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Making things stick

3M Europe : 23 April, 2003  (New Product)
No one thinks much about advanced technology when popping up a piece of tape from a dispenser to wrap a gift. The tape, after all, is simply a clear plastic strip that
In fact, high-performance adhesives comprise one of 3Mís most sophisticated technology platforms, influencing thousands of 3M products, including such widely divergent examples as automobile and airplane components, transdermal drug delivery systems and wound dressings, optical films for computer screens, commercial graphics, and even bioanalytical devices for DNA analysis.

Some 3M adhesives are strong enough to bond heavy metal parts to one another. But strength is not always the primary function of the companyís advanced bonding systems. Novel Commandô Adhesives, for example, greatly enhance the functionality of wall hangings, combining dependable bonding and release qualities that firmly attach objects to walls, and yet allow them to come off without damaging paint or wall surfaces.

Another clever example includes the newly introduced 3Mô Nexcareô Ease-Off Family First Aid Bandages, featuring quick, easy painless removal.

To consumers, 3Mís leadership in adhesive technologies is founded largely on its familiar Scotch brand Tapes and ubiquitous Post-itģ Notes. But the companyís very first experience with bonding surfaces dates back to the companyís original backbone product, sandpaper, which used relatively crude glues to affix minerals to paper.

The first significant advance in 3Mís long history of innovation came when the company introduced 3M Wetordry Polishing Paper by substituting a nonwater-soluble varnish for animal-based glues in 1921. This enabled wet sanding, which reduced the dust and health-related dangers of dry sanding.

Rubber-based masking and cellophane tapes appeared in the ensuing years, until a shortage of rubber in World War II shifted the focus to acrylate adhesives. In the 1960s, 3M scientists combined acrylates with an acetate backing to produce Scotch Magic Tape, the first tape that virtually disappeared on paper.

At approximately the same time, 3Mís advances in epoxies, urethanes and other high-performance bonding substances began to vastly expand the uses and potential uses for adhesives, most notably in structural engineering applications. Carmakers realized that adhesive bonding could replace the welding parts in many instances, offering the advantages of easier assembly, tighter fits with less vibration, and fewer opportunities for rust to form in and around drill holes.

Metal bonding with 3M adhesives received an additional boost in the 1970s, when reducing fuel consumption became an important factor in auto design and lighter weight aluminum, which is difficult to weld, was substituted for certain steel components.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, 3M specialized adhesives are increasingly put to use in the complex tasks of transporting pharmaceuticals through human tissue and in wound healing. Specialized adhesive products range from transdermal drug delivery patches that allow a drug to pass through a patientís skin to hypoallergenic ďbreathableĒ surgical dressings that absorb fluids from a wound and enhance evaporation. There is even an adhesive that holds up well in the hostile environment of the human mouth for drug delivery through the gums and mucous membranes.

As 3Mís adhesive technology continues to evolve, the next major advances are occurring in the field of bonding new polymeric materials, which present a number of technical challenges for adhesive bonding. A current example is the use of 3Mô VHBô Tape, a double-sided, pressure-sensitive, acrylic foam adhesive tape, to attach a complex de-icing system protected by polypropylene plastic covers to the backside of microwave dishes and satellite antennas. Itís a bonding method that not long ago would have been considered unthinkable for this application, yet the bonds already have withstood years of harsh Canadian winter weather.

A leading 3M adhesives researcher notes with some amusement that his lab even takes its cue from the lowly gecko -- those little green lizards whose fiber-covered webbed feet stick to most anything. Studying these intricate fibrous structures of the webbed feet allows scientists to combine what they have learned over many years in an attempt to bring new innovations to customers.

Perhaps itís mostly symbolic, but one that comes a lot closer to rocket science than one might have guessed.
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