25. June 2015   2:22 pm
Andy Stecher

Andy Stecher
Elgin, IL

IMG_6253Everyone is busy enjoying the summer, so we’ll keep it brief today. Two updates I want to share with you:

1. We’ve been working on some exciting new applications with the UltraKat Corporation, headed by Dr. Karl Massholder. He has developed a permanent plasma nanocoating that can be applied to surfaces with the following effects:

  • Automatic self-cleaning and self-disinfection – light activates the treated surface to kill harmful microorganisms, reduce noxious substances through cold oxidization, and/or automatically remove stains from fabric. Remarkable!
  • Anti-fog coatings – essential for high-performance vehicle components, including safety mirrors and headlight covers
  • Anti-fingerprint coatings that make touchscreen phones look better and more readable
  • Permanent hydrophilicity (liquid beads up and runs off surfaces, leaving no stains behind). This is great for products like kitchen appliances that tend to take a beating on a regular basis.

Customers for these technologies include Philips, Bosch-Siemens, Cherry, Linde, and others.

2. I just returned from the inaugural meeting of the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI). IACMI is part of the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation, the presidential initiative for launching new manufacturing-focused institutes in the United States.

This new institute is tied to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Knoxville, TN and will focus on advancements relating to composite materials. Plasmatreat’s technologies can help with critical surface treatment technologies to bond these composites during assembly operations.

The car pictured above is a product of some of the work that ORNL have already done in this realm. The car body is 100% 3-D printed, which we think is just amazing.

Plasmatreat will continue to participate in facilitating leading-edge manufacturing technologies – as always, we are happy to answer any questions you may have!

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Category: Miscellaneous
11. June 2015   2:58 pm
Jeff Leighty

Jeff Leighty
Elgin, IL

Plasmatreat

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Is plasma surface treatment right for you? Maybe. Each circumstance is different, but over the course of my 17 years in surface finishing, 6 with Plasmatreat, I have come to recognize some key situations that tend to indicate a possible fit:

  1. VOC problems. The EPA just left your facility, and you’re nervous. The agency has told you, in so many words, that if you don’t get your VOC emissions under control there will be fines…or worse. Openair plasma is both environmentally clean and worker-friendly—no solvents, no wet chemicals, no waste stream—so it can reduce your reliance on VOC-based cleaning and bonding processes. It can also greatly reduce the necessity for costly removal of hazardous wastes.
  2. Out-of-control scrap rate. Your scrap rate is getting out of control but the root cause isn’t presenting itself (there may, in fact, be more than one problem on the line). Plasma is a highly reliable, replicable process that can eliminate the types of “here today, gone tomorrow” problems that drive a quality manager crazy.
  3. Launching something new. You’re getting ready to launch a new program, and this time you are determined to do it better from the outset: Higher quality, fewer rejects, faster throughput, more reliable process. Plasma could be the “better way” that you’ve been waiting for. While it readily integrates into existing systems, starting from a clean slate is ideal.
  4. Struggling to differentiate yourself from the competition. Plasma, quite simply, allows you to do things your competition can’t—new substrates, new combinations, better quality. You may even be able to achieve a better result than your competitors for less money than you’re spending now.
  5. Maintenance problems. Your maintenance crew is tired of keeping your current process running. Some pretreatments and adhesion promoters can be fussy systems. Downtime for service and repairs is expensive. Plasma treatment is a steady-state process built for uptime. One of my customers said his Plasmatreat system runs in “beast mode.”
  6. Performance issues. Your potential customer just called to tell you your samples didn’t pass their accelerated life cycle testing. Plasma can outperform other pretreatment methods for the application of silicone sealants and polyurethane “form-in-place” gaskets and seals. Because plasma changes substrates on a molecular level, it provides lasting results that other systems can’t achieve.
  7. Formulation frustration. Your supplier just informed you that they will be “reformulating” the product you source from them (primer, adhesive, resin, ink, etc.). While there have been sweeping assurances that the quality won’t be affected, you’re smart enough to take this with a grain of salt. Plasma is different. As long as there is electricity and air, there will be plasma—and it will continue to work for you as well as it does on Day 1.
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Category: AUTOMOTIVE / Cleaning
28. May 2015   2:00 pm
Andy Stecher

Andy Stecher
Elgin, IL

As anyone who’s ever tried to clean oil paint off brushes knows, it’s not an easy task – that paint is tenacious!

