News + Science from the Engineers of the Surface Analyst

  • Thanks to advancements in powertrain manufacturing, sealing processes have improved assembly efficiency. Formed-in-place gaskets (FIPG) are replacing traditional mechanical fasteners as they are more cost effective, stronger, and easier to apply. However, adhesive bonding rather than mechanically fastening presents different challenges and requires new protocols.

    Lead Sales Engineer Lucas Dillingham has presented “Defining Cleanliness in Powertrain Manufacturing for FIPG Applications,” at several events and automotive factories. BTG Labs works with numerous automotive manufacturers on surface chemical cleanliness and what it means for assembly.

    Traditional millipore tests reveal particulate contamination, but on a sealing surface, one must detect chemical contamination. To adhere successfully, surface cleanliness on a chemical level is vital.

    A byproduct of automotive manufacturing processes is contaminants that are detrimental to adhesion. Processes entailing unwanted contaminants include:

    • Die-casting
    • Machining
    • Washing
    • Assembly

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  • Home exhibiting Tesla solar roof. Image by Tesla.

    Last month, Elon Musk announced the availability of Tesla’s new solar roof. These solar roofs are made to masquerade as tasteful, modern shingles; their attractive panels offer roofs from sleek modern to French slate. The solar panels are hidden in a pane of glass which contains a hydrographic coloring–a process that uses water to apply printed designs– to provide texture.

    But, these shingles must not only look good, like all solar panels, they must be tough enough to withstand elemental threats.

    Wind, rain, snow, sun, extreme temperatures–these are all stresses to any structure, especially solar panels. Because solar panels serve as an energy source, there is no room for failure in the field. The bonds that keep them together such as bonds between dissimilar materials, bonds on low energy polymers, coatings, laminates, and seals, must withstand the stresses as well. That’s why solar panel manufacturers turn to the Surface Analyst.

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  • Plastics manufacturers are all too familiar with the challenges of bonding thermoplastics. Last week, BTG Labs successfully hosted a webinar with Plastics Technology to discuss improving bonding of thermoplastics. The webinar, entitled “Understanding Surface Energy: How to Measure and Control the Surface Properties of Thermoplastics to Maximize Adhesion,” brought in almost 400 registrants.

    Presented by BTG Labs’ Chief Scientist Dr. Giles Dillingham who discussed the surface characteristics of thermoplastics. Dr. Dillingham also explored surface treatment processes such as flame, corona, and plasma, and ways to monitor and verify those processes. The ability to understand and measure the surface precisely is the key to successfully bonding thermoplastics.

    This table shows the relationship between low surface energy and relative interfacial toughness. While thermoplastics are highly durable, they cause difficulties in bonding because of their low surface energy.

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  • SAMPE is the “Society of Advancement of Materials and Process Engineering,” and annually they host a conference and exhibit hall where Scientists and Engineers gather to learn about the past year’s manufacturing advancements. Giles Dillingham, our Chief Scientist and CEO, has been a member for 15 years, and BTG Labs has presented many different technical papers and research projects at this conference. This was my second time attending this conference, after last year in Long Beach.

    While SAMPE targets the advancement of all materials and processes, composites—namely carbon fiber—dominate the show. Many exhibitors manufacture woven carbon fiber materials that will be turned into aircraft structures or interiors. Other vendors supply OEM aircraft manufacturers and tier 1 suppliers, specific parts that will be installed directly onto final products.

    Some examples include specialized composite tubing and fluid tanks for waste and water storage. I also saw: tooling manufacturers, adhesive and tape suppliers, software companies, testing labs, autoclave/oven vendors (one was giving virtual reality tours of their equipment!), and material processing equipment. This included 4 plasma treatment companies. The most we have seen at SAMPE to date. …Read More

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  • Every plastics manufacturer knows that bonding low energy thermoplastics can be challenging. In the upcoming webinar hosted by Plastics Technology, BTG Labs’ Chief Scientist Dr. Giles Dillingham will discuss practical ways to improve bonding of thermoplastics more reliably and efficiently.

    Dr. Dillingham will discuss the nature of thermoplastic surfaces and how the manipulation of various surface treatment processes—flame, corona, and plasma—make or break a surface. The webinar will discuss how the Surface Analyst uses water contact angle measurements to lend imperative insight into surface energy and in turn, hone in on the necessary treatment level for a higher quality, more consistent manufacturing process. After all, the most expensive surface treatment is nothing without an in-place monitoring process. …Read More

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  • In the fast-paced automotive industry, manufacturers are constantly working to engineer stronger and more innovative vehicles. Emissions regulations call for more light weight, fuel efficient vehicles. As a result, manufacturers require a way to build an automobile that has it all: strength, efficiency, and light weight.

