"Faster, better, cheaper” - does this slogan capture the nature of your customers’ demands? Originally coined at NASA, the succinct phrase highlights the needs of an increasingly competitive market, and has influenced project management and product development across a number of disciplines. When it comes to the chemicals, coatings and adhesives industries, everyone from the formulator to the end user is faced with accomplishing more in a shorter time frame, meeting an increasing number of performance criteria, and doing so with greater efficiency and cost control.
Compounding the problem is the fact that changes are occurring simultaneously across many categories. Environmental concerns, sophisticated design requirements, new performance requirements and globalization are only a few items on the list of factors that are quickly reshaping manufacturing. In addition, sometimes the demands in one area directly conflict with the demands in another.
In the January 2013 issue of Adhesives and Sealants Industry magazine, the article “Controlling VOC Emissions” covered new state regulations that are being enacted to comply with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 2008 Industrial Adhesives and Sealants regulation. This regulation is a Control Technology Guideline (CTG), and it is driving changes in the rubber-to-substrate adhesive industry, especially in ozone non-attainment areas.
Adhesive manufacturers and applicators must often make big changes in order to comply with the regulations, such as installing incineration or abatement equipment, using lower volatile organic compound (VOC) materials, using aqueous adhesives or outsourcing adhesive application to a custom coater. As such, the impact of these regulations upon the industry is far-reaching. However, despite the daunting nature of these efforts, companies cannot allow themselves to ignore other, and equally pressing, concerns within the industry.
Health, Safety and Environmental Issues
From an environmental perspective, VOCs get the most attention, but other considerations exist in terms of pollutants. VOCs are carbon-based compounds that vaporize easily and are believed to contribute to respiratory and immune disorders. A broader category of pollutants is the hazardous air pollutant (HAP). HAPs are toxic chemicals that are specifically listed in section 112(b) of the Clean Air Act; the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has identified over 180 of these toxins. Complicating the situation for small businesses is the fact that some chemicals are both VOCs and HAPs; this means that careful attention must be paid to each set of regulations to ensure compliance. Globally, even stricter regulations may be encountered for solvents; these are often dictated by specific needs of a region or industry.
Social considerations come into play as well. Since 2010, material sourcing has been under scrutiny by the federal government. At that time, a class of “conflict minerals” was defined. These minerals are materials (generally metals) used for manufacturing that are sourced from areas having a record of human rights violations. Purchasing minerals from these areas can inadvertently perpetuate the conflicts, so the burden is now on the purchasing company to implement a globally responsible supply chain.
Product developers are working with different types of materials as they aim to produce items that meet new criteria. Accordingly, the range of available substrates and elastomers is multiplying. An additional complication is the added focus on achieving greater efficiency across all processes, along with more rigorous cost control within each company.
How does one quickly develop more sophisticated products with higher performance requirements while meeting the desired cost targets? For adhesives, this means that any new product or process must contribute to reducing downtime and increasing throughput, create less scrap, and meet new performance targets and safety requirements, all while being versatile enough to be selected across multiple solutions and processes.
Increasing efficiency is the key for small- and medium-sized companies to remain competitive in this ever-changing landscape. The impact of globalization requires that products be designed with the understanding that they will be deployed across multiple continents. Therefore, it is increasingly important to build global, scalable platforms that can be supported in multiple regions. These same products that were once designed with specific, niche requirements for a certain region will now have to perform under a greater variety of conditions, most of which are not easily controllable. From a product development perspective, each product will have to be designed to meet more complex criteria—but within a shorter timeframe.
Many industrial applications increasingly require adhesive systems that are able to withstand extreme temperature and chemical environments. Increasing globalization has made product development challenging in industrial markets worldwide. Specifically, in the markets of oil and gas, as well as mining, where solutions are deployed into increasingly remote areas, the overall solution has to be versatile enough to be used in a large range of conditions—from cold, arctic temperatures, to the hot, humid environments of the tropics. Not only do the solutions have to perform, but the expectation that the solutions will result in less downtime while increasing productivity is built into every design of the new product.
Suppliers and Clients Team Up
A team approach between manufacturers and clients can help everyone navigate these waters. Collaborative efforts, with the goal of addressing specific challenges, can increase efficiency while making it easier to conform to regulations.
For example, in 2012, a transportation components supplier approached LORD Corp., a manufacturer of high-performance adhesives and coatings for automotive and industrial applications, with a challenge. “With the level of solvents they were using at the time within their plant, the company was having difficulty meeting VOC limits,” says Karen Sy-Laughner, LORD’s market manager, Industrial, Americas. “LORD worked with the company to screen various hybrid systems that use a blend of aqueous and solvent technology. The result was a hybrid system that allowed the company to achieve superior performance while still meeting the new environmental regulations.”
Similarly, LORD assists companies in the energy sector to deploy products globally while meeting regulations that could differ from region to region. After several years of a collaborative effort between LORD and its customers, systems were developed to address key performance requirements and application requirements—specifically the LORD Chemlok rubber-to-substrate adhesives series. This product series is not only suitable for harsher environments, but is flexible enough that products can be applied by various methods.
“A series was necessary, as one solution cannot meet such a range of needs across customers on a global scale,” explains Sy-Laughner. “In some cases, the solution was a full aqueous system with zero VOCs, while hybrid systems were ideal for other scenarios, and solvent-based systems with no heavy metals were selected in other cases. The key for us was to design the best solutions for our partners to meet their demands wherever they are located.”
Sometimes companies wish to expand their markets, only to discover that performance gaps exist in their current product lines. In this case, teaming with suppliers can help identify those gaps as well as translate those needs into concrete performance requirements. For example, in applications where there is a need for products to withstand ozone and extreme weathering, LORD has been able to deploy its HPC family of elastomer coatings.
“The HPC product line enables customers to provide products such as seals, expansion joints, or dockfenders with significantly greater product life,” says Sy-Laughner. “Not only does this provide added value to the customers’ products, but it also reduces downtime for end users with regard to maintenance and product changeovers.”
A growing need has emerged for products having a lower coefficient of friction as well as great UV and abrasion resistance, all while providing a “green” solution. One such solution is LORD’s Autoseal coatings, which can be used in applications where lowering the coefficient of friction is key and the need for a green solution is a requirement. The water-based coatings are known for abrasion and UV resistance.
In some countries, limitations have been placed on the type of solvent system that can be used. For example, in some parts of South America, certain solvents can be heavily regulated. The reasons for regulation vary from country to country, but it makes having a global platform challenging. Where one solvent system may work well in U.S. and Canada, it may be prohibited in another country.
“LORD has developed key general-purpose adhesive systems that enable customers to enjoy known and proven performance but with novel solvent systems,” says Sy-Laughner. “This gives our customers the security of knowing that they can expect the same level of performance from their Chemlok adhesives, but comply with the strict government rules of certification and solvent usage.”
For many companies, it may seem impossible to focus on anything beyond simple compliance with the new state environmental regulations. These regulations are impacting overall production capacity for many plants. Costs are being incurred for the testing and qualification of environmentally preferred systems, and capital expenditures are being made for equipment that will help with either the monitoring or the treatment and release of VOCs. However, staying abreast of new solutions that are designed to meet the various challenges occurring in the industry today will ultimately result in a positive influence on any company’s bottom line.
For more information, contact Karen Sy-Laughner at (919) 468-5908, ext. 6427, or firstname.lastname@example.org.