Paint removal from grates and jigs is a particular challenge in industrial automotive applications, given the volumes involved. Oftentimes, the production lines must be completely halted for multi-cycle, high-water-pressure cleaning of grates, which is both time- and energy-intensive.

The alternative, high-temperature carbonization cleaning, is generally done off-site – leading to lots of production downtime – and can damage the grates’ zinc coating.

But we’ve been working in conjunction with our colleagues at Fraunhofer IFAM to develop a plasma-based solution to this problem, and we’re pleased to let you know that we’ve done it.

PermaCLEANPLAS® coating is a permanent paint release coating that facilitates the removal of overspray that occurs in high-volume paint coating industries (such as automotive):

  • Reduces time and energy needed for paint removal; 500 bar vs. 2500 bar water pressure needed
  • Thorough cleaning in a single cycle
  • Appropriate for complex geometries
  • Zinc coating of grate is not damaged, as it can be with high-temp carbonization cleaning
  • Resistant between pH = 2-12
  • Environmentally friendly, quiet technology
  • Solvent resistant
  • Colorless, transparent
  • Stable up to 300° C
  • Cleaning can be performed inside the factory, which means no contamination and less production downtime
  • Coating remains functional after 1000+ cleaning cycles

PermaCLEANPLAS® is applied via a low-pressure, cold-coating plasma deposition process to clean, rust-free surfaces. It can be used for both aqueous paint coatings and powder coatings (if cured), and on various substrates, including hot-dipped or galvanized steel, stainless steel, aluminum, plastics, and powder-coated components.

Photo courtesy Fraunhofer IFAM. All rights reserved.

Photo courtesy Fraunhofer IFAM. All rights reserved.

It’s a very effective process, one that is already being used by major automotive manufacturers (including Mercedes-Benz) in Germany and the rest of Europe. We’re looking forward to rolling it out to U.S. auto manufacturers soon.

If you’d like more info about the process, please contact my California-based colleague, Khoren Sahagian, at (650) 596-1606, x2233.

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Category: AUTOMOTIVE
14. May 2015   2:33 pm
Andy Stecher

Andy Stecher
Elgin, IL

file1991256501710

I was speaking recently with Tim Smith, the Canada-based Vice President of Plasmatreat North America. The focus of our discussion? Engine oil pans.

(I know – it doesn’t sound riveting. But bear with me.)

As you may know, oil pans are now increasingly being made out of nylon (PA66) rather than the traditional steel or aluminum. Lightweighting is a factor for this change, as is cost. The oil pan is affixed to the engine block with RTV silicone … and here’s where things get interesting from a plasma perspective.

Nylon oil pans must be pretreated with plasma, or else the silicone simply won’t adhere properly to them. And poor adhesion in this case means messy oil leaks, stained driveways, and unhappy customers.

It’s also important to note that the plasma pretreatment must take place immediately prior to the RTV silicone dispense in order to be effective – not at the oil pan factory, not 12 months before adhesion, not prior to being handled by several sets of factory-dirty hands. Plasma works well here, but it can’t work miracles under the wrong conditions!

In any event, what I began thinking about after speaking with Tim was the fact that Plasmatreat offers a wide variety of solutions for a wide variety of industrial applications. And some are just inherently more flashy and exciting-sounding than others. But all are important in making our world run better and more reliably.

From lowly oil pans great automobiles are launched, in other words. And, to me, that’s incredibly interesting stuff.

If there’s a manufacturing solution we can help you out with, be it big or small, please don’t hesitate to let us know.

