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8 Different Types of Polyurethane

Rolls of polyurethane foam.

Learn about the different types of polyurethane here - along with all the pros and cons.

Who doesn’t love a life of comfort and convenience? In the modern 21st century, polyurethane makes this possible for everyone, everywhere. How? With polyurethane — the most versatile of all plastic products. There’s a very good chance you are sleeping on it, sitting on it, even playing with it. That’s because polyurethane is found in everyday consumer products, like mattresses, couches, foam toys, and so much more. It’s also used as a finishing product (a DIY dream) for wood and other materials. You’ll even find it in your can of paint and insulation, in your car, your refrigerator, and even your shoes! There’s no doubt about the adaptability of this product to enhance our lives.

Types of Polyurethane

Polyurethane was first used as a replacement for rubber during WWII. It was discovered by one man, Dr. Otto Bayer, who invented the process for creating it. Basically, this amazing product is made by reacting a polyol with a diisocyanate or polymeric isocyanate along with other additives and catalysts, resulting in a wide range of applications, such as liquid coatings, roller blade wheels, elastic fiber, those mentioned above, and many more. It’s amazing how one man changed the world with one great discovery. In fact, by the end of WWII, this versatile product was being manufactured and used on an industrial scale. When you think about it, polyurethane is largely responsible for keeping humanity warm, comfortable, and entertained in our modern world. It is truly a magical product that solves a variety of complex problems in today’s world. Read on to learn more about the different types of polyurethane.

Reaction Injection Molding (RIM)

Custom CNC machining /plastic Reaction Injection Molding / vacuum casting for car accessories

Source: Alibaba

We weren’t kidding when we said polyurethane solves an abundance of problems and that’s what makes it a magical product. Take, for example, RIM. This process outshines typical injection molding processes by supplying the material needed to make car bumpers, computer enclosures, foamed cores, and electrical housing panels. Apart from using polyurethane, these products probably wouldn’t exist. What polyurethane does in this instance is mold into a specific shape needed to make the product. Only polyurethane can do this. These RIM products are made to be heat-resistant with high strength, little weight, and lots of flexibility.

Pros

  • RIM equals fast production. In fact, one cycle can be completed in 30 seconds.
  • RIM is an affordable option with no added costs during the production process.
  • RIM has both color and material flexibility.  A manufacturer can choose between a variety of colors and shades, as well as add other enhancements before the final product is finished.

Cons

  • When using RIM, you can expect lofty start-up fees. This is because you may need to start with a heavy metal prototype. If you’re on a budget, you can opt for an aluminum mold prototype instead.
  • The time it takes to create and manufacture a mold can be lengthy, usually a month or more.
  • If adjustments are needed for the mold, this can be challenging since it takes a while to make a mold.

Polyurethane Coatings

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Man applying polyurethane coating on an engineered wood floor.

From paint to other liquid coatings, polyurethane coatings offer tremendous benefits. Whether you’re building a cabin in the woods or a desk for your home office, a polyurethane coating will enhance a product’s appearance by making it shine and lengthen its lifespan.

Pros

  • Polyurethane Coatings create a strong barrier against the elements once it hardens, offering superior protection.
  • This finish just looks great. It offers a great shine that will catch a buyer’s eye.

Cons

  • Polyurethane coatings can not be sprayed on. They must be brushed on, with drying time between coats.
  • The drying time is longer than other finishes.
  • Because the polyurethane polymers are flammable, you need to use it in a well-ventilated space. Be sure to protect your hands and face with gloves and a face mask.

Polyurethane Adhesives, Sealants, and Binders

Polyurethane foam sprayer

This adhesive provides a strong bonding advantage and tighter seals. One of the most popular adhesives is the polyurethane hot melt adhesive, known for its superior bonding strength. This type of polyurethane is used primarily to manufacture rubber, wood panels, and elastomeric flooring by adhering to various types of particles and fibers to each other.

Pros

  • Polyurethane hot-melts are stronger than water bases adhesives.
  • It’s easy to use. In fact, you can use it with a glue gun or other equipment.
  • This adhesive quickly forms and sets a bond, making the manufacturing process speedy.
  • Overall, it has superior flexibility, strength, and resistance to chemicals and temperatures.

Cons

  • Because the set time is fast, this also requires you to work fast. There is no room or time for mistakes.
  • The adhesive stays on the surface, rather than soaking in. This can leave a bond line behind, which may cause issues regarding aesthetics and packaging. Therefore, you need to take this bond line into account during the production process.

Polyurethane Elastomers

High quality Polyurethane elastomer product

Source: Alibaba

Elastomer is a synthetically produced elastic substance, similar to rubber, hence why it was used to replace rubber in WWII and became one the most famous and versatile man-made substances on earth. The elasticity of these elastomers allows for it to be stretched and then when released, it rebounds to its original shape. This means that there will never be a distortion after stretching and pulling a polyurethane elastomer. They are primarily used in mining, mold making, and marine applications.

Pros

  • Polyurethane elastomers are abrasion, tear, chemical, and load resistant.
  • It’s also transparent, lightweight, and works as an adhesive.
  • Environmentally stable
  • Resilient
  • Easily processed

Cons

  • Can bubble when exposed to excess moisture as it is moisture sensitive.
  • As with all polyurethanes, elastomers also have a shelf-life.

Rigid Polyurethane Foam

Rigid Polyurethane Foam

This product is used as insulation. In fact, this type of foam significantly cuts heating and cooling costs and is found in many residential and commercial properties. As it’s the most popular insulation on the market today, it is used all over the world.  In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, both heating and cooling costs make up 56 percent of all energy use in a U.S. home. The use of rigid polyurethane foam in walls, windows, doors, and air barriers are the most effective way to keep out noise and maintain a comfortable indoor temperature.

