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Have you ever wondered how memory foam becomes, well, memory foam? From its origins with NASA to modern production, the answer to how a memory foam mattress is made involves a sequence of high-tech manufacturing processes. The process is similar to other foams, but with a few important changes that produce the unique characteristics of visco-elasticity. Keep reading to learn where memory foam comes from, and how it’s made.
Memory foam is the technological brainchild of NASA’s space program. It was developed at the Ames Research Center in the 1960s, contracting with NASA at the time to produce a material that would effectively minimize the extensive pressure on astronauts’ bodies cause by G-forces during takeoff and reentry.
For a few reasons, NASA never implemented memory foam in space shuttles, but it did recognize the potential practical applications here on earth and began commercializing it in partnership with Dynamic Systems in medical and sports equipment. In the 1980s, the formula and rights for memory foam were released to Fagerdala World Foams, one of the first private companies to work with the foam. This was the company that would introduce memory foam to bedding, with the introduction of the Tempur-Pedic® mattress in 1991. Since that time, many other manufacturers have developed memory foam, changing and improving on the process to meet consumer demands.
The production of memory foam is a true marvel of modern chemistry and industry. Memory foam is made by reacting different substances in a process similar to polyurethane, but with additional agents that create the viscous, denser properties inherent to memory foam. Here is the basic process involved in its production:
1. Polyols (alcohols derived from petroleum products or plant oils), isocyanates (organic amine-derived compounds) and reacting agents are mixed together right before production.
2. This mixture is then whipped into a froth and poured into a mold. An exothermic, or heat-releasing, reaction is the result, which causes the mixture to bubble up and produce foam.
3. The foamy mixture may be infused with gas or blowing agents, or vacuum-sealed to create the open-cell matrix. The amount of polymer mixture versus air correlates to the resulting density.
4. At this stage, the large chunk of foam is referred to as a “bun”. The bun is then cooled, and heated again after which it is left to cure, which can take anywhere from 8 hours to a few days.
5. After curing the memory foam is inert (no longer reactive). The material may be washed and dried to remove lingering residues, and can now be inspected for quality.
6. Once the memory foam bun is finished, it is then cut into pieces for use in mattresses and other products. The mattress-sized pieces are now ready to be assembled into a finished bed.
Memory foam mattress assembly usually involves a few basic steps. The base of every memory foam mattress is regular polyurethane, which is referred to as the “core” or support layer. The actual memory foam layers and any other padding layers are set above the core, and attached to one another using adhesive (which will vary by manufacturer).
The entire mattress is then covered with a flame resistant fabric barrier sock to meet federal safety regulations (manufacturers may also use spray chemicals or mix additives in with the foam to achieve fire resistance as well). The mattress then receives a finished cover to complete its appearance.
At Amerisleep, once the finished memory foam mattress is ready, it is then vacuum-sealed, compressed, rolled and packaged. This method allows the mattress to ship via regular courier rather than freight, which reduces fuel consumption. The compressed size also makes it easier to move the mattress into your home.
The production of memory foam is a complex process that has been improved and perfected over the past 40 plus years. Since the introduction of memory foam mattresses 20 years ago, the category has continued gaining popularity with consumers due to the unparalleled pressure relief and supportive benefits it offers. These unique properties are the result of time-intensive, complex process that is as interesting as the final product. Now you know the basics of how memory foam mattress manufacturing works, from its beginnings in chemistry to its arrival on your doorstep!
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