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Producing safe sofas

Bayer MaterialScience AG : 18 October, 2004  (Company News)
Anyone who values quality when selecting upholstered furniture will very likely end up sitting on polyurethane flexible foams. There is virtually no other material that offers the customer a similar level of comfort over an extended period while giving the designer a comparable level of creative freedom.
However, before they can be used in chairs and sofas, foams for the furniture sector must pass a series of tests which ensure a maximum level of safety in a fire. Britain's Crib-5 test is one of the most stringent in Europe. Flexible foams consisting of ready formulated Bayfit® polyurethane systems from Bayer MaterialScience AG, which are now incorporated in the 'Home' section of its polyurethane specialties program for furniture production, have passed this test thanks to the use of special raw materials without the need to add melamine.

'When buying a new sofa, the customer is naturally interested first and foremost in comfort,' says Dr. Dagmar Ulbrich, a flexible molded foam expert at Bayer MaterialScience. 'The polyurethane flexible foams we offer as part of our Bayfit® range for the flexible molded foam industry have led the way for some time when it comes to comfort. However, comfort is only one aspect. The flame retardant properties of the material also have to be right.' For many years, the addition of the solid flame retardant melamine has been used to achieve the high level of safety required – it even passes the very stringent Crib-5 test with flying colors. 'However, the high level of safety is achieved at the cost of various shortcomings in production,' states Dr. Ulbrich.

Melamine is a solid that has a tendency to settle. This means that the flame retardant may settle out in polyurethane containers and equipment and has to be agitated again prior to processing or, in the worst case scenario, it can clog the pipes of the wet section of the polyurethane processing equipment. This leads to metering and quality problems. Furthermore, the abrasive additive results in increased pump wear. This is why polyurethane producers have long been looking for a melamine-free solution.

'This is exactly what we have found at Bayer MaterialScience – and are now offering this solution in the form of ready-to-use systems under the Bayfit® brand,' says Dr. Ulbrich. This essentially involves special PHD polyols containing finely dispersed polyurea. Bayer MaterialScience is the first and only polyurethane raw material supplier to offer these polyols which, in contrast to the melamine variant, suffer no sedimentation, so even the most finely dispersed flame retardant cannot settle out. When used in conjunction with special high performance (HP) isocyanate HP-TDI – a chemically modified component of polyurethane – this results in flexible foams that meet the highest requirements in terms of flame retardance and comfort, improved foam quality thanks to the excellent metering properties and better protection for the polyurethane processing equipment.

'This example shows that, when it comes to flexible molded foam production, there are distinct benefits to be had from working with a strong partner with extensive experience of polyurethane applications. Bayer MaterialScience has more experience than any other manufacturer in dealing with this extremely versatile material. We are delighted to be able to pass on this expertise to our customers through our raw materials and polyurethane systems, which we have brought together under the Bayfit® brand and tailored to users' specific requirements under the names Bayfit® Home, Office, Public, Medic and Tec. The Bayfit® brand is backed up by a wealth of expertise that can often give our customers the edge they need on the market,' states the polyurethane expert.

'The end customer is becoming increasingly discerning. We are therefore keen to increase awareness of the Bayfit® brand not only among foam producers and designers, but also among end customers with the motto 'foam your ideas'. We want to encourage customers to focus more keenly on quality and help our clients to consolidate their position in a varied and highly competitive market through their products.'
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