Urethane is also known as thermoplastic polyurethane. Urethane is a thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) that combines the positive properties of rubber and plastic. Characterized by an unmatched toughness, urethane is the material of choice for a wide range of applications such as industrial, pharmaceutical, recreational, clothing, and several others. Polyurethane is superior to several other types of TPE's as it is malleable even at low temperatures, unlike polyvinyl chloride (PVC) which turns brittle when it is too cool.
Based on its chemical structure, a urethane, in its soft phase, is usually a polyether or polyester, which is further separated in hard segments of aliphatic or aromatic. A polyether delivers greater softness and fungus resistance compared to polyester. However, polyester is tougher and is resistant to oxidization. Aliphatic urethane does not degrade in ultraviolet light and it delivers greater visual clarity. Aromatic urethane is an all-purpose resin, but it is not UV light resistant.
Urethane was invented in the 1950s and it is now commonly used to replace parts and compounds that used to be made of plastics, ferrous and non-ferrous metals. Urethane possesses many characteristics that are useful in the manufacturing industry as the materials’ compounds contain electrical properties, which makes urethane an ideal and commonly used electrical insulating material.
Because urethane is very durable it is often used instead place of plastics and metals in situations where abrasion and friction usually wear down the part or the product. Along with being erosion resistant, urethane is also resistant to a variety of greases, oils, solvents and chemicals. The material can also be stretched into various shapes and thicknesses and it will still keep its original characteristics and return to its original shape. This is possible as urethane retains its elasticity and strength when it hardens.
Urethane is commonly used in the manufacturing of heavy-duty operations such as shock absorbing gun mounts and the tire tread of escalators and elevators, as well as in delicate usages such as trans-dermal patches, compression dressings, orthodontic bands, and ear plugs, etc. Urethane is expensive compared to other TPE's. It is a versatile material and can be bonded, cut and stitched to a wide range of substrates.