Though created originally as an unforeseen result of unsuccessful rubber tire vulcanization experiments, polymer foams trace their roots back to 1931. After several years of additional experimentation, the first commercial polymer - polyurethane - was developed in the early days of World War II to replace traditional rubber products, and also produce a durable spray sealant to weatherproof metal and wood. |
The next big advancement in foam technologies came in the mid-1940s with the advent of flexible polyurethane foam to produce clean, durable, and inexpensive cushions for furniture and automobiles.
Developmental and chemical progress in the 50's and 60's led to the next great leap for foam technologies. These advancements, and the products they created, would find polyurethane foam products becoming a foundation for growth and common use in the Medical, Office and Home Furniture, Marine, Transportation, Retail, Automotive, Packaging, Construction, Hi-Tech and Aerospace industries.
New injection molding methods allowed the introduction of liquid polymer substances into molds to create hard, durable plastic parts to replace more expensive metal ones. Twin screw processes that blended different raw materials with liquid polymers into unique molds created new types of fixed products which produced, among other things, early generation circuit boards found in early transistor radios, other consumer electronic products, and large mainframe computers.
Sophisticated extrusion coating foam technologies allowed liquid polymers to raise the bar in protecting products from weather much better, and longer, than first generation polyurethane coatings did. This method primarily involved more efficient blowing and spray applications to create durable roofing products, exterior siding found on many homes, and indoor foam insulation. But there was a downside to all of this, once the dangers of asbestos insulated foam - a common polymer-based insulation in the post World War II world - became apparent. But the industry made adjustments, learned its lessons and pressed forward
Today, new millennium foam technologies are cleaner, greener, more versatile and very durable. Polyurethane compounds that are developed from natural oil sources, such as the combinations of polyurethane elements with vegetable oil or other non-petroleum-based oils, not only deliver reliable performance, but are more biodegradable and environmentally friendly.
One of the most popular 21st century polymer foam products is the "smart" mattress that is comprised of Viscoelastic (memory) foam. And though not yet perfected, this remarkable invention is already a strong performer in the bedding and mattress marketplace.
As the processes for creating polymers have become more common and affordable, inventive more regional and local manufacturers are working with customers to create unique products for pennies that only a generation ago would have cost several dollars. New prototypes are developed daily that involve design, unique tooling and testing. Many begin with a pencil drawing during a "what if?" conversation over a business lunch.
These same smaller companies that specialize in sophisticated foam technologies now offer full turnkey solutions in the development of new, higher quality products that make it to the marketplace faster, and at a lower cost.
It's amazing of what can grow from a failed industrial experiment.
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