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30. April 2015   2:26 pm
Andy Stecher

Andy Stecher
Elgin, IL

tomatoes

If you’ve spent any time in the kitchen – even if it’s just poking through the fridge looking for leftovers – you’ve probably encountered the orange staining on plastic food storage containers that results from hot tomato-based products (either heated in the container or put away while still warm).

In addition to being unsightly, this staining is also disconcerting from a health perspective: If pigments from the food are seeping permanently into the plastic, it stands to reason that some of the plastic is making its way into the leftover Bolognese, too.

As an amateur home cook, I’ve noticed the discoloration myself, and there is simply no way to remove it. But there is now, thanks to Plasmatreat, a way to prevent it.

Working with a leading industry coating specialist, we have co-developed a durable plasma coating for plastic food storage containers (LDPE, PP, and PET).

In our tests, the stain-resistant coating lasted for at least 100 cycles of freezing, microwave heating, and top-rack dishwasher cleaning. In addition to preventing stains, the coating technology makes plastics safer, with little to no material diffusion from the polymer to the food or liquid stored in them – or vice versa.

Additional treatment applications could include baby bottles and large water storage containers.

This is great news for all of us who care about what we eat and try to keep certain things – such as LDPE! – out of our diets. The process is not yet being used commercially, but I will of course keep you posted.

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Wally Hansen

Wally Hansen
Business Development Manager
Belmont, CA

Editorial April 2015

whirlpool-waves

Water is everywhere…just not always where we want it. This past winter, the Eastern U.S. was inundated with snow and ice, while California and the Western U.S. are suffering from extreme drought. Availability of water is a growing concern around the world as it is a vital resource for the seven billion (and counting) people on Earth.

While representing only a small fraction of water usage as compared to that used in agriculture and for energy production, industrial use of water is on the rise. A staggering 18.2 billion gallons of fresh water are used every day for industrial use in the U.S. – about 4% of the total water used for all purposes.

Manufacturing one ton of automotive steel requires about 75,000 gallons of water. Actual manufacture of the vehicle itself requires an additional 39,000 gallons. Two and a half gallons of water are needed to produce a gallon of gasoline – and 20 gallons are needed to produce a pint of beer!

Critical part cleaning, for adhesion-related applications, represents a significant portion of industrial water use. Since the replacement of Freon and other solvent cleaning processes starting in the 1980s, U.S. industrial use of aqueous cleaning processes has become the norm.

But aqueous cleaning is a cost-intensive process, whether you’re looking at it from an environmental standpoint, a dollars-and-cents standpoint, or a labor standpoint.

Water needs to be delivered; detergents, surfactants and other chemicals are added and need to be kept in balance to control the washing process; additional processing is required to treat the waste water for recycling or disposal. Rinse water must also be clean and controlled. There is an old saying that “You are only as clean as your last rinse.”

Even after the part has been washed, it is still not ready for bonding, coating, painting, or printing. It needs to be dried, requiring additional energy costs, equipment footprint, time, and labor.

Furthermore, as mentioned above, water tends to not always go where we want it. Even with the best washing and drying processes, water’s influence remains at the molecular surface where adhesion occurs, interfering with a strong bond.

Molecular water resides in the oxides of aluminum and other metals. Water is absorbed and bonded within many polymers such as ABS and nylon. However, water molecules are not usually well-bonded and do not provide a robust bonding surface.

What if there was a better way for critical cleaning of organic contaminants? What if a process did not use water or other liquids but instead actually removed water from the molecular surface while vaporizing organic contaminants? It would be even better if this nano cleaning could be accomplished without touching the part and a chemical activation could occur to chemically bond to the adhesive, coating paint, or printing ink.

Save Water

Stay Dry

Plasma Clean

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Category: Aerospace
16. April 2015   8:36 am
Andy Stecher

Andy Stecher
Elgin, IL

I’m thrilled to let you know about a new partnership between Plasmatreat North America and the Ronald E. McNAIR Center for Aerospace Innovation and Research at the University  of South Carolina.

