Keeping it together: developing adhesives

Adhesive techniques have experienced substantial developments in recent years. Sonia Sharma finds out more about what it takes to hold the industry together.


scientists creating adhesives

Reliable and consistent adhesive techniques and solutions are a lucrative and imperative part of the industry. For over a century, global adhesives provider, H.B. Fuller has worked on perfecting adhesives, sealants and other specialty chemical products to improve products and lives through their commitment to innovation.

This dedication to adhesive innovation was illustrated at the unveiling of its new 2,300m² Lüneburg Adhesive Academy, Germany, which features two laboratories - hot melt and reactives, and four technical centres, converting solutions, durable assembly, hygiene and packaging solutions. Inside Packaging visited the new technical centre of excellence to find out more about the solutions.

Staying connected

One of the main aims of the academy is to help its customers respond more quickly and effectively to market trends, industry challenges and opportunities. With approximately 200 people working on site and products such as hygiene, packaging, bookbinding, converting, graphic art, tape and label, and engineering being produced, staying connected to both ends of the spectrum - customers and the solutions - has been a central initiative.

"The importance of adhesives can sometimes be overlooked."

"Our new adhesive academy is a perfect example of what we mean by 'connecting what matters'," says Jim Owens, president and CEO at H.B. Fuller. "It brings together everything necessary to connect customers to innovative adhesive solutions that will give them a competitive edge.
"From the academy, we will strengthen our commercial partnerships, solve some of the world's toughest adhesion challenges and develop market-ready solutions to help drive customer and industry performance."

State-of-the-art equipment combined with the collective knowledge of experts drawn from H.B. Fuller's global network means that the centre provides an environment to work in partnership with customers to solve problems, and create new solutions more efficiently than ever before.

Nick Lehman, R&D director at H.B. Fuller, says: "By bringing together adhesive specialists from different sectors to share expertise, transfer technologies between markets and stimulate ideas, we are confident we can accelerate adhesive innovation. Furthermore, we are providing those experts with first-class offices, laboratories, technical facilities and machinery to ensure they have the best possible environment in which to think and to create."

Converting solutions

The importance of adhesives can sometimes be overlooked, a sentiment that is highlighted by Owens. He says: "People outside our industry do not always realise what an important part adhesives play in the lives of each and every one of us. Adhesives make our lives better. From packaging and building construction to hygiene products and water filtration, our solutions help our customers hold the world's most useful and important products together.

"Strong boxes, safe food packaging, drinkable water supplies and even thin, absorbent baby diapers would simply not be possible without adhesives."

In the converting sector, H.B. Fuller has created solutions such as the Fulltak™ 8301, which connects ideal coating, drying and conversion performance for the label stock producer with optimum labelling performance and clean label removal for the beverage producer. The versatile adhesive is formulated using proprietary polymer technology and has a clean and consistent performance during typical label conversion processes.

"Our chemists develop polymers with a tailored blend of performance characteristics."

Labels that are coated with the adhesive are cleanly removed during a typical warm, caustic wash-off process, and importantly, the adhesive remains coated on the label, minimising contamination of the wash water.

The high-performance adhesive solutions for labels are differentiated from competitors by the fact that they are based on H.B Fuller's advanced, in-house polymerisation capabilities.

Stuart Jenkinson, business director, converting solutions, H.B. Fuller, says: "Our chemists develop polymers with a tailored blend of performance characteristics and continue this customised development through the compounding stage. The result is a portfolio of adhesives with a distinctive set of properties, enabling H.B. Fuller to offer unique solutions to the PSA tape and label industries.

"The desire to innovate and our strong knowledge of chemistry, connected with our dedication and understanding of our customers' needs, are the key ingredients that enable H.B. Fuller to stand apart from the competition."

Durable assembly solutions

In the durable assembly sector, the team sells to different industries including automotive, woodworking, textiles, panels, filters, footwear and general assembly. The academy produces hot melts, in particular ethylene-vinyl acetate and polyolefins, as well as technologies such as water and solvent-based adhesives, reactive hot melts, liquid reactives in one and two components, and polyurethanes dispersions.

Solutions, such as the new reactive hot melt adhesive for window profile wrapping, means the team is working with the latest films in the industry, in addition to a wide variety of profile shapes, including some of the most difficult to bond.

The team has also launching a reactive polyurethane film for the automotive, footwear and assembly market segments, which allows for rigorous quality control of the adhesive utilisation, and provides a high-quality final product, enabling optimised operations. It has also created a new water-based emulsion to produce a foamed adhesive that delivers higher finishing quality for the panel production when using lower density core substrates.

Packaging solutions

"The team is also launching a reactive polyurethane film."

In the packaging solutions sector, H.B. Fuller serves the food and beverage and the fast moving consumer goods industries, producing packaging solutions for e-commerce that include tamper resistance, return-ready and risk-and-damage-free opening solutions, as well as efficiency improvements for fulfillment operations.

Identifying key factors such as economic pressures, a change in packaging materials with a strong push towards flexible packaging and a sustainability drive towards more environmentally friendly packaging, the team has created solutions such as a low application temperature product range, a new product line containing 40% forest sourced raw materials and bonding light-weighted folding cartons.

Martin Riswick, business director, packaging solutions, H.B. Fuller, explains: "In terms of productivity, customers are looking for very efficient production lines with low energy consumption and low raw materials utilisation, as well as low percentage of scrap products. Very often, this results in the demand of light products that require new lighter substrates."

The academy itself has been LEED® (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified to the Gold level. This is the most established global sustainability certificate for buildings, recognising performance in sustainable site development, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality and Innovation, and design process.

Owens says: "We have improved productivity and processes, and have completely transformed the way that we source our raw materials and services. These actions will ensure that we can remain cost-competitive for many years to come."