June 5th, 2017

4 Variables to Consider When Selecting the Right Pressure-Sensitive Adhesive

Every business decision is a game of evaluating variables. When it comes to choosing the right pressure-sensitive adhesive, asking the right questions out of the gate can make your business decisions infinitely easier.

There are no easy answers in the business world, especially when it comes to converting. Every decision includes factors such as cost, materials, production capabilities, and each of those factors seems to spawn a myriad of other questions and considerations.

To simplify (if possible) the selection process for pressure-sensitive adhesives, we turned to Ingrid Brase, a veteran of the field.  Ingrid has helped us qualify the main areas for consideration, as well as perhaps the most crucial advice: Where to start.  

What is Pressure-Sensitive Adhesive?

Pressure-sensitive adhesive is an adhesive that forms a bond when pressure is applied to both it and the object to which it is adhering.  Pressure is the only thing needed to activate it, and it is typically used with labels and items such as tape.

Meet Ingrid Brase, Over 20+ Years of “Sticking With It”

Converse with Ingrid Brase for five minutes and you’ll not only realize that she knows pressure-sensitive adhesives, you start to wonder if she invented the dang things.

Ingrid Brase, expert in pressure sensitive adhesives

Ingrid Brase

Ingrid began her career as a research scientist. She eventually progressed through market-focused roles before identifying her passion for pressure-sensitive adhesives. She then spent most of her professional career at the Henkel Corporation, most recently as the Market Segment Director.  

A regular presenter at conferences, including the recent ICE Expo, she is also a contributor editor to Paper, Film and Foil Converter, and the author of the column “Sticking With It.” (Obviously she’s got a sense of humor to match her credentials.)

Your Biggest Challenge: Getting Customers to Do Their Homework

Ingrid describes the biggest challenge from her years at Henkel was getting her customers to do their homework before they called for a request on a pressure-sensitive adhesive.

The biggest challenge is getting customers to do their homework.

A client would call and say they had an idea for a new product, and that they needed a specialty label.  They would tell Ingrid they needed a high performance adhesive that would “stick to stuff.”

“What kind of stuff?” Ingrid would reply.  “Wood? Plastics?”

“Hmm,” the caller would say. “Let me ask my customer.”  

This type of back-and-forth is typical. It’s just the nature of the service element of the business. The customers don’t know what they don’t know.  However, you can make the process more efficient by providing a checklist for prospects to consider before the back-and-forth calls begin.

Not only will it save everyone a lot of time, it could potentially stop an unrealistic project before it starts.

So Many Things to Consider With Pressure-Sensitive Adhesives, so Little Time

How do you determine what you need?  Starting with these four main categories may help you answer some of your own questions. The categories (many of which “slide together,” as Ingrid says) include:

  • End Use
  • Materials
  • Manufacturing
  • Cost

Use these to guide your development and your dialog with your customer.  It allows you to evaluate your current offerings (what you have on hand) and also to do some basic Business 101 cost analysis.

"Go, no-go" decision.

Ultimately, you’ll get your first “go, no-go” decision. That’s when you can make the first efficient call to your pressure-sensitive adhesive supplier.

1.End Use: What will you produce in the end?

The old saying “If you don’t know where you’re going, how can you choose the right path” applies here.  You really have to talk with your customer and consider the product you’re going to make, and it’s ultimate function.

Multi-layer lamination and die cut.

This includes a myriad of performance characteristics that ultimately spill over into the other four categories.  But when you start with the end in mind, it will help you more clearly define cost, manufacturing and materials. Ingrid’s questions include:

  • How long will the product be used?
  • How will the product be adhered/installed?
  • What are the environmental conditions? (temperature range, humidity, UV exposure, solvent, cleaning agent exposure)
  • What is the shelf life of the product?
  • What is their regulatory compliance? (FDA, UL, AAMA, CONEG, REACH)

The adhesive properties will spark their own set of questions:

  • To what surfaces does it need to adhere?
  • What is the bond strength?
  • What is the coatweight?
  • Does it require immediate adhesion or is there open time?
  • What are aging requirements for when it is in use?

2. Materials: What will you need to build it?

On the adhesive side (noted as “facestock/carrier” below), Ingrid states there are two overall characteristics to consider.

First, what are the defining characteristics – should it peel, tack or sheer?  

Second, what are the aging characteristics.  What are the factors that the adhesive will be exposed to in the environment that will compromise its characteristics?  

Digitally finished labels.

For the facestock, Ingrid says the materials will go “hand-in-glove” with the adhesive, so the two must be considered as one. Here are the big questions:

Facestock/carrier

  • Will you use paper, film or foil?
  • Will PVC be used?
  • What are the specifics of the material?
  • Will or can the facestock or carrier be pre-treated?

Liner

  • Will you use paper or film?
  • Is it compatible with the adhesive?
  • Have you considered:

-Installation methodology
-Optical properties
-Self-wound/double-faced

3. Manufacturing: What do you have on-hand, and what do you need to get?

Understanding the manufacturing environment is a balance between what you have and what the product needs. There are all types of performance issues to consider, including your line speed and production capacity.

It's a balance of what you have and what you need.

As you consider several of the main areas below, know that the answers will ultimately help you decide whether you will proceed in-house or contract manufacture elsewhere (or perhaps not at all).

Material handling considerations:

  • For the adhesive, what container is optimal for delivery?
  • How much will be used, how often, and how will you handle and store it?
  • For the liner and facestock, what amount will you need and how will you store it?
  • How will you store the finished product?

Plant conditions:

  • What should the plant environment be like? (ambient, seasonal extremes)
  • What are the process controls? (handling incoming materials, in-process checks, final Q&A)

Coating considerations:

  • What type of coating equipment is available? (liquid, hot melt)
  • What coating methods are at your disposal? (gravure, slot die, etc.)
  • What is your operating and process capability? (coatweight, viscosity, dryer, speed, tension control)
  • Will this be a transfer or direct coat?

4. Cost: Will the initial cost estimate even work?

You might think that “cost” is where it should all start, because at the end of the day, your profit will determine whether the product will move forward.  But you can’t run the numbers until you’ve fleshed out some of the items listed above.

Nevertheless, Ingrid believes you absolutely should not proceed without dealing with the cost of the product, even if you do as little as a back-of-the envelope calculation.  “If the initial cost estimate doesn’t work, why go through with it?” she asks.

  • What is the target selling price and volume?
  • What is our projected cost? (consider adhesive, materials, processing)
  • Can we save money by in-house versus tolling? (or vice versa)
  • How we can improve profits? (scale, better material purchases, construction design)

Ok, So Where Do You Start?

Ingrid has provided us with a lengthy list of items to consider when you’re choosing your pressure-sensitive adhesive.  And naturally, you’re probably feeling a bit overwhelmed.

Consider trials.

So where should you start?  While Ingrid has given us the big picture, maybe you start with a more refined approach.  “Choose one or two parameters,” she said. “For example, we have this liner or this vinyl or paper we’re going to use. Let’s start from there.”

Parameters such as materials on hand and your current manufacturing capabilities might help you determine if the end use needs are even feasible.  You should also consider performing trials on offline lab equipment, or partner with a manufacturer to perform some proof of principle testing.

But the key to beginning is, well, beginning.  “You might need a couple of leaps of faith,” Ingrid said. With her checklist, you can at least look while you make that leap.

Find out how to overcome your biggest converting and packaging challenges.

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