The 4 Most Common Ineffective Methods of Surface Quality Measurement

Hunter Brankamp

Water break testing. Dyne pens. Goniometer. No method at all.

The search for a reliable, repeatable, objective method (i.e. not based on opinion) for measuring surface readiness in manufacturing was a search all too common among our current customers, and these methods are the most commonly tried and (formerly) used among them.

Achieving great adhesion in manufacturing comes down to surface preparation (we call it “Clean to a Number”) and optimal surface prep is the difference between an average product...and an industry-leading one.

But getting there means having an objectively quantified understanding of the top 3 molecular layers of your material surface.

Did we just say “top 3 molecular layers?”

You bet we did.

So, with achieving great adhesion being dependent on such a thin layer of your material surface (metal, composite, polymer, etc.), the need for a precise, objective, and science-based measuring system should be apparent. 

So what are they?

Water Break Testing: “Spray and Pray”

Method:  Commonly the standard in the aerospace & automotive industry, this method entails spraying a surface with water and observing the lay-pattern of the water.

Drawbacks: Subjective, qualitative evaluation of water. Essentially a “quick and very-dirty” method of evaluating water contact angle


Dyne Pens: “Close Enough”

Method:  Commonly the standard in the film & flexible industry, this method entails placing a strip of hazardous, destructive, colored ink onto the surface to visually observe the qualities of how the ink lays on the surface

Drawbacks: Subjective, qualitative evaluation of a destructive ink. Difficult to decide and completely qualitative (high degree of subjectivity in discussion), expensive


Goniometer: “Two-Point Measuring Lab Tool”

Method:  Commonly used in labs only for obtaining water contact angle measurements, this method measures two points of contact of a water drop resting on a surface

Drawbacks: Not as accurate or reliable as overhead viewing of a drop deposited by Ballistic Deposition, potentially misleading due to undefined edge lines at low contact angles, not viable for mobile or real-time production measuring


No-Method at All: “Out of Control Processes”

Method:  Through no fault of their own, some manufacturers still have not been able to find and/or implement a reliable, repeatable, practical and objective way to measure surface quality of their material surfaces used in their manufacturing operation

Drawbacks: Manufacturing processes are inherently “out of control” due to no monitoring processes put in place. Final product quality (adhesion) is simply a guessing game.


So what’s the end-all be-all? How can manufacturers get an objective, mobile, non-destructive, and highly specific method of measuring surface quality ready for real-time use on the factory floor?

We can help with that.

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