Creating the correct formula for success

3 min read

With industrial adhesives, being able to offer customers first class R&D, testing and technical support are vital ingredients for success. Dean Palmer reports

"To meet specific design criteria, we can manipulate the molecular structure of our adhesive products by using predictive tools, including molecular modelling and analysis software," explained Ian Wilkes, R&D manager at UK-based adhesives manufacturer Chemence. And the benefit of being able to do this? Wilkes explained: "We translate the customer's technical specification into an adhesive product that we already might already stock, or if necessary, we can manipulate an existing adhesive product to meet the specification. The molecular modelling software allows us to look at the specific properties of molecules and optimise the performance of the adhesive for a given application. This might include the bonding of two very different materials such as a metal and a polymer or a composite material." Wilkes said he can optimise an adhesive to bond two surfaces by looking at the specific PH values (to within 0.1 unit of pH) of molecules within the formula. It's all about chemistry really and this is why Chemence employs six PhD chemists at its R&D site in Corby, Northamptonshire. According to Wilkes, customers now want simpler adhesives and sealants, products that they can use with the minimum of preparation. Also a growing trend is to make adhesives greener to the environment in line with recent EU guidelines. Again, all of this requires tinkering with adhesive formulations to produce optimised products for clients. As far as industrial adhesives manufacturers are concerned, Chemence is unusual, in that the company actually develops and manufactures its own adhesives. The Corby site houses all the functions from research and development through to production and packaging of products. According to the company's sales and marketing director Christopher Dilley "it means we can react very quickly to customer needs and can also bring new products to market faster than most of our competitors. We also pride ourselves on being able to offer customers first class R&D support and test facilities, as well as excellent technical support." Chemence manufactures a wide range of adhesives and sealants for global industrial and consumer markets. In terms of profitability, industrial is the key market and the firm's flagship product, RiteLok, is a serious competitor to the likes of Loctite (Henkel Loctite) and Araldite (Huntsman Advanced Materials). However, Chemence believes it differentiates itself from competitors by being able to offer customers very flexible value-added services, including technical support, R&D and test laboratory work. Part of this, says Dilley, comes from the fact that Chemence is smaller than its competitors and therefore can be more flexible, adaptable and able to respond faster to customer requests. Technical data sheets, material safety data sheets, application-specific technical information, new product development and performance and vibratory testing, are all handled at the Corby site by a team of experienced engineers and PhD chemists. Special formulations can be developed for specific applications and small batch quantities supplied to customers. Chemence supplies its industrial products into a wide range of industry sectors including medical, agricultural, automotive, military and aerospace. The firm also manufactures liquid photopolymer for use in flexographic printing, anaerobic sealants and cement grouts for gas mains and service systems, and vacuum impregnation resins for cast sealing. The company's industrial adhesives range includes cyanoacrylates, structural adhesives, anaerobic adhesives, and primers and activators. The company also offers an ultra-violet light curing adhesive, Front-Line, for glass/metal bonding, potting and encapsulating electronic and medical devices. According to Dilley, while maintenance and the aftermarket are key target sectors, getting to design engineers and persuading them to change their adhesives supplier is where the real profitable contracts are either won or lost. "Most of our customer wins here come from our value added technical support services and lab testing - up front consultancy if you like. Most of this is unpaid work initially, but it's where the future of our business lies." One of Chemence's industrial customers, a manufacturer of agricultural machines, recently had problems with loosening and dismantling threaded parts caused by extreme vibration. The company needed to know how to cost effectively prevent the parts from dismantling, despite a variety of thread sizes. Chemence recommended its anaerobic adhesive, RiteLok TL43, which was applied to the threaded parts and then tightened into position, expelling the air and initiating the bonding reaction. Any excess adhesive remained liquid and so could easily be wiped away. TL43's high viscosity and strength also meant that it could be used on all the different thread sizes. The manufacturer found the extreme vibration loosening was eliminated and specified TL43 on all its machinery that uses threads. As a result, reworking costs have been dramatically reduced.