The McNAIR Center focuses on the mission areas of education, research, total workforce development, STEM program support, and economic activities. Some of their initiatives include educating engineers and also creating new design and manufacturing technology for the next generations of aircraft.

Plasmatreat has two very technically advanced, high-powered plasma generators at the Center (the 5002S and the RD1004) that assist the McNAIR team with their research and educational initiatives. We will also be partnering with McNAIR on projects, and McNAIR will share relevant data with us from tests and experiments they conduct there.

We believe, in short, that it’s a mutually beneficial partnership, and one we’re delighted to be a part of. If you have any questions, or if you’ll be in the Columbia, South Carolina anytime soon and want to plan a visit, please let us know and we’ll be happy to set it up.

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14. April 2015   3:04 pm
Khoren Sahagian

Khoren Sahagian

file000527241311

May the force be with you: Not just for Star Wars anymore.

Boeing, according to reports in Popular Science and other media outlets, has been granted a patent for a plasma-generated “force field” that protects combat vehicles from the impact of explosions.

The idea is that explosions in the vicinity of the sensor-equipped vehicle trigger the rapid formation of a superheated plasma layer around the vehicle. The plasma creates a buffer zone to reduce the impact of shock waves, protecting both the vehicle itself and the occupants within it.

Even better, it’s not just land vehicles that could benefit from this incredible technology. The patent filing notes that the “protected asset” could be a surface vessel, a submarine vessel, an offshore platform, a land structure, or even “a human.”

Personally, I love the idea of being surrounded by a protective plasma shield, though I am fortunate that I don’t usually need one in the course of my daily activities! I am continually amazed by the new applications for plasma and excited to be working at Plasmatreat, which is always at the forefront of this technology.

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2. April 2015   4:03 pm
Andy Stecher

Andy Stecher
Elgin, IL

magnifying glassIn some ways, what we do here at Plasmatreat is like a less gory “CSI”: We are often called upon to solve mysteries of the manufacturing persuasion. And, while we don’t usually get it nailed in an hour flat (minus time for commercial breaks), we do manage to crack the case more often than not.

In today’s installment, I’ll explain how we helped Ford Motor Company and The Preh Group, an automotive component supplier, solve a seemingly intractable adhesion challenge.

The new Ford Lincoln MKZ features a sophisticated control panel that combines climate control with various infotainment functions (telephone, navigation, and music), all in a streamlined central console known as the “center stack.”

A laminator is used to bond the interactive PET touch foil, which has an adhesive backing, to the injection-molded polycarbonate panel of the center stack. Everything initially looked good from a manufacturing standpoint – until the climactic test, when the adhesive detached and large bubbles formed in the boundary layer between the plastic substrate and the foil.

This delamination would ultimately cause the control panel to fail, so Preh went back to the drawing board to troubleshoot the problem. Simple adhesives produced large bubbles; high-tech adhesives produced smaller bubbles. But the bottom line remained the same: The adhesive film continued to detach.

With time and money clicking away, Preh decided to take a closer look at the PC panel itself. Preh concluded that the bubbles were most likely being caused by a release of gases from additives in the plastic due to the extremes of the climactic test.

Changing the material used for the panel was not an option – but pretreating its surface was. As Preh was already using Plasmatreat technology for microfine cleaning and activation of sensor circuit boards, it sent the PC panel out to one of its labs for a preliminary plasma test.

When the test panel was removed from the climactic chamber after four days of extreme temperatures and high humidity, the Preh developers breathed a sigh of relief. “There was not a bubble to be seen,” says Markus Ledermann, Preh’s manufacturing technology engineer. “With the foil adhesion fully intact, the adhesive bond had met the stringent requirements.”

Case closed, thanks to Plasmatreat! What manufacturing mysteries can we help you solve, automotive or otherwise? Let us know – we love a challenge.

