The adhesives industry is far from stagnant, like in any other industry the popularity of different technologies rises and falls. Some technologies stick around for a prolonged period of time where as others are merely the ‘flavour of the month’ before fading into obscurity, finding use in only very niche applications.
From the first recorded use of adhesives in 70,000 BC, all the way up until the 18th century, glue was typically produced for only personal use. Adhesives were made from animal products such as bone, blood, skin or casein (a milk-based protein). Adhesives made from plant matter such as tree resin or starch were also used. In 1700 the first commercial glue plant started operating, producing glue from horses’ hooves. An industry was born.
In 1841 rubber vulcanization was discovered and marked a turning point for the Adhesive industry. The beginning of synthetic adhesives. Phenolic adhesives were the first commercial synthetic adhesives and sales begun in 1902. Phenolic adhesives were a revelation and use began for many applications such as a binder for plywood. There are still many cases of phenolic adhesives being used today, however, in recent years there has been a significant movement to the use alternatives due to the hazards associated with phenol formaldehyde.
The onset of the second world war created a demand for more durable adhesives that could withstand very harsh conditions. Chemists eagerly took up the challenge and structural adhesive technologies such as epoxy and polyurethane were quickly developed. Such technologies have since found use in a wide variety of industries such as aerospace, construction and electronics, in many cases replacing mechanical fixings. These technologies have been immensely popular due to good mechanical properties, good heat resistance and resistance to chemicals and it is likely that their popularity will continue far into the future.
It’s interesting to look back at the development of adhesive technologies over time and the factors that drove these developments. We can find some indication of the future of the adhesives industry by considering the challenges of today. With the outset of REACH the spotlight has become even more firmly set on the health and safety of products. We are already beginning to see a change in the adhesives market towards products with less hazards and it seems this will become more pronounced in the years to come. Structural Adhesives Ltd are conscious of this and have recently developed an STP adhesive for the construction industry that is significantly less hazardous than typical construction adhesives. Additionally, society is becoming more aware of the safety materials from a fire point of view and we are likely to see a shift to adhesives that are less combustible, for this reason Structural Adhesives Ltd have ongoing development projects for A1 and A2 rated adhesives. Furthermore, the ever-pressing matter of dwindling resources and the volatility of petrochemical prices promises a shift to more biobased adhesives and adhesives made from recycled materials. On the subject of recycling, the amount of material salvaged from products at the end of their lives would be much higher if the products could be easily de-bonded. We could see possibilities of a future where adhesives could be turned on or off on demand.