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How to Use Surface Intelligence Data to Build Smart Prototypes and Rapidly Pilot Manufacturing Lines

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Since the Industrial Revolution, manufacturing has been evolving, periodically marked by significant, fundamental changes such as the introduction of mechanization, mass production through assembly lines, and computerization. Today, we are witnessing what experts are calling Industry 4.0 – a period when smart technology, fueled by data and machine learning, is radically improving manufacturing processes. As a result, how we make products is becoming more streamlined, faster, and more efficient.

Less is More

At the heart of this technological transformation is a relentless focus on reduction – reducing the number of processes and parts required to manufacture products. Today, a critical component of this strategy is the replacement of mechanical fasteners with chemical bonding materials. This seemingly minor change is yielding major results. There are now redesigned products that have fewer total parts than just the number of fasteners in older versions. This not only reduces the number of components in a product, but it also reduces weight, production time, and cost.

It’s important to note here that the technology required to optimize bonding for adhesive fasteners is the same needed to ensure quality adhesion for all coatings, including paints, primers, and sealants. Collecting, analyzing, and utilizing material surface data is key for producing high quality coatings as well as for assembling products.

From a Mechanical Mindset to a Chemical Mindset

It’s one thing to produce good product designs and a prototype or two, it’s quite another to successfully scale up for production. If you’re looking to shift from mechanical to chemical assembly of your products — reducing or eliminating mechanical fasteners in favor of adhesive ones — it’s important to reexamine your production process, the data needed to establish repeatable manufacturing steps; and your supply chain to ensure seamless production with minimal risk.

So, what’s involved in switching from a primarily mechanical production methodology to one in which chemical processes play a greater role? For one thing, replacing mechanical data in fastener assembly, such as measuring friction and torque, with surface data, such as measuring the contact angle of the material surface to understand how well the surface will accept the coating or adhesive to create an optimal bond.

Instead of using a toque wrench to ensure proper threaded fastener tightening, a chemical bond requires tools such as an optical tensiometer that enable direct measurement of surface contact angles to characterize surface tension energy.

This kind of data is the foundation of a new scientific manufacturing discipline known as “Surface Intelligence”— surface science applied to real life adhesion, manufacturing, product development and supply chain challenges. Surface Intelligence is the measurement that enables alignment within organizations, a common language, and data to innovate and continually improve. As new products are designed to include coatings, paint and/or adhesives, it is vital to gain insight into the surface chemistry of the materials being considered for use. The data generated is critical for analyzing a bonding process and materials to determine if they will work not just in prototype manufacturing but in high-volume assembly line production as well.

How to Use Surface Intelligence in Product Design and Manufacturing

Being able to generate accurate, reliable surface data from the very beginning of product design is key for avoiding early mistakes that can add unnecessary cost and time-to-market – or worse, result in project failure. Prior to prototyping, surface data can help engineers hone-in on which materials are the most effective for creating high quality bonds for better adhesive performance and a superior finished product.

With a successful prototype in hand, the next step is often developing a pilot line to gain insight into what production processes, procedures, and data are necessary to successfully meet specifications and manufacture your new product at scale. To understand if your chemical bonds are meeting specs, you’ll need to incorporate surface quality measurements into the line to see in real-time, how surfaces and coatings are interacting in accordance with specifications. A pilot line allows you to tinker with various processes and determine critical control points for better production management before you commit the time, money, and resources to full-scale production.

If your business model calls for outside contract manufacturing, it would be a good idea to make surface quality measurement part of quality assurance in your supplier agreement. This will help ensure that the final product meets specifications and minimize overall risk.

Manufacturers across a wide range of industries are embracing Industry 4.0 and the benefits and competitive advantages it can provide. As increasing numbers of companies make the move from mechanical to chemical bonding techniques in an effort to reduce the number of parts and processes needed to make new products, they need to incorporate a new set of skills and expertise into their production. This includes gaining an understanding of surface chemistry to produce a final product with high-performing and effective adhesion of coatings and assemblies.

If your organization is not fortunate enough to already have surface science expertise in-house, you will want to consider partnering with a company that has surface intelligence experience. Regardless of how you gain vital surface science expertise, that valuable tool will provide a competitive edge for innovating and building better products at a lower cost. Products that are easier to manufacture and more satisfying to use.

Download the eBook, Predictable Adhesion in Manufacturing Through Process Verification that provides a step-by-step guide on how to achieve predictable outcomes in your manufacturing process.

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