    Manufacturers are looking to the new world of ligthweighting; this method cuts down on weight and material without sacrificing the integrity of the automobile. June 8 at 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM ET, BTG Labs will host a webinar along with Industrial Market Insight, a strategic marketing consultant, and Plasmatreat, a BTG Labs partner specializing in highly efficient surface treatment.

    Entitled, “Surface Engineering for Successful Joining of Dissimilar Materials in Advanced Lightweight Automotive Structures,” this webinar explores the necessary aspects of successful ligthweighting. Topics include bonding of dissimilar materials, optimizing surface treatments, and creating new ways to bond. In an effort to reduce weight, traditional mechanical fasteners are replaced by bonded adhesives.  Controlling and understanding the surface is the key to a successful bond. …Read More

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  • Every year for Memorial Day weekend, my family would pack up the station wagon and head to the lake. The weekend would be filled with red, white and blue, firing grills, festive picnic tables, and bathing suits. My mother would chide me to apply sunscreen before doing anything. And time after time, I would jump in the pool first. The sun screen could wait. I had been pining all winter for the water and some smelly, greasy paste wasn’t going to stop me.

    And then I would fry.

    I’ve since learned to appreciate the importance of sunscreen, but perhaps that is because it is much better than when I was younger. It’s less greasy and smelly, can withstand sweat and water, and better absorbs into the skin—thankfully preventing that touristy semblance.

    Skin care manufacturers work constantly to improve their brand. With a product that works so intimately with the human body and at times for important applications such as UV protection, failures are not acceptable. Yet, developing skin care products comes with challenges. Testing on artificial skin falls short of the real thing as skin types vary greatly. However, in-vivo testing is nearly impossible. …Read More

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  • New Paper Presented at ANTEC 2017

    by Emily Walsh May 2017

    Last week, BTG Labs exhibited and presented at ANTEC 2017. We were pleased to connect and exchange intelligence with leaders in the plastics industry.

    Our booth featured the Surface Analyst, which uses contact angle to measure surface cleanliness of a material. This monitors the surface preparation process and ensures readiness to bond, print, paint, coat, or seal which can be challenging on plastics. More and more, plastics manufacturers are turning to the Surface Analyst for guaranteeing their surface treatment and final product.

    Along with exhibiting, BTG Labs’ Chief Scientist Dr. Giles Dillingham presented the paper, “Rapid Evaluation of Surface Properties of Medical Tubing for Process Development and Quality Assurance.” The paper explains that the key to manufacturing high performance medical devices is understanding and controlling surface properties. Crucial characteristics of medical tubing such as wettability, adhesion, antithrombogenicity, and biocompatibility depend on only the top few molecular layers of a surface. Dr. Dillingham discusses research done with the Surface Analyst for highly sensitive surface measurements on medical tubing to control coating application. …Read More

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  • How Clean is Clean Enough?

    by Emily Walsh May 2017

    Manufacturers often encounter a similar puzzle, when cleaning invisible contaminants from a surface, how do you know when the surface is clean; how clean is clean enough? This is a common question that manufacturers ask when preparing their surfaces for bonding, coating, sealing, printing or painting. Until now, there hasn’t been an objective and reliable way to answer this question. Successfully cleaning a surface directly correlates to the adhesive ability of the surface. In order to get something to stick reliably the surface must be clean. How we define that parameter is different for a variety of materials.

    For example, you clean your car differently than you clean your dishes. Why? Because a car rides on the road through rain, smog, dirt, maybe mud, and the other is a vehicle for your food.

    At BTG Labs, our answer to the “clean enough” question is, “Depends on what you’re doing.” There are dozens of critical surface preparation processes that exist for a number of different applications. A handful include:

    • Flame treatment on polypropylene bumpers prior to painting
    • Plasma treatment on PET catheters prior to coating
    • Hand sanding and solvent wiping on aircraft nut plates before adhesively bonding to composite
    • Grit-blasting titanium golf clubs in preparation of bonding to composite
    • Corona treatment on film for packaging prior to metallization, lamination, or coating

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  • BTG Labs Presenting at AA&S 2017

    by Emily Walsh May 2017

    Top aerospace manufactures recruit state-of-the-art equipment to ensure precision and perfection. One thing the best of the best have in common: the Surface Analyst. BTG Labs first engineered the Surface Analyst through an SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research) grant to collaborate with the USAF (United States Air Force). Born out of necessity, the instrument was engineered to verify a surface’s readiness to adhesively bond fasteners.

    Today, the Surface Analyst is written into Lockheed Martin specifications for fighter jet manufacturing; it played a major role in the development of the F-35; and its expertise is trusted on all factory floors of top aerospace manufacturers.

    While the Surface Analyst use has spilled outside of the aerospace box, BTG Labs remains closely tied in the aerospace industry and that is why you will find us at AA&S 2017. Taking place May 22-25 in Phoenix, Arizona, The Aircraft Airworthiness and Sustainment Conference attracts leaders of the aerospace industry from around the world.

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