3M reinvents 'tape' by blending adhesive science with robotics

It represents a whole new product category and bonding technique for manufacturing innovation.
Sade Agard
3M™ VHB™ Extrudable Tape
3M™ VHB™ Extrudable Tape

Sade Agard/Interesting Engineering 

We hear the word sustainability all the time, and no doubt this year's Consumers Electronic Show (CES) 2023 was loaded with it in the form of many different flavors and guises. But which of the big corporations there provided workable tech solutions that actually matched this objective? 

One company that stood out was 3M, with its various cutting-edge technological goods and services on display. 

Continuing its legacy of tape solutions, which it has been championing for over 40 years, Interesting Engineering (IE) learned about 3M's recent collaboration with Nordson's robotics to deliver a new automated bonding system.

According to 3M, the solution is faster, more straightforward, and more sustainable for manufacturing. IE spoke with one of 3M's application Engineers, Steve Austin, who has been working with adhesives and tapes for 25 years, to learn more. 

Blending robotics and adhesive science 

3M reinvents 'tape' by blending adhesive science with robotics
An all-new on-demand bonding approach

"A new product we just launched is an automatically dispensed, [doubled-sided] pressure-sensitive adhesive tape," said Austin. "What we're showing here is our 3M VHB Extrudable Tape."

To elaborate, pressure-sensitive adhesive tapes stick to a surface when pressure has been applied. "They're tacky and sticky to the touch," he explained. They tend to come in roll form, so it's up to customers to make them whatever shape they need.

According to Austin, creating shapes usually requires a converter, with the waste resulting from this process being thrown away.

"Instead of us selling a roll of it, it's an adhesive that gets unwound off a spool. It's then fed through an extruder before being dispensed onto a substrate so two parts can be bonded together," he added. 

One benefit of this approach is a more efficient use of resources when working with custom shapes. "You're going to have much less waste," he said.

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The 3M VHB Extrudable Tape is also designed to work with the Nordson ProBond System to provide an automated bonding solution that blends robotics and adhesive science. 

With this automatic application feature, the novel tape works like a liquid adhesive, however, without the need to wait for it to cure.  "You have immediate adhesion and handling strength so that you can continue your manufacturing process," said Austin, "This saves costs."

Continuing 3M's legacy of 'stretch-release'

3M reinvents 'tape' by blending adhesive science with robotics
Stretch-release feature

"And then there's another unique feature with it," he added. "So let's say at the end of life, or during manufacturing, you bond two parts together, and you misalign them. Usually, you have to take them apart and do a rework. Well, this product has a unique feature called stretch-release."

Austin then brings attention to 3M's Comply range, which are adhesive strips you can use to mount items on walls. When stretched, the strips can be removed without damaging the surface. "Well, this product [extrudable tape] has the same features," Austin stated.

"So I've got these two parts bonded together. If somebody does something wrong, or the machine does it wrong, I have to remove the tape. In that case, I can stretch it and cleanly remove it so that my parts remain undamaged," he said. 

While the demonstration revealed that the 'tape' still felt tacky, it was not reusable. Still, "the important thing is that this is the low-cost part. Your substrates, what you're joining together, are not damaged," Austin said. 

Typically, for many bonding adhesives, once you've assembled the components and they're bonded together, you destroy them when it's time to take them apart. 

"Like a lot of electronic devices, you can have them repaired. You don't want to re-purchase a new one. But if you can avoid that altogether, that's better," he explained. 

Update 01/24 11 a.m. Eastern time: An earlier version of this article stated VHB stood for Very High Bonding Tape, and a converter for the tape was not needed. It has since been amended.

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