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What is Polyurethane?

7/13/2012 12:54:24 PM | by Anonymous

Polyurethane

Polyurethane is a synthetic man-made material that, since its invention, has benefited several industries and has applications ranging from being used in place of cotton to making bowling balls. It can have characteristics that resemble the elasticity of a rubber, be hard like fiberglass, durability of metals and even serve as a replacement for wood or cotton or thousands of applications across several different fields. Depending on its makeup, the material can even be protective as a varnish or sticky as glue. Since the time it was invented in the 1940s, the material has been used in several different applications, ranging from toys for children to airplane wings, and it still is being developed further to adapt to contemporary technology. As the material has a broad hardness range and great resistance against abrasion, engineers use it as a replacement for rubber, plastic and metal. As it is used as a replacement, it helps industries to save time and cut down maintenance costs that they would have incurred while repairing machine parts that were made out of plastic, rubber or metal.

 

When used as rubbers, polyurethanes provide users with better load bearing capacity and resistance against abrasion and tear. As a replacement for plastics, they provide users with superior impact resistance coupled with better elasticity. As for the case of metals, these materials are used in sleeve bearings, rollers, wear plates and various other parts. The advantage of using them as a replacement to metals is that they are lightweight as compared to metals, which helps in weight reduction of the entire systems along with noise reduction.

 

How it is Made

Based on its chemical structure, polyurethane is classified as a polymer; that is a molecule which constitutes of several repeating smaller units called monomers. Through the chemical reaction between two types of compounds, diisocyanate and a diol, polyurethanes can be created with several variations that constitute to its properties and uses, depending on the different diisocyanate and diol used. The basic material that is made through the chemical reaction has variations which can be stretched, smashed, scratched while still ramining indestructible. Also, the different constituents contribute to the form of the polyurethane created, be it in the form of a liquid, foam or solid, with each form having its own advantages and disadvantages.

 

Polyurethanes that have elastic properties can be classified as elastomers. The elastic properties of these materials is beneficial for applications that require some form of elasticity without deforming too much when under pressure or shock, such as in the wheels of cars. When used in construction as a foam insulator or foam cushion, polyurethane is very flexible. In this case, the material can deformed several times out of its original shape, but still be able to return back to its shape when not faced with anymore pressure. This property is called structural memory.

 

Aside from elastomers, there are also thermoplastics, which are used as a replacement for plastic, metal or fiberglass. Similarly to plastic, metal and fiberglass, these polyurethanes are rigid, smooth, have a sealed surface to keep water and other unwanted fluids from entering a structure and extremely durable. Drink crates that are used to transport glass bottles, seats at airports and containers that are required to be extremely durable and withstand much hurt are usually made out of polyurethanes due to their ability to withstand much pressure and hurt. However the problem with these polyurethanes is that they are difficult to recycle, therefore they are usually reused.

 

Many Other Uses

The uses of polyurethane are abundant, with several applications in household products. Since after their popularity post to World War II, the material has been used widely, from providing seals for surfaces to keep unwanted moisture or fluids out to protecting metals and paints from corrosion. It can even be used as an adhesive as it is able to resist moisture and heat, making a joint last longer and ideal for uses underwater or in the sun.

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