Polyurethane Molding the World around You
by Breana Cronk, IQS Editor
While this evening and tomorrow promise a brief break in the rainy weather Michigan has enjoyed of late, this morning provided yet another wonderful opportunity for a perfectly soggy commute. In anticipation of the cold and wet walk to work, even just from the car to the front door, most will arm themselves with raincoats, galoshes and perhaps an umbrella. All of this impeccable and impermeable protection is graciously afforded by polyurethane molding, the invention of which oddly enough was sparked by the need to protect aircraft and military personnel during WWII. In the spirit of those times, this material has continued to be a force to reckon with, hard at work in both domestic and industrial settings around the country and around the world.
Photo courtesy of FallLine Corporation.
Beyond rain gear, urethane molding is an extremely diverse field. In fact, polyurethane is likely all around you at this very moment. From footwear to wood finishing and even crown molding, polyurethane has become a mainstay of modern product design. Highly adaptable, molded items can be rigid or flexible and are often used as an affordable and more durable alternative to rubber, plastics and even some metals. The popularity of molded urethane products is not that surprising once the many benefits of this versatile elastomer are considered. In addition to weather resistance, polyurethane offers a high resistance to abrasions, cuts, tears, oil and even radiation. Soundproofing foam, refrigeration components, sofa cushions, sponges and even surfboards can all be made of this molded elastic polymer which can be as soft as chewing gum or as rigid as metal.
Photo courtesy of Gallagher Corporation.
Beyond the comforts of home, the demand placed on polyurethane manufactures is equally plentiful in the industrial sector. Medical, automotive, mining, food processing and construction list just a handful of the applications which commonly employ these materials. Products such as polyurethane rods and urethane bumpers, bearings and wheels are popular as they enjoy the same properties listed above for domestic and commercial molded or cast items. Additionally, both open and closed polyurethane molded products have a greater load bearing capacity than rubber and better corrosion resistance and noise reduction properties than many metals.
Photos courtesy of FallLine Corporation.
Boasting a broad range of textures, rigidity and hardness; molded polyurethane products are surprisingly ubiquitous. To accommodate such a broad array of purposes, several billion pounds of the material are used annually. To illustrate the overwhelming presence of these items in daily life, thirty nine million of those pounds are used for footwear alone. With the coming technological advancements yet to be introduced to mass production, these numbers will no doubt continue to grow. As materials become more flame resistant and recyclable and are produced in increasingly efficient and environmentally friendly ways, consumers and engineers alike continue to find new and inventive ways to employ this advanced material of the 1930’s.