From Realtà Mapei International n° 66 - 1/4/2018

20 years of polyurethanes

Antonio Ausilio, Mapei SpA’s R&D Polyurethanes Group Leader, tells us about how the lab started their research activities and provides a brief overview of some of the products and how they have spread onto the international market.

From the historical ULTRABOND P990 1K for wood to innovative products for the shipbuilding industry, from products for installing artificial turf to MS technology for sealants and adhesives, and continuing right up to waterproofing products.
A minor revolution in R&D that began at the end of the 1990’s and is still ongoing.

Twenty years have gone by since the distant days of 1997 when Enrico Pozzi, an expert in chemistry and polyurethane materials, was taken on by Mapei to head the newly created R&D Polyurethanes group.

The same year the company was celebrating the sixtieth anniversary of its foundation. The management, well aware of the new challenges appearing on the horizon as a direct result of Mapei’s rapid expansion onto the international market and the impact of globalisation, put into operation a plan to considerably strengthen the Corporate Research & Development laboratory.

Mapei’s commitment to R&D is still considered to be one of the company’s keys to success, but never had this commitment been so emphasised as between the end of the 1990’s and the beginning of the 21st century.

The Polyurethanes Lab, similarly to others that would soon follow, played an important part in this minor revolution.

As with all things new, the beginning was not easy and it took several years to see the first polyurethane-based products bearing the Mapei brand.

This slow start, however, is in stark contrast with the current situation, where almost every Mapei line includes various polyurethane-based products in its portfolio. It is important to note that part of the problem was due to the different approach required for the polyurethane-based materials compared with the products made by Mapei up until that time.

In addition, there are also the undeniable difficulties that we still have to face during the production of these materials: it is no coincidence that the Polyurethanes Lab is the department that carries out the largest number of industrial trials in the company’s main manufacturing facility in Robbiano di Mediglia, not far from Milan.

Over the years, this apparent weakness has been transformed into a point of strength. Once we learned how to deal with the complexities, we started developing products that most of our competitors are still unable to offer, enabling Mapei to consolidate its position as a reference company for the market.

It would take too long to list all the products developed over the years and it would suffice to name just the most representative.

I cannot but start with the family of the silane-terminated polyurethane-based adhesives for wooden flooring (ULTRABOND ECO S940 1K, ULTRABOND ECO S948 1K, ULTRABOND ECO S955 1K and ULTRABOND ECO S968 1K) which, year after year, is allowing Mapei subsidiaries in North Europe to conquer increasingly significant portions of the market.

Or the family of the adhesives for artificial turf (ULTRABOND TURF PU 1K, ULTRABOND TURF PU 2K and ULTRABOND TURF 2 STARS), highly appreciated for their exceptional quality both in Europe and the USA.

And also the products from the PURTOP line, polyurea-based or hybrid polyurethane-polyurea-based waterproofing membranes, the success of which is testified by the fact that Mapei has started producing them not only in Italy, but also in Turkey and Malaysia (and production will also start soon in India).

From amongst these products, a special mention must go to PURTOP FR, the only product in this category that meets the requirements for the classes D, s3-d0 and Bfl-s1 according to the European standard EN 13501-1, which guarantees a better reaction to fire when waterproofing a roof.

And, last but not least, MAPEFLEX PU 45 FT multi-purpose sealant and adhesive, a high-technology evolution of a product that was already highly appreciated, MAPEFLEX PU 45.

The product which embodies the Polyurethanes Laboratory more than any other, however, is undoubtedly ULTRABOND P990 1K, the first ever one-component polyurethane adhesive for wooden flooring to be welcomed by the Italian market, a market notoriously dominated by two-component epoxy-polyurethane products. Even though other technologies have made their mark over the years, especially in North Europe, ULTRABOND P990 1K has always been a guarantee of reliability, so much so that numerous installers still consider it to be the best one-component adhesive for wooden flooring on the European market.

If we move over to North America, the real market for one-component polyurethane adhesives for wooden flooring, the success of this adhesive is even more emblematic. In the spring of 2003, when the first batch of ULTRABOND 990 (the American version of ULTRABOND P990 1K) came off the production line at the company’s Garland facility in Texas, the Mapei brand was still practically unknown on the USA and Canadian market for wooden flooring adhesives. But the quality of this product was immediately picked up on by users. Sales took off immediately and the growth in sales has never stopped, even during the years of economic recession following the financial crisis of 2007.

Over the years, in order to meet the demands of the US market, ULTRABOND 990 has been replaced by other adhesives (ULTRABOND ECO 975, ULTRABOND ECO 980 and ULTRABOND ECO 995), but their success has never shown signs of decreasing. And in Texas, every year, thousands of tonnes of these adhesives are being produced. Their success has been so great that Mapei can now boast the title of being the leading manufacturer of polyurethane adhesives for wooden flooring in America.

The consistent increase in volumes produced, and the decision to introduce new polyurethane-based materials, has made it very difficult to continue following the research work conducted in the United States directly from Italy. Which is why, little more than two years ago, a local Polyurethanes Laboratory was built in Texas with the intention to supply, apart from research activities, better support for the production processes.

For some time Mapei has been a global company and, at the same time, the Polyurethanes Lab has had to be equipped to meet the demands of the various markets distributed around the five continents.

Whatever the circumstances, the Mapei Polyurethanes group has never lost the desire to create something new. We just need to mention that, thanks to three products developed by the Polyurethanes Lab (ULTRABOND ECO S968 1K, ULTRABOND ECO S1000 1K and ULTRABOND ECO MS 4 LVT), for three years running, from 2015 to 2017, Mapei has won the prestigious Innovations@Domotex award at the famous Domotex trade fair in Hannover (Germany).

Similarly, we have never been lacking in commitment to develop materials for new applications. Perfect examples are the numerous products created in the last few years for the Mapei Marine line for the ship-building industry.

The challenges we will have to face in the coming years will certainly be not less complicated than those of the past.

But the Polyurethanes Lab will always be up to the challenge, with determination, as it has always done for its first twenty years.


Antonio Ausilio. R&D Polyurethanes Group Leader, Mapei SpA

Realtà Mapei Tags: #research #insights #infoclips

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