Category Archives: Surface Engineering

  • 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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  • 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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  • Spring Cleaning: BTG Labs Style

    by Emily Walsh March 2017

    It’s the first day of spring. Depending on where you live, this could mean opening the windows, planting seeds, rolling out the motorcycle, and waiting for Opening Day. Here at BTG Labs, we think of spring cleaning. Of course, this usually generates visions of humming vacuums and sloppy mops, but, we see whooshing parts washers and smooth solvent wipes. Why? Well, because our instrument, the Surface Analyst is a significant player in the cleaning game.

    The Surface Analyst is the keystone to verifying, troubleshooting, monitoring, and even choosing a cleaning process.

    A cleaning method is only as useful as it’s verification process. In under two seconds, the Surface Analyst measures water contact angle to determine surface cleanliness. The instrument can be programmed to produce a pass/fail result based on the manufacturer’s specifications. This is an easy, objective method that immediately assures the technician of the surface cleaning process.

    Furthermore the Surface Analyst can be used to choose the most efficient cleaning method and optimize existing cleaning methods. Sometimes a particular solvent is more effective than another or the water in a parts washer becomes dirty. The Surface Analyst helps detect these elements to ensure the process is running flawlessly.

    Lastly, the Surface Analyst helps manufacturers choose the best cleaning method for their manufacturing process. In most scenarios, the only way to test a cleaning process is in the field or the laboratory. This is time consuming and causes failures and waste. The Surface Analyst, on the other hand, tells the user right on the factory floor, whether or not the part has been properly cleaned to bond, print, seal, coat, or paint without out wasting time or material. …Read More

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  •  

    Flame treatment is a surface treatment process used to chemically modify a surface for better adhesion. This process is typically used on low energy surfaces that can be difficult to adhere to, such as plastics and composites. The treatment is also very gentle, posing low risk to the material. Flame treatment uses a carefully controlled blend of natural gas and air to create a hot, oxygen rich plasma. First, the heat removes contaminants. Then, after contaminant removal, the oxygen rich plasma activates the surface by partial oxidation. The result is a clean, high energy surface that is an excellent state for printing, painting, coating, or bonding.

    Flame treatment is used in a wide array of industries including film and flexible packaging, consumer goods, automotive, textile, medical device, and even aerospace. Flame treatment may be used on a web or a smaller, specific part. It is especially useful for its uniform treatment and ability to treat diverse materials from cardboard to composites.

    A major application for flame treatment is in the treatment of TPO (thermoplastic olefin) automotive parts such as bumper fascia and interior components. Another large application is in the treatment of appliance components and golf balls prior to coating and printing. It is also used extensively on film prior to printing and laminating.

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  • Water break is a common test for surface cleanliness. It allows the user to test for the presence of hydrophobic contaminants, which can be detrimental to adhesion. It is usually considered non-destructive to the part because it uses only water.

    To perform a water break test in accordance with the ASTM-F22 Handbook, the material is dipped in water and withdrawn vertically. The behavior of that water on the surface reveals the surface energy which is determined by the cleanliness level. If the surface is clean it will show high surface energy and the water will spread out due to its attraction to the surface. This strongly correlates to adhesion ability. Water break is mostly used on metals to expose the presence of contaminants or after surface processes such as etching, anodizing, painting, priming, coating, grit-blasting, or sanding. However, these tests can be messy and sometimes can result in unintended contaminating due to impure water. The user must also allot a significant amount of time for the part to dry after the test. These tests require a trained user who can determine a “go” or “no go” result. This leads to subjectivity. Lastly, the test can lack sensitivity as a surface can visually appear clean, when it’s not.

    In contrast, the Surface Analyst™  is sensitive to the top 2-3 molecular layers of a surface. By using a single drop of highly purified water, there is virtually no mess and no threat to the measurement surface. Furthermore, it’s a small, handheld, user friendly instrument, that has the ability to measure on almost any surface or surface orientation, regardless of shape or roughness. The automatic calculation of contact angle removes operator subjectivity. The Surface Analyst measures on a cleanliness scale as opposed to a binary go/no go result. So measurements taken with the Surface Analyst can more closely map out a surface’s characteristics.

