How and why is Polyurethane Manufactured?
How can the same substance be a coating, comfortable foam and an incredibly strong and dense part such as a wheel or stop? The secret is in the way polyurethane is manufactured. So, let’s look at this fascinating process.
The incredible and unrivalled versatility of polyurethane revolves around the way its fundamental components work together. Change the mix and you change the end result in some dramatic ways. However, creating polyurethane always involves a chemical chain reaction and always produces a lightweight but stable material.
The answer to ‘How is Polyurethane manufactured?’ is rather complex. This general overview provides the basics on how polyurethane can take so many different forms and how it can be so resistant to friction, abrasion, pressure and environmental factors such as oil, heat and moisture.
Breaking down the science
The two core components of polyurethane include a polyol. This is an organic compound and it contains multiple reactive hydroxyl groups (OH radicals) in each of its molecules. The second central component is a diisocyanate (or polymeric isocyanate). This is a chemical building block, that is highly reactive.
By mixing these two reactive compounds together in differing quantities – and by varying the catalysts and additives – you can produce a diverse end result. One that is lightweight, yet highly durable.
That’s because one of the common traits of all forms of polyurethane is how incredibly well bonded the components become. Their structural integrity is unparalleled. Which is why polyurethane can bounce back to shape when used in cushions or can repel corrosion or abrasion when moulded into parts.
This amazing chain reaction also explains why polyurethane can be strong and durable, yet much lighter than alternative materials.
How polyurethane becomes practical products
Varying the mix of the polyurethane components will always create a harmless and inert substance. You can then process the material to create a huge variety of coverings, components, parts and structures.
For example, you could put it into moulds to create customised polyurethane wheels, rollers, stops, linings, discs, hooks, rings, bars and rods. The incredible structural integrity means it is possible to engrave, cut, emboss and otherwise alter this substance to shape even the most complicated bespoke part.
Any shape, any dimensions and with any choice of custom detailing for polyurethane components.
Not all polyurethane gets pressed, shaped and cut into for solid parts though of course.
By amending the diisocyanates and polyols used, the substrate could become rigid or flexible foam or a coating. You can produce polyurethanes with adhesive properties, or manufacture ideal sealants that dry to a 100% reliable finish.
Thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU)
Thermoplastic refers to the polyurethane that is heated to shape it before it cools to become a durable form. This classification of polyurethane is one of the most common and finds its way into homes, cars and electrical devices.
It has been developed for its elasticity and resistance factors. In other words, it is incredibly flexible but also incredibly strong! Making it the perfect way to create a substrate as pliable as rubber, but as tough as metal.
Thermoplastic polyurethane can be shaped on extrusion, injection or compression moulding machines, and can be used in film, sheet and profile applications. TPU can be manufactured to be transparent or produced in a colour, and it offers a smooth to the touch finish.
You would find thermoplastic polyurethane moulded into sheaths to protect wires and cables, or as sheets and insulators used in construction. It is also be used in manufacturing footwear, medical devices, instrument panels and mobile phones. Showing just how versatile it is!
Having explored how polyurethane is manufactured, and some of the many ways it is used, the next question could be whether it is an expensive alternative to rubber, metal or plastic.
Despite the many advantages of polyurethane – and its complex manufacturing process – polyurethane is remarkable low cost to produce. Components are readily available and highly sustainable.
You can also benefit from the technical expertise and experience of Custom Moulded Polyurethane. Being a specialist in this sector with a superb network of contacts and the latest technology helps us to keep unit prices low, even for relatively short runs of bespoke polyurethane parts.
Contact us to see how your specifications can be reliably met, at an attractive price, even for complicated or highly specialist polyurethane parts.