The versatility of foam is best demonstrated by the sheer number of markets and applications where it is used to solve design challenges. It provides a great number of solutions related to environmental sealing, vibration management, impact absorption, spring force, etc. Foam likely appears in your life in your car, cell phone, footwear, kitchen appliances, sports equipment, and more. The list is virtually unlimited.
The appeal of foam is generally based upon some very basic properties including; compressibility, shapeability and durability.
The ability of foam to be tailored in thickness and then compressed allows it to fit into a wide variety spaces. When foam thickness and compressibility are combined with desirable stress strain behavior, the list of challenges solved grows:
- Foam does an excellent job of helping to manage complex thickness tolerance stack-ups.
- Top notch environmental sealing of dust, liquid and light can be attained.
- The matrerial provides optimized spring force in polishing applications including: pads for semiconductors, and lenses for prescription glasses.
- Foam can provide optimal energy management in something as heavy as high speed rail or as delicate as your high heel shoe.
One of foam’s principal benefits is its ability to be shaped (mostly in two dimensions). Foam can be cut into a virtually infinite number of shapes – a process called converting – with a wide variety of cutting techniques: steel rule die, clamshells, rotary die cutter, water jet, laser, etc. Many foams can be provided in rolls or sheets to allow for efficient converting.
Carefully selected foam allows for durable, long term performance across a broad range of applications. The most important factor is compression set, c-set, resistance. C-set is a measure of how well a material resists damage due to continuous or repetitive compression. The lower the c-set number, the more compression resistant the foam, and the longer the material will perform well in your application. It is easy to envision that in the applications mentioned foam will not perform well if it is easily squashed.
In short, foam materials provide exceptional versatility to the designer across a broad range of markets and applications.