You may not be immediately familiar with polyurethane, but you’ve definitely come across it from time to time. Chances are you will have handled everyday objects that are made in part by polyurethane. And these are the most common products that will put you in touch with the substance.
An elastomer is a natural or synthetic polymer with elastic properties, composed of long chain-like molecules that can return to their original shape even after stretching. They are commonly used as seals, moulded flexible parts and adhesives for avenues such as vehicle manufacturing, food production, scientific applications and chemical processes.
Some products that are made from elastomers include tyres, able to maintain a firm grip while still flexible when need be, inner tubing, and rubber flooring, which is manufactured for gyms, kitchens and basements. You will also find elastomers on items of clothing like belts and rubber gloves. Elastomers with a low density are also used for footwear.
Thermal insulation refers to the reduction of heat transfer between objects as well as the prevention of excessive heat loss. This process is most commonly displayed in the home where thermal insulators provide a strong barrier from the cold.
You will find the bulk of thermal insulation is used for buildings and keeping them insulated, particularly lofts – a great necessity considering that 25% of house heat is lost through the roof – cavity walls and external walls – 33% of heat loss is due to the walls – as well as flooring – which sees 15% of house heat loss. It can also be a solid insulator against travelling sound.
This area sees polyurethane liquefied and then dispensed into heated moulds, after which it is then trimmed or machined into shape depending on the desired finished product. If necessary, other materials can be incorporated into the mix, such as metal. You will find these in products such as scrapers, castors, washers, blocks, bumpers, capper rings and gaskets.
It has also been used as an alternative material for tools such as hammers and can be seen as a suitable substitute for wood, considering polyurethane doesn’t come with the typical disadvantages associated with wood, such as rotting, splintering and cracking. Other products made from moulding include screening mats, star wheels and suction cups.
Polyurethane packaging earns its popularity on account of it being lightweight, flexible, resilient and suitable for transporting fragile and delicate products. Even the most intrinsic items are guaranteed safe delivery, such as electronic and medical diagnostic equipment, as well as delicate glassware and large industrial parts. In the event of an accident, the polyurethane can absorb some of the shock from sudden impacts, thereby protecting the product and giving the owners some peace of mind.
On account of its strong grip but necessary flexibility, polyurethane is a natural product for wheels, especially car tyres. These wheels are also utilised in warehouse environments, for machinery such as forklift trucks. There is also a special brand of wheel made from polyurethane that offers the elasticity of rubber and the durability of metal wheels.
These tyres are often abrasion resistant, oil and solvent resistant and come with strong load-bearing capacity. You can find wheels like these on the bottom of your suitcase. Overall, these wheels come with a much longer lifespan, resistant to many changing conditions such as weather and accidents.
You’d be surprised by the many uses of polyurethane and there are so many more to name, like electronics, textiles and furniture. But these are the most prominent use of polyurethane and have helped it attain a reputation as one of the go-to materials for all aspects of life.