Adhesive Applications

Custom Adhesive Tape Manufacturers

The Art and Science Behind Custom Adhesive Tape Manufacturing
Adhesive tapes are versatile products that are used in various industries for applications such as bonding, packaging, sealing, and many, many more. These tapes are typically made with pressure-sensitive adhesives in combination with specific carriers / supports, and carefully selected release liners. However, with such a huge variety of applications, use conditions, surfaces, and customer requirements there is an ongoing need for custom-made tapes to solve those challenges not covered by an ‘off the shelf’ product. In this blog post, we will discuss the art and science behind custom adhesive tape manufacturing and provide a glimpse into the complex process.

Formulation of the Adhesive
Arguably the most important step in designing and manufacturing custom adhesive tapes is to create the right adhesive formula. Adhesive Applications’ chemists, engineers, and product developers work together to develop the ideal product for our customer’s applications. The adhesive formula (PSA) is a complex blend of polymers and modifiers that must adhere to the specific substrates it is meant for, and withstand the application environment (heat, cold, chemicals, weathering, UV exposure, etc). There are different base polymers that can be used to create the ideal PSA, and the Adhesive Applications team works with various chemistries, such as acrylic, rubber, and silicone.  In designing the adhesive our chemists can modify the key performance properties of these materials such as tack, peel, shear, and design products that give the perfect balance of characteristics to suit the desired use.  In our lab, they can screen and test multiple formulas to ensure that the adhesive works best for the intended task.

Substrate Matching
The substrate is the surface to which the tape will stick. The type of substrate determines the type of adhesive required, as different surfaces require different chemistries and adhesion levels. For instance, bonding to glass requires different formulations than bonding to many plastics. The chemistry and surface topography of different materials means that an adhesive that works well on one will not work well on another.  Along with the surface smoothness or roughness, the surface energy is a key aspect of the ability to bond and requires specific chemistry matching – e.g. steel is a high surface energy (HSE) material and requires a specific type of PSA chemistry to bond, whereas polyethylene (PE / LDPE / HDPE) is typically low surface energy (LSE) and requires highly modified adhesives to adhere to the difficult to bond LSE surface. Our chemists and technicians work with samples of the specified substrate and perform various tests using developed formulas to determine the optimum adhesive level.

Backing Material Selection
Once the ideal adhesive for the application and substrate is selected, our chemists and product developers must choose the proper backing material. The backing material carries the adhesive, protects it from damage, and delivers the product to the end user with the appropriate balance of handleability, cuttability, strength, conformability, etc. Different backing materials, such as cloth, film, foil, and paper have different properties and are chosen based on the intended use of the tape. The thickness, suitability, flexibility, and strength of the backing material are crucial factors that must be considered. In certain cases, the backing will impart other critical performance characteristics to the tape, such as flame retardancy (FR), conductivity, heat sync, moisture barrier, etc.

In certain special cases, no backing is used, and the adhesive is presented as a transfer tape or unsupported product carried on only a release liner (‘glue in a roll’).

Coating the Adhesive
The next step is to apply the adhesive formula to the backing material. The adhesive is coated on the backing material using a precise coating method, such as reverse roll, slot die, gravure, etc. The coating method selected depends on multiple factors, such as the viscosity and chemistry of the adhesive, the coat weight (thickness) required, the type of backing being coated, and several other engineering considerations.  The coating thickness must be uniform and consistent throughout the tape to ensure that it works effectively. 

In most cases, with high-performance technical tapes, the adhesive will be cured (chemically cross-linked) to provide strength and other properties to the adhesive layer.  This curing can be achieved through a variety of methods such as thermal (heat), or radiant energy (UV / EB), etc.

Adhesive Applications has multiple coating and curing technologies available to help create the ideal product for end use.

Release Liner Selection
A critical, and commonly overlooked, aspect of the tape design is the selection of the appropriate release liner.  Not all tapes have a release liner – some single-coated products are made ‘self wound’ – but many technical tapes require a disposable release liner to carry and protect the adhesive before its final use (think of a peel-and-stick label).  The selection of the liner material and the release chemistry is critical to the function and useability of the tape. These liners can be made of different materials such as paper or film, and the selection of which to use depends on requirements like temperature, moisture, cost, strength, etc.  There is a myriad of release chemistries, and these need to be carefully selected and formulated for the specific adhesive used to ensure the correct release force and useability. Adhesive Applications product developers will carefully screen and match the ideal adhesive against different releases to ensure the ideal tape product design.

Testing and Quality Control
After the adhesive tape is manufactured, it is subjected to various tests to ensure quality control and suitability for end use. The tape is tested for adhesive strength, tack, shear strength, and other customer / application-specific characteristics as required. The tape may also be tested for weather and chemical resistance to ensure that it holds up in different environmental conditions.

Conclusion 
Custom adhesive tape manufacturing is a complex process that requires precision, expertise, and attention to detail. Adhesive tapes are designed to solve specific problems, and custom solutions are sought when off-the-shelf products fail to meet the requirements. Every aspect of adhesive tape manufacturing, from the selection of the adhesive formula to the coating method, is crucial to ensure that the final product is capable and reliable. By understanding the art and science behind custom adhesive tape manufacturing, Adhesive Applications designs superior products that meet our customer’s specific requirements.