A Little Polyurethane History... Dirt Cheap and Worth Every Penny!
Look around you. Polyurethane-coated nylon fabric is used in dozens of everyday items, from raingear to furniture; any cloth item that must be both waterproof and abrasion-resistant. Wing's 40 oz. per square yard polyurethane boat fabric is an industrial-strength variant, a custom formulated 'miracle fabric'; waterproof, air-proof, and yes, extremely puncture and abrasion resistant; quality and performance you won't wear or sit on, but will sense at first sight, and feel the first time you take it out on the water.
Originally formulated in the nineteen sixties for use in portable aviation fuel bladders, heavy-duty polyurethane coated nylon is highly inert, in other words very stable and resistant to a variety of chemicals, while remaining pliable and workable throughout a wide temperature range.
Both on the water and in the lab when compared to other fabrics Wing's polyurethane fabric outperforms the rest in four critical areas, offering superior puncture, abrasion, and U/V resistance while providing greater tear-strength. And unlike competing neoprene and Hypalon fabrics that must be glued, polyurethane can be heat and R/F (radio frequency) welded-a process that chemically and mechanically fuses the material together in a manner that makes seams and attachment points far stronger than the original fabric itself. Yet repairs in the field are fast and straightforward using appropriate adhesives.
In the early eighties, Wing Inflatables founder Bill Wing sought a tougher alternative to neoprene and hypalon fabrics for his line of commercial white-water rafts. Wing proved-out polyurethane's strength and longevity through a decade of hard use on white-water rivers around the world. Almost overkill for all but the toughest white-water applications, during the early nineties Bill pioneered polyurethane's use for tubes and sponsons for work-boat and military RIBs. It was here that the material's performance characteristics were fully-tested, often by skeptical crews, and eventually fully realized. Salt spray, high-speed wake abrasion, wave shock, tube to steel-hull contact, and intense U/V and chemical exposure worked simultaneously to 'blow-up' the fabric.
Traditions die hard sometimes. Neoprene-coated polyester had been around since the fifties; Hypalon since the seventies. But polyurethane's ability to withstand almost any abuse and outwear the other fabrics by a factor of two or three times and look better doing it, couldn't be ignored. Skeptism gave way to grudging admiration, and soon to full-throated enthusiasm. In the span of less than twenty years, Wing polyurethane came from nowhere to just about everywhere in commercial and military marine RIB applications, the standard for beauty and durability by which all others are judged.
So, what might you ask, is the downside to this miracle fabric? Well, all this performance comes at a price. Polyurethane fabric of this quality is more expensive than any other. But putting beauty and flawless craftsmanship aside, pound for pound, and square yard for square yard, this kind of performance is actually quite inexpensive; and when lives are depending upon it, some would say even dirt-cheap and worth every penny!