Solventless Strives Forward
We recently caught up with Giancarlo Caimmi, commercial director, Nordmeccanica, for an update on its innovation with Dow, solventless lamination and lean manufacturing.
Q: The solventless adhesive lamination technology that Nordmeccanica developed with Dow has been commercially available for a little more than a year now. What has the response from the converting industry been like?
A: The technology was announced to the industry during Drupa 2016 and has been commercial since the K Show held at in Dusseldorf, Germany, in October 2016. The technology is made out of the combination of a specifically formulated adhesive, Symbiex by Dow Chemical, and a specifically designed laminator, Duplex SL One Shot by Nordmeccanica. The technology has been received very well from the industry due to the innovation and the advantages featured over the previous generation of solventless adhesives. We have spent the past few months demonstrating the technology at our corporate location in Piacenza, Italy, to companies interested on a global scale. A technology well-received may not experience an immediate market success. Usually when a new technology is announced, no matter how good it is, it may take some time before the market actually accepts the innovation. And that is particularly true when the new technology marks a significant evolution over the state-of-the-art. Our case is about an innovative laminating machine developed expressly to handle an innovative adhesive formulation – an absolute first in our industry. Therefore, for early buyers it takes trust and determination. In general, industry-changing innovations are characterized by a slow start of the sales diagram and a constant growth as technology becomes more and more proven by industry feedback. Think back to solventless lamination at the very beginning of its development in the 1970s. It took vision to believe and invest in developing a machine to handle an adhesive featuring no initial adhesion. And it took trust and determination for the buyers of the early years to invest in such a technology.
Counterintuitively, in the case of this new technology, orders filed to date have been way above expectations. It is because of the ingenuity behind the idea and a lot because of the trust the market has in products supported by industry leaders.
Q: More and more printers/converters seem to be embracing the concept of lean manufacturing. How can the Dow/Nordmeccanica innovation help with such efforts?
A: I think two of the main aspects of lean manufacturing are perfectly targeted by our innovation: attention to everything that adds value to a production process and the elimination of everything else in general, waste in particular. This describes how Symbiex and Duplex SL One Shot are tuned to help converters in perfecting their processes and procedures.
One of the main advantages of the new technology is the elimination of the curing inventory. In traditional solventless lamination, freshly laminated rollers are required to be stored in a curing room where temperature and humidity is controlled. This is because the polymerization process – or the time required for transition of the adhesive to its final solid state – requires many hours and even days. With the innovation we presented to the industry, it will take only 90 minutes before a laminated roll can be sent to the next production step. This completely eliminates the curing inventory and impacts the production process exactly around one of the most sensitive topics touched by lean manufacturing.
Another important factor is that it will be possible to reduce the
noncompliance-related scrap. Due to the quick curing time, a measurable lamination bond will be available in 30 minutes or less from lamination. Traditional solventless lamination allows for that quality check in about a day, depending on adhesive performances. Measuring bond at 30 minutes prevents the effects of inconsistency related to bond strength.
The lamination process will be greatly simplified thanks to the innovation. This is also perfectly in tune with the guidelines of lean. A simple process is in itself easier to monitor.
Q: Machinery seems to be trending more toward solventless lamination. Why is this?
A: Solventless lamination has been constantly growing in the industry on a global scale for decades. The primary reason is related to the peculiar characteristic of the technology. There is no water or solvent to be evaporated to make the adhesive work. Also, there’s no need to implement additional energy-consuming technologies to allow for the adhesive to cure. No evaporation means no drying system. No drying system means a less expansive investment in hardware and a great deal of energy savings in a process that features zero emissions. This is quite sufficient to explain for the growth in market share.
The downside of solventless lamination was the difficulty encountered, at machine level, in handling an adhesive at very high viscosity and with very little, or the absence of, green bond. Historically, these two main issues related to the technology are at the very base of the initial resistance to the market expansion of solventless lamination. Converters in the early days of the technology invested in equipment not really tailored to master the task. Even after reliable machines became available, it took time to change the perception of the technology.
In the 1980s, Nordmeccanica solved a problem involving the consistency of the coating weight and the issues with the green bond.
Q: Can you explain how Nordmeccanica has worked with and listened to its customers over the years when it comes to developing new equipment?
A: All of the innovations presented to the industry by Nordmeccanica are influenced by the end user. That is one of the best values at Nordmeccanica: listening. All serious innovation is in fact made out of simple rules, such as simplicity, problem-solving and process enhancement. The difficult part is prioritizing.
An effective way for a converter to influence design is pretty simple to describe: requesting – and sometimes suggesting the solution – to take care of a specific user-related problem. We do have a quality system implemented that reports to engineering and R&D every notification received at every company level. There is no day without some improvement being engineered and introduced into our products. Small or large, the evolution does not matter. The products are under constant development. Listening is therefore essential. Only the end user has the last word on functionality, ergonomics and reliability. It is product development at work.
There is then the case of the major innovations. Technologies developed through the value chain, influenced by customers’ needs, but not necessarily promoted by customer demand. The waiting time for the curing of solventless adhesives is a perfect example. By introducing the innovation, we have given converters a solution that allows them to cut costs, reduce time to market and make things even simpler.