Pros

  • Rigid polyurethane foam is a perfect insulation for cold and/or wet climates. From Alaska to Seattle and across the northwest to the east coast and up through Canada (where it’s always cold, eh?) this effective foam is critical for warmth, comfort, and protection from mold and rot. Used in framing walls, this rigid foam also prevents thermal bridging when applied to the outside.
  • Controlling moisture is important for any structure. Using polyurethane rigid foam protects wood sheathing and framing from rain and leaks. At the same time, it warms the interior framing in order to prevent accumulated moisture while the interior air is heated during the colder months.
  • Say goodbye to air leaks with a rigid foam barrier. In fact, this foam is able to stop air entering and exiting out the building at the same time.

Cons

  • It’s better to hire a professional to install rigid foam because of the strict procedures needed to meet state codes. Sorry, DIYers.
  • If your plan is to use rigid foam rather than wood sheathing, you’ll need to prevent racking by installing additional bracing.
  • Rigid foam is more expensive than other options. However, it’s just a one time cost that pays for itself in the long run. 

Flexible Polyurethane Foam

Flexible Polyurethane Foam

When you sit on your couch, ride in your car, or sleep on your bed, you can thank flexible polyurethane foam for the cushion’s comfort. This foam is used primarily in a large abundance of both commercial and consumer products, including carpet underlay, packaging, furniture, bedding, and auto interiors.  Due to its flexible nature, polyurethane foam can be created in almost shape and any level of firmness to enhance a product’s level of support, comfort, durability, and firmness.  It makes up 30 percent of the polyurethane market in all of North America.

Pros

  • This foam is super soft, making it a great choice for furniture comfort.
  • Durability – it lasts longer than many other materials.

Cons

  • It’s typically more expensive than other materials in today’s marketplace.
  • The chemicals emitted from flexible polyurethane foam can be harmful to persons with respiratory problems by reducing airflow and irritating breathing.

Waterborne Polyurethane Dispersions (PUDs)

A coating of protective sealant applied on a surface.

In this polyurethane application, the primary solvent is water. This fact makes PUDs the go-to choice for industrial and commercial applications due to its absence of hazardous air pollutants and volatile organic compounds that are not good for the environment.

Pros

  • It makes it easier to strip or repair wood furniture.
  • Lower commercial insurance overall.
  • It is non-hazardous and has lower VOC emissions, making it better for the environment.

Cons

  • It needs heat to dry fast.
  • It’s not as durable as other materials.

Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU)

Polyurethane bush spare parts

TPUs are primarily used in the automotive, construction, and footwear industries. It is highly flexible, adaptable, and elastic. It’s also resistant to abrasion, weather, and impact. Furthermore, it can be fabricated and colored to enhance a product’s look and durability.

Pros

  • It softens with high temperatures.
  • It can be easily reshaped and recycled.
  • It is highly flexible and can be used for numerous applications.
  • Shows high resiliency.

Cons

  • Thermoplastic polyurethane has a drying time before it can be processed.
  • It is not as cost-effective as other materials.
  • Some grades have a shorter lifespan than others.

Frequently Asked Questions

Polyurethane Foam

What is polyurethane made of?

This substance is made from a chemical reaction consisting of polyol and diisocyanate. From this reaction, polyurethane is created. It is safe, versatile, and solves a number of manufacturing problems in the world due to its flexibility, resilience, and rigidity.

How many products are made from polyurethane?

The truth is no one really knows — that’s how many! Because polyurethanes are extremely versatile, they can be used in numerous products. Everything from roof insulation, surfboards, furniture, and more.

How much polyurethane is produced in a year?

Over two million tonnes of polyurethane is produced in the EU every year

Why are Polyurethanes used in refrigerators?

Since polyurethanes have been used in refrigerators, they are now 60 percent more effective.

Are polyurethanes CFC-free?

Yes, but only in developed countries.

Is polyurethane roof insulation more effective?

Yes. In fact, this insulation saves the consumer up to 75 percent on their energy costs.

When was the first polyurethane surfboard made and used?

The 1950s

What are some other uses of polyurethane?

It is used to make boats more buoyant. As insulation in cars, it reduces noise by 50 percent.

How many people are employed in the polyurethane industry worldwide?

Over 2 million people worldwide.

How many Americans are employed in the polyurethane industry?

Over one million

What is the projected market value for polyurethane in the U.S.?

The market is expected to reach $91 million by the year 2026

How durable is polyurethane?

Typically, it’s lifespan exceeds the life of the product it was used to make.

Is Polyurethane the right material for my product?

This depends. It is best to contact a professional to know for sure.

Will polyurethane start to crack over the years?

Overall, when properly made, polyurethane has a long life, even when exposed to elements and aging effects. What’s even better, it that is keeps its original form and characteristics.

Does polyurethane have an advantage over rubber?

Yes. Because of its chemical compound makeup, polyurethane is resistant against sunlight, acid and even the ozone. On the other hand, rubber disintegrates after much exposure to the ozone. Furthermore, polyurethane is harder, a much better insulator, and highly resistant to wear and tear and hazards such as oil

What advantages does polyurethanes have over plastics?

Simply put, polyurethane is far more shock resistant than plastic. It also reduces noise levels, is radiation-resistant, and is not as affected by extreme temperatures. Overall, the costs are typically lower, as well.




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