Surface energy measurements have many obvious uses; however, some are not so straight forward. A manufacturer of high quality consumer paint containers who prides itself on meticulousness, desired to refine their existing surface energy measurement processes. The company required a faster and more repeatable way to quantifiably measure their surfaces on the factory floor.
A step in their production process entailed applying a barrier coating on the inside of their paint container lids and a portion of the can interior. This coating was applied as a protective barrier between the plastic or metal of the lid and the paint inside to prevent leaking, rusting, denting, and skinning. Skinning, an especially inhibiting condition happens when the paint comes in contact with an exposed, uncoated lid and dries. This dried paint has the potential to chip off into the rest of the container, causing contamination and compromising the paint’s adhesive ability.
The manufacturer was originally using a benchtop goniometer to verify the application of the coating on the lids. However, this presented complications, as the inside of the lid had a texture the goniometer couldn’t accurately measure. Furthermore, it’s size and immobility did not provide the answer for testing each container on the factory floor.
In an attempt to find a more productive and accessible method for measuring surface energy, an engineer from the manufacturer discovered BTG Labs and purchased an instrument. Once the Surface Analyst™ was brought in, the instrument presented a handheld, fast, easy, and accurate way in which to measure the surface energy of these lids. An uncoated lid produced a high contact angle of 80° while a properly coated lid showed a 40° contact angle. The manufacturer used this information to program pass/fail parameters in the Surface Analyst. This made measurements of the coating on the factory floor extremely objective and easy for operators.
The paint container manufacturer now boasts an easier and more efficient way to verify a crucial surface step in their manufacturing process.
Verification of surface treatment processes is necessary to ensure a successful product. A window and door manufacturer were using dyne pens to verify their plasma treatment on vinyl prior to bonding. However, the manufacturer was not happy with dyne as it was messy, destructive to the part being tested, inconsistent, and subjective. These downfalls pushed the manufacturer to search for alternative surface verification methods.
The manufacturer learned of the Surface Analyst™ which, unlike dyne, is fast, easy, accurate, non-destructive, and objective. However, the manufacturer was concerned because their suppliers and customers all spoke in dyne measurements. Luckily, the Surface Analyst provides a dyne measurement option which provides a water contact angle number alongside a dyne number. This allowed the manufacturer to use dyne numbers to ease the transition to the quantitative and accurate language of contact angle that the Surface Analyst provides. The company also gained the ability to use the Surface Analyst in other aspects of their assembly. For example, they used it to verify plasma treatment on plastic internal window components. Their process became much more efficient, quantitative, objective, and precise.
Verifying Surface Preparation Processes
Having an efficient surface preparation process is key. But, what do you do when that process no longer produces the desired results? How do you verify the success of your surface preparation process?
A golf club manufacturer encountered such a problem. The manufacturer had already implemented a BTG Labs Surface Analyst™ to verify their surface preparation process of golf clubs. Their process involved grit-blasting a metal golf head to prepare it for bonding to a composite. Upon measuring the surface of the post grit-blasted metal head, the engineers were reading contact angles of 50° and even some as high as 60°. These contact angle measurements are uncharacteristic of a recently grit-blasted metal.
The manufacturer had come to the conclusion that the Surface Analyst was defective and out of calibration. So, the golf club manufacturer called a meeting with BTG Labs to present the results.
The Sales Engineer came in with BTG Labs’ Performance Verification Check Surface (PVCS), which contains a constant surface energy. The Engineer followed the PVCS test process and took measurements on the PVCS. This brought about normal results indicating the instrument was working well. The BTG Labs Sales Engineer’s next question was, “What about the grit-blaster? Could the media be worn or contaminated?”
An engineer from the golf club manufacturer took the instrument to another grit-blaster within the facility. He returned with measurements on the same surface reading 5° contact angles—the desired contact angle. Instead of preparing the surface for bonding, the grit-blaster was actually depositing contaminated media onto the surface, creating a surface that would not confidently hold the bond.
The Surface Analyst Gives the Ability to Monitor and Verify
These measurements speak for themselves. Without the Surface Analyst’s role in verifying the grit-blaster, the issue with impure media would have gone unnoticed until failures occurred in the field.
As a result, the manufacturer team decided they needed another Surface Analyst at their manufacturing plant to verify that the surface preparation and bonding processes worked every time. The company gained the ability to verify and monitor their assembly processes and the ability to troubleshoot should an issue arise.
When manufacturers experience difficulties relating to product quality, it’s common to believe the issue to be internal, and this is sometimes the case.
But what happens when product quality issues during manufacturing stem from outside the operation itself?
Incoming materials are often an undiagnosed cause of difficulties related to product quality, and until a reliable method is discovered and implemented to create and verify supplier standards, problems will continue to occur.
A recent customer, a manufacturer of solar panels, discovered an unexpected issue with their incoming material quality, and the Surface Analyst was able to shine a ray of light on this dark corner.
The Material & Process
A major component to the interior assembly of their solar panels is a plastic polymer, Nylon 66. This plastic must be bonded to a portion of the solar cells in such a way that the bond can withstand environmental stresses for at least twenty years.
This bond is paramount to offering a long-lasting and high-quality product to the final customer.
Thus, the surfaces of these polymers must be properly prepared to hold a resilient bond. The company necessitates that their suppliers not use any mold release when producing their plastic polymer components. Mold release contains silicone, a very low energy material that will prevent a bond from succeeding.
The company began to experience bonding failures inconsistently and were unable to identify why these failures were happening.
The solar panel manufacturer used the Surface Analyst™ with the guidance of the lab and sales team to scrutinize the surface of their plastic polymers.
The company was able to determine that an acceptable contact angle measurement for this surface to promote proper adhesion is approximately 60°.
Conversely, some of their surfaces were reading angles in the high eighties and low nineties. This was an indication of a low energy contaminant such as silicone.
This was proof that the material had not been prepared according to specification and the source of the problem was able to be identified.
Using the data obtained with the Surface Analyst, the solar panel manufacturer now had concrete figures to take to their supplier that succinctly demonstrated product quality.
The science behind the measurement provided certainty, clarity, and direction that was the final answer the company had been looking for.
The solar panel manufacturer gained the ability to verify the presence of a silicone contaminant on the surface with non-subjective, quantifiable data.
The manufacturer could communicate clearly with the supplier to ensure their needs were met. This meant requiring the manufacturer to to verify that their product is properly constructed prior to shipping, meaning the company saved money, time, and energy lost to shipped product that proved to be unacceptable.
On the manufacturer end, the amount of rework, downtime, and the resulting frustrations essentially disappeared as a new benchmark was set for which the company could effectively operate.
Thus, all companies were on the same page and in the end, the solar panel manufacturer gained the ability to confidently verify incoming products.
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