actual car body, spoilers, doors, and windows all use polyurethanes, too. In taking advantage of the innovative material, manufacturers are able to offer drivers and their passengers much more mileage by increasing fuel economy, reducing weight, and having added corrosion resistance.
And it’s not just automobiles—even the aerospace industry has been able to reap the benefits of the adaptable, highly-functional solution in the modern-day!
Buildings, Construction, and Furnishings
People want high-performing, durable, and strong, yet lightweight, affordable, and easily-installed materials for their homes.
They also want to conserve natural resources, and again, reduce energy usage. This is another place where polyurethane foam comes in handy, chosen for these attributes in building and construction. Polyurethane foam is used all across the house, including in floors—making them easier to clean and maintain and boosting aesthetics in a lot of cases—and in roofing. People like that many of the things in their homes that contain this material are able to come in different colors, finishes, and styles.
As far as cushioning for upholstered furniture goes, the foam doesn’t just make furniture more comfortable as we saw with the automotive industry, but more supportive.
Marine and Boating
Polyurethane foam acts as an effective sealant for boat hulls and aids in protecting them from weather, water, corrosion, and other elements. Countless Americans enjoy boating every year and this recreational activity is made even safer and more pleasant by the foam’s abilities to also “seal” out noise and extreme temperatures.
The substance can also increase a boat’s load-bearing capacity without adding too much weight. Other areas of the marine industry that can benefit from polyurethane foam are when critical cable and wire coatings are needed, in addition to engine tubing, hydraulic hoses, drive belts—and even ship molding for commercial.
Medical and Healthcare
This is a big one. The healthcare industry has experienced all types of advantages when implementing the power of polyurethane foam into their facilities. It is found in catheters and other tubing, surgical drapes, hospital bedding, wound dressings, implants, and more. In medical applications, they have proved to be cost-effective, tough, and efficient, improving patient outcomes which also enhances job satisfaction for clinicians and staff of those practices.
Shipping and Packaging
Polyurethane foam can be made to provide more affordable, custom form-fitting, ultimately time and reputation-saving protection in the form of cushioning for breakable items in transit.
When someone packs something up and ships it out, they want to be able to trust that the object will arrive at its destination without damage. The risk is reduced by utilizing the foams. Knowing the items are more secure being transported or stored this way, more people in the industry are turning to adopt this solution for things like large, crucial industrial parts and particularly delicate glassware.
Recapping What We Learned About Polyurethane Foam
Polyurethane foam is only one of the many ways that urethane is being manufactured. It’s easy to tell that these polymers are changing the game with cheaper processing and production costs and higher efficiency. We expect this extremely resourceful category of materials to continue to more widely saturate further industries as word spreads about all the reasons to make use of its value.