There are many kinds of polyurethane. Polyurethanes are a family of plastics, or more specifically, elastomeric polymers, that includes rubber, which, since first invented in 1937, have been adapted to produce a broad spectrum of products. The material is exceptionally versatile, durable, flexible, adaptable, and resilient. Formed by a synthesis of poly-isocyanate and polyol, polyurethane holds mechanical properties that give it the strength of rigid plastic and the elasticity of rubber.
Polyurethane applications are near endless, and it is often used instead of wood, metal, paint, or cotton in many components and parts for consumer and industrial products. The foam in mattresses and upholstered furniture—couches, sofas, armchairs—is made of polyurethane, and so is soft foam found in toys and pillows. Insulation in walls and roofs, liquid coatings and paints, roller blade wheels, types of elastic fibers, components or parts used in automobiles, medical devices, footwear, adhesives, sealants, and flooring are all made with polyurethanes.
Like polyurethane, rubber is an elastomer. Because of their elastic properties, elastomers are often and aptly described as rubbery materials. Many may still conceive of most rubber products deriving from its natural form, that being from organic latex harvested from rubber trees, rather than the synthetic rubber made from petroleum byproducts. Though organic rubber is still harvested for use, the majority of rubber products manufactured today are made with synthetic rubber. In total, the latter accounts for approximately two-thirds of the world’s annual production.
Rubber is synonymous with tires, and it’s no wonder. Its elasticity, resilience, and toughness make rubber the basic component in the manufacturing of tires for cars, buses, trucks, aircraft, and bicycles. Most rubber production is generated for the automotive sector. Half of all rubber produced goes into the manufacture of tires for automobiles alone. A large percentage goes into mechanical parts and components like bushings, mountings, gaskets, hoses, and belts. Other rubber goods produced are for such consumer products as shoes, toys, clothing, and furniture.