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20. March 2015   9:48 am
Dr. K. L. Mittal, Dr. Robert H. Lacombe

Dr. K. L. Mittal, Dr. Robert H. Lacombe

The previous issue of the “SURFACES: THE INVISIBLE UNIVERSE” blog focused on the topic of polymer surface modification. In this issue we continue on this topic and would again like to remind the reader of the upcoming Tenth International Symposium on Polymer Surface Modification: Relevance to Adhesion, to be held at the University of Maine, Orono, June 22-24 (2015). All readers are cordially invited to join the symposium either to present a paper on their current work in this field or to simply attend and greatly expand their awareness of current developments. Further details are available on the conference web site at: www.mstconf.com/surfmod10.htm

 

PLASMA CHEMISTRY OF POLYMER SURFACES

We continue our discussion on the topic of polymer surface modification via a book on this most important subject:

The Plasma Chemistry of Polymer Surfaces: Advanced Techniques for Surface Design, by Jörg Friedrich (WILEY-CVH Verlag GmbH& Co. KgaA, 2012)

The author began his studies in Macromolecular Chemistry at the German Academy of Sciences in Berlin and has been active in this field ever since and is now professor at the Technical University of Berlin. He is best know to us through his past participation in previous gatherings of the above mentioned Polymer Surface Modification symposium series going back to 1993.

In his introduction Prof. Friedrich points out the apparently incredible fact that more than 99% of all visible matter is in the plasma state. A moments reflection, however, easily confirms this statement since the Sun above, which of itself accounts for more than 99% of all matter in the solar system, is in fact an exceedingly dense and hot ball of plasma. Here on earth the plasma state is rarely observed outside of special devices and consists mainly of low and atmospheric pressure plasmas which are a source of moderate quantities of energy mainly transferred through the kinetic energy of free electrons. Such plasmas have sufficient energy to produce reactive species and photons which are able to initiate all types of polymerizations or activate the surface of normally inactive polymers. Thus plasmas offer the opportunity to promote chemical reactions at surfaces which would otherwise be difficult to achieve. However, the very active nature of plasma systems also present a problem in that the broadly distributed energies in the plasma can also initiate a wide range of unwanted reactions including polymer chain scission and cross linking. The problem now becomes how does one tame the plasma into performing only the chemical reactions one desires by eliminating unwanted and destructive processes. This is the topic to which we will give more attention to shortly but first a quick look at the contents of the volume.

The volume is divided into 12 separate chapters as follows:

  1. Introduction
  2. Interaction Between Plasma and Polymers
  3. Plasma
  4. Chemistry and Energetics in Classic and Plasma Processes
  5. Kinetics of Polymer Surface Modification
  6. Bulk, Ablative and Side Reactions
  7. Metallization of Plasma-Modified Polymers
  8. Accelerated Plasma-Aging of Polymers
  9. Polymer Surface Modifications with Monosort Functional Groups
  10. Atmospheric-Pressure Plasmas
  11. Plasma Polymerization
  12. Pulsed-Plasma Polymerization

Given the above list I think it can be fairly said that the volume covers the entire range of surface chemistries associated with plasma processes and far more topics than can be adequately addressed in this review. Thus the remainder of this column will focus on the above outlined problem of controlling the surface chemistry by taming normally indiscreet plasma reactions. This problem is discussed in chapters 9 and 12 of Prof. Friedrich’s book.

