When it comes to inflatable products, many people still have the outdated viewpoint that it relates only to bouncing castles used at private backyard parties.
However, the world of Inflatables has become so sophisticated that air-supported structures are being used far beyond the scope of personal entertainment and advertising. Today sophisticated inflatables are being used in the industrial, military, construction, mining, engineering, architectural, safety, emergency and aerospace arenas.
Whether they're used as a portable shelter or an emergency hospital, an inflatable all-weather wall, when the overhead structure cannot support conventional material walls, to a furnace inspection safety mat and inspection platform, air-supported structures offer numerous benefits over traditionally built, conventional alternatives.
"Typically, inflatables are a more elegant engineering solution because they are simple by design," says Thad Fredrickson, manager of materials development for ILC Dover in Frederica, Del. "In addition, they require fewer mechanical parts, and they pack tightly and take up very little volume."
Inflatables provide some eco-friendly benefits as well. Inflatables offer a low-energy production alternative to comparative products. This advantage is increases by the use of recyclable fabrics, water-based coatings and low-energy fans and blowers.
The fabrics, coatings and finishings of inflatable products all contribute to their successful operation. In terms of selecting materials, it is important to bear in mind the following characteristics:
- Tensile strength in both warp and weft of the fabric
- Tear and rip resistance to reduce accidental damage
- Coating adhesion to the fabric under all conditions of operation
- Weathering resistance and the ability to easily clean, including resistance to UV degradation, abrasion resistance and retention of physical properties after long periods of exposure
- Suitability of the material for joining techniques, which retain the full strength of the base material and integrity and properties of the coatings
- Pliability and flexibility to prevent damage during packing, storage and handling, as well as ability to shape conform to applied pressures and forces
- Fire-retardant properties and flame spread resistance to meet fire and safety codes
- Translucence or opacity, along with insulating properties as the application require
As technology continues to evolve in the world of inflatables, so will the markets and opportunities. The need for reliable, lightweight and compact shelters that can be rapidly loaded and deployed will be ever growing. Inflatable products are the only things that meet these requirements. For support, pressure, cushioning and space filling, inflatables are a great solution. With a world that is always looking for ways to reduce cost, what materials are less expensive than an air-filled inflatable?