Floating on Air: Facts About Foam

If you have reclined in a comfortable chair, slept in a plush bed, or placed your head on a soft pillow recently, you were probably enjoying the benefits of modern foam rubber. This amazing material is one of the most useful modern materials, finding uses in thousands of applications. While some version of latex from rubber trees has been used for two thousand or more years, it took today’s chemists to come up with the ability to produce foam rubber. Know technically as foamed polyurethanes, the substance we use in seat cushions, pillows and beds is formed blowing bubbles into a liquid mixture. While the process is, of course, a bit more complicated, it is those bubbles that give the final substance is flexibility and softness.

It was in 1927 that the first processes were developed to produce the earliest versions of aerated latex, and World War II spurred development to create multiple versions and uses. Today, foamed polyurethanes actually make up more than 90 percent of the total market for polyurethanes by weight. Moreover, manufacturers continue to come up with new varieties of foam and new products, ensuring a continuing demand for this affordable marvel.

In fact, stores such as The Foam Factory serve a retail market for the wide variety of end products using foam, serving home and commercial customers. The success of scientists in developing different types of foam make it useful for both indoor and outdoor uses, as well as for products ranging from appliance insulation to shoe heels. The way the end product is to be used determines the manufacturing processes used and the density of the foam. 

As these uses multiply, the investment in research and development is focused on opening up new markets for the varieties of foam. For example, foam rubber is now a popular way to achieve sound absorption and controlling acoustical conditions in vehicles, offices, plants, and even concert halls. Even toys are an increasingly common target for the use of foam, providing both safety and durability advantages. 

The expectations within the market are for new properties and processes to produce ever-more versatile versions of the traditional foam rubber. Semi-rigid foams are already used in furniture and construction. With the ongoing efforts to produce products with dramatically different densities and weights resulting in products even useful in space programs, the real value of foamed polyurethanes is yet to be fully recognized. 

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