Chapter 9 attacks the problem of controlling an otherwise unruly surface chemistry initiated by aggressive plasma reactions through the use of “Monosort Functional” groups. For the benefit of the uninitiated we give a short tutorial on the concept of functional group in organic chemistry. The term functional group arises from classic organic chemistry and typically refers to chemical species which engage in well known chemical reactions. The classic example refers to chemical species attached to hydrocarbon chains. As is well known the hydrocarbons form a series of molecules composed solely of carbon and hydrogen. The simplest which is methane or natural gas which is simply one carbon atom with 4 hydrogens attached in a tetrahedral geometry and commonly symbolized as CH4. The chemistry of carbon allows it to form strings of indefinite length and in the hydrocarbon series each carbon is attached to two other carbons and two hydrogens except for the terminal carbons which attach to one other carbon and 3 hydrogens. Thus moving up the series we get to the chain with 8 carbons called octane which is the basic component of the gasoline which powers nearly all motor vehicles. Octane is a string of 8 carbons with 6 in the interior and two on the ends of the chain. The interior carbons carry two hydrogens and the two end carbons carry 3 hydrogens each giving a total of 18 hydrogens. Octane is thus designated as C8H18. Moving on to indefinitely large chain lengths we arrive at polyethylene which is a common thermo-plastic material used in fabricating all varieties of plastic containers such as tupper ware® , plastic sheeting and wire insulation. Outside of being quite flammable the low molecular weight hydrocarbons have a rather boring chemistry in that they react only sluggishly with other molecules. However, if so called functional groups are introduced the chemistry becomes much more interesting. Take the case of ethane C2H6 the second molecule in the series which is a gas similar to methane only roughly twice as heavy. If we replace one of the hydrogens with what is called the hydroxyl functional group designated as -O-H which is essentially a fragment of a water molecule, ie H-O-H with one H lopped off, we get the molecule C2OH6 which now has dramatically different properties. Ethane the non water soluble gas becomes ethanol a highly water soluble liquid also known as grain alcohol and much better known as the active ingredient in all intoxicating beverages. Thus through the use of functional groups chemists can work nearly miraculous changes in the properties of common materials and Prof. Friedrich’s monosort functionalization is a process for using plasmas to perform this bit of magic on polymer surfaces by attaching the appropriate functional groups. The process can be rather tricky, however, and requires understanding of the physical processes involved at the atomic and molecular level.

The following example illustrates the nature of the problem and how successful functionalization can be carried out using plasma technology.

Figure (1a) illustrates the basic problem with most common plasma surface treatments. The exceedingly high energy associated with the ionization of oxygen coupled with the equally high energies associated with the tail of the electron energy distribution give rise to a panoply of functional groups plus free radicals that can give rise to degradation and crosslinking in the underlying polymer substrate. Thus it would be difficult to control the chemical behavior of the nonspecific functionalized surface shown in Fig.(1a) with regard to further chemical treatment such as the grafting on of a desired molecule. In essence the wide range of chemically reactive entities make it very difficult to control any further chemical treatment of the surface due to the presence of a wide range of reactive species with widely different chemical behaviors.

Prof. Friedrich points out that unfortunately most plasma gasses behave as shown in Fig.(1a) but somewhat surprisingly use of Bromine (symbol Br) is different due to a special set of circumstances related to the thermodynamic behavior of this molecule, which are too technical to go into in this discussion. It turns out that bromine plasmas can be controlled to give a uniform functionalization of the polymer surface as shown in Fig.(1b). The now uniformly functionalized surface can be subjected to further chemical treatment such as grafting of specific molecules to give a desired well controlled surface chemistry.

In a similar vein, in chapter 12 Prof. Friedrich approaches the problem of plasma polymerization through the use of pulsed as opposed to continuous plasma methods. The problem is much the same as with the surface functionalization problem discussed above. Continuous plasmas involve a steady flux of energy which gives rise to unwanted reactions whereas by turning the energy field on and off in a carefully controlled manner limits the amount of excess energy dumped into the system and thus also the unwanted side reactions.

As this blog is already getting too long we leave it to the interested reader to explore the details by consulting Prof. Friedrich’s volume. As usual the author welcomes any further comments or inquiries concerning this topic and may be readily contacted at the coordinates below.

 

Dr. Robert H. Lacombe, Chairman

Materials Science and Technology CONFERENCES

3 Hammer Drive, Hopewell Junction, NY 12533-6124

Tel. 845-897-1654, FAX  212-656-1016; E-mail: rhlacombe@compuserve.com

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