Polyurethanes are extensively used in the automotive sector with up to 20Kg on average being used in a passenger vehicle. They are often used to solve problems by automotive design engineers:
There are a number of ways in which polyurethanes are used to enhance the safety of vehicle occupants: from impact absorbing bumpers to the inclusion of energy-management foam pads in the cabin to protect occupants in collisions. Governments around the world are following the USA, where legislation was introduced in the late 1990’s setting new standards of vehicle occupant safety.
Consumers are becoming more discriminating in their demand for stylish vehicles with attractive exteriors and highly comfortable interiors. Polyurethanes has often provided an expressive outlet for design creativity. Polyurethane components can be tailored to a wide range of stylish shapes, with a variety of density and hardness that gives vehicle owners the look they desire as well as the outstanding ergonomic comfort and support. Acoustic foams are used to lower noise and vibration levels, in general the cockpit shape has modified to provide a wrap-around effect thanks to the ease of design provided by Polyurethane.
Polyurethanes make durable but lightweight components and can often replace traditional, heavier materials such as steel and other metals in a variety of parts. In addition there is a versatility about Polyurethanes that provides great latitude in improving vehicle aerodynamics through the moulding of multi-dimensional shapes for use as air dams and spoilers that reduce drag and thereby fuel consumption. These days, vehicle seating designed around Polyurethane foam is considerably lighter than traditional seats that used a combination of rubberised hair, springs and metal frames.
The drive to design the most innovative and appealing vehicle is tempered by 2 important operating demands: a continuous reduction in manufacturing costs and increased production efficiency. Because of their processing flexibility, polyurethanes can be designed and moulded into large composites which consolidate a number of different parts, thereby reducing inventories and the number of manufacturing or assembly steps. Because of the reactive adhesive nature in process, polyurethanes can be moulded around inserts or directly onto coverings, eliminating time-consuming manual assembly operations, and aiding just-in-time delivery programs.
The challenge of passenger vehicle design today is that the design must allow cars to be disassembled in the most environmentally sound manner at the end of their useful life. To that end, to assist its automotive industry customers, the Polyurethane industry has developed 3 recycle and recovery strategies:
To incorporate process and post-consumer scrap in granulated form in existing and new product applications.
Including chemical recycling methods that breakdown discarded Polyurethanes into original chemical components that can return to chemical formulation feedstock.
Processes such as incineration which capture Polyurethanes inherent energy values to produce electricity or steam