The director for the Center for the Polyurethanes Industry of the American Chemistry Council, discusses how polyurethanes impact us every day.

In dollars, polyurethanes directly and indirectly support over a quarter of a million jobs and $50.2 billion in production. Within the U.S., operations take place in 650 locations and support 47,500 jobs and $19.7 billion in output. The U.S. also accounts for 85 percent of total NAFTA polyurethane raw materials production.
The largest end-use markets for polyurethane consumption, not surprisingly, still include building, construction, transportation, furniture and bedding. However, there are countless other industries that depend on polyurethane products, including transportation, appliances, publishing, technology and the arts.

“Polyurethanes improve the daily lives of individuals and businesses by creating products used in the home, office, cars and clothing,” the report asserts. Not surprisingly, the numbers provided in support of this statement are nothing short of staggering.

This information is included in a report released in March by Moore Economics on behalf of the Center for the Polyurethanes Industry of the American Chemistry Council. The research was conducted during the December 2006 through January 2007 period using 2004 end-use consumption patterns, which were the latest available at the time. The report is a wake-up call for those who don’t consider the role of polyurethanes beyond paints and varnishes. It is one material with infinite uses that serves as an important contributor to the U.S. economy.

This analysis of the U.S. polyurethane industry covers the entire value chain – from suppliers of chemical raw materials to their direct customers and then to the final producers of consumer and industrial wares.

Keeping Hot Foods Hot and Cold Foods Cold
With $20.5 billion in shipments and roughly 73,800 workers on a nearly $3.2 billion payroll, the appliance industry is heavily reliant on polyurethanes. From its most popular material use in rigid polyurethane foam used to insulate refrigerators, freezers, hot water heaters and vending machines to the polyurethane-based coatings used to paint appliances for higher aesthetic consumer appeal and environmental resistance – U.S. appliance manufacturing represents a 335-million pound market for polyurethanes, about 5 percent of total U.S. polyurethane consumption.

Inside and Out
The largest and perhaps best known market for polyurethanes, building and construction accounts for 32 percent of total U.S. polyurethanes consumption. Representing about a 2.1-billion-pound market in the U.S., $30 billion in shipping and receiving, 178,000 employees and 14,100 establishments throughout the country, the polyurethane applications in this sector are incredibly diverse. Due in no small part to environmental and energy-saving benefits, one of the largest applications is the use of rigid polyurethane foam as insulation for walls, roofs, insulated panels and around doors and windows. Polyurethanes are also found in decorative foam core paneling, customizable rigid foam-cored entry doors and garage doors, tank and pipe insulation, and clear protective coatings used in the production of wood floors, basements, buildings, and bridges.

Bells and Whistles

Weighing in at only 78 million pounds of the U.S. polyurethane market, electronics represent a small (1.2 percent) of total domestic polyurethane production, yet the segment packs a punch by employing nearly 139,000 people at 1,630 locations nationwide with shipments totaling over $40 billion. Because of its ability to resist solvents, water and extreme temperatures without interfering with delicate circuitry, polyurethanes are used to protect, seal, insulate and encapsulate fragile wires, components, underwater cables and printed circuit boards vital to modern televisions, computers and phones.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Lightweight, energy-efficient, versatile, moldable, sound-absorbing, durable, heat and corrosion-resistant – these are just a few of the many reasons why the transportation industry represents about a 1.4 billion pound market for polyurethanes, or 21.6 percent of total consumption. Flexible foams are used in seating, headrests and arm rests. Polyurethane coatings make cars shine with a high-gloss, durable and scratch-resistant exterior finish. Because of their excellent bonding and vibration resistance, polyurethane adhesives literally hold automobiles, planes and trains together—from carpets, to gaskets, to o-rings and other seals. Polyurethane elastomers protect against tire punctures and are used in other molded components like shock absorbers. Shipments in this sector amount to nearly $45 billion and support employment of about 254,300 throughout the country.

But Wait…There’s More

The polyurethane-based elastic fabrics found in swimwear, undergarments, sheer hosiery, elastic waistbands and athletic clothing account for $8.4 in shipments and employ about 65,000 workers and 2,140 locations throughout the country.

Footwear represents a 22-million-pound market for polyurethanes helping to make puncture-resistant shoe soles. At just 0.3 percent of the total U.S. polyurethane consumption and shipments at nearly $2 billion, the sector employs 15,600 people at 350 locations throughout the United States.

Polyurethane machinery and foundry represents a 431 million pound market for polyurethanes, at 6.4 percent of U.S. consumption and $78 billion in shipments.

The packaging industry took advantage of polyurethane’s shock absorbency, water resistance and resiliency to transport especially sensitive products to the tune of $2.1 billion in shipments in 2005.

Of the remaining 377 million pounds of polyurethanes used, some of the other industries dependent on polyurethanes include marine, tanks and pipes, sporting equipment, theme park sculptures, wheels for industrial equipment and surfboards.

Polyurethane products can be found in just about every home and office and are used in hundreds of different applications. The economic activity generated by the polyurethanes industry is significant and serves as an important contributor to the U.S. economy. It is truly one material with infinite uses.

The 2006 end-use consumption patterns will be released at the Polyurethanes 2007 Technical Conference, in partnership with the UTECH North America Exhibition. The event is scheduled for Sept. 24-26 at the Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center in Orlando, Florida.

Neeva-Gayle Candelori is director for the Center for the Polyurethanes Industry of the American Chemistry Council. For more information on the 18-page report, entitled “The Socio-Economic Impact of Polyurethanes in the United States,” visit www.americanchemistry.com/polyurethane to download and purchase the report.


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