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  • Convex eyeglass lens inspection

    Broadening the Abilities of the Surface Analyst

    The Surface Analyst™ has the unique ability to measure on almost any surface: vertical, horizontal, smooth, rough, mirrored and in an easy, accurate, fast, and non-destructive way. However, until now, measuring on concave and convex surfaces presented an obstacle. Now BTG Labs’ Surface Analyst boasts a new specialized head for measuring on concave and convex surfaces.

    Before, the only way to measure on these surfaces was with a benchtop goniometer which can only measure on flat or convex materials. Goniometers measure contact angle from a horizontal view. However, a concave material prevents visual of the horizon line needed to determine the contact angle. The closest one could get to measuring a concave surface was to use a flat coupon of the same material. While this would offer insight to the surface energy of the material, it would not be exact because it would not be the actual concave part, thus allowing for guesswork. …Read More

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  • Consumer Goods

    Golf BallThe world of consumer goods is highly diverse so consequently, manufacturing processes are even more varied. From golf clubs to paints to windows to solar panels, consumer goods products face a variety of stresses in the field that can include moisture, impact, contaminants, and environmental stresses. Manufacturers must produce a product to withstand those stresses. BTG Labs’ Surface Analyst™ can do just that. It is a versatile, handheld, accurate, easy to use instrument that can cut down on failure and waste and ensure surfaces are properly prepared to create the strongest bonds whether its coating, printing, painting, sealing, or cleaning. The Surface Analyst measures, monitors, and guarantees from the lab to the factory floor.

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  • roughness-study
    A Frequently Asked Question BTG Labs Decided to Answer

    When measuring and quantifying surface energy, a common question arises: “Does roughness impact contact angle measurements obtained by the Surface Analyst?” While there exists some studies and speculations, this was still a grey area. So, BTG Labs decided to take matters into their own hands. The Materials & Process Specialists at BTG Labs constructed a research project to study the effect–or lack thereof–of roughness on contact angle measurements.

    BTG Lab’s Scientists used a Surface Finish Comparator. This nickel plate containing 21 panels of varying roughness and texture is representative of surfaces typically encountered in manufacturing processes. The Surface Analyst showed no correlation of contact angle with roughness. …Read More

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  • plasma treatment

    An Exceptional and Versatile Surface Treatment

    Among the various methods of surface treatment processes, plasma treatment stands as a highly respected method. Plasma treatment is a surface treatment process performed prior to bonding. This method increases surface energy, activating the surface to better bond, paint, print, seal, or coat. Plasma removes contaminants, cleans to a microscopic level, and can even coat a surface. A unique advantage of plasma treatment is its versatility. It can be used on a highly diverse range of materials including plastic, metals, glass, cardboard, textiles, composites, electronic devices, and even rubber.

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  • Lab Capabilities

     

    The history of BTG Labs is rooted in adhesion research. Originally a development lab, BTG Labs specialized in plasma polymerized coatings. The engineers worked with coatings containing corrosion resistant and anti-microbial properties. BTG Labs worked to improve adhesives and surface treatment processes. This brought about the Surface Analyst and today, BTG Labs still utilizes its twenty plus years of Materials Science expertise to assist manufacturers in understanding how the Surface Analyst fits into their production process and how their surfaces affect the overall manufacturing processes.

    As an innovative and investigative materials science company, BTG Labs boasts a highly sophisticated lab with several analytical instruments. BTG Labs not only produces the ideal surface measurement device, but it can help develop surface preparation processes, trouble shoot existing surface sensitive processes, and diagnose surface chemistries.

     

    Knowing Your Surface

     

    lab-elizabeth

    BTG Labs M & P Scientist operating the XPS

    Surface chemistry directly relates to surface energy and can predict a surface’s ability to maintain a bond. Thus, when developing or remodeling surface processes, knowing the chemistry of one’s surface is a good starting point. Our X-ray Photoelectron Spectrometer (XPS) uses X-Rays in an ultra-high vacuum system to provide elemental information of specific surface chemistry. Sensitive to the top two molecular layers of a surface, the XPS reveals to the customer exactly what is on the surface of their product.

    The Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR), another powerful technique utilized for surface analysis, uses infrared light to detect the presence of functional groups on the surface of your material. It is also capable of coating characterization (i.e. liquid films, contaminant residue, coupling agents etc.). With specular reflectance, attenuated total reflectance (ATR), transmission, and diffuse reflectance accessories, BTG Labs is equipped to analyze a vast array of materials and surfaces.

     

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