Material Assembly and Adhesive Bonding

Designers and engineers are challenged every day to improve designs and manufacturing processes. By enabling the use of a wider range of materials in product design, 3M tapes and adhesives allow enhanced aesthetics, lighter weight constructions and improved end performance. These adhesive and tape solutions allow customers to manufacture products in creative, efficient and effective ways. 3M adhesives and tapes can be used for a broad variety of applications and substrates, and we’re happy to help you find the right one for your assembly process.


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Adhesives and Tapes for Industrial Assembly

While there are several ways to design and manufacture products, 3M adhesives and tapes offer unique benefits compared to welding and mechanical fastening.

  • Riveted sheet metal vs. metal to metal adhesive bonding

    Traditional Fastening vs. Adhesive Bonding

    Welding is the industry standard for heavy-duty assembly but requires expertise and may not work if the substrates are different (e.g. aluminum to steel). Bolts allow precise torque control and are removable or replaceable; however, they also require holes to be drilled in the substrate. Screws are commonly used but may not withstand much stress and can be subject to corrosion. Rivets are another popular option but require access from both sides to complete the assembly, and they work best with similar substrates. Solder is used for electrical conductivity but generally provides a weak mechanical bond.

    In contrast, adhesives and tapes can provide multiple benefits as an alternative to the traditional methods. For example, liquid adhesives can flow and conform to the shape of the bond area to fill gaps. They typically provide strong bonds. Tapes provide a consistent bond thickness and size. They offer immediate handling strength to enable easy assembly. Both come in multiple formats providing design and production flexibility. In addition to formats, tapes and adhesives come in a variety of strengths to match a wide range of substrate and design needs.

    Industrial adhesives provide key benefits over other industrial assembly methods, including:

    • Eliminate drilling and holes to reduce labor costs and stress concentration
    • Use thinner, lightweight materials to reduce product weight and energy usage
    • Distribute stress evenly across the bond to optimize performance
    • Bond dissimilar materials to enable new designs and prevent corrosion
    • Bond and seal simultaneously to eliminate process steps
    • Reduce vibration in final product to enhance customer experience

Factors to Consider for Adhesive and Tape Bonding

To form an adhesive bond, the adhesive must make intimate contact with the surface of each substrate. Therefore the adhesive must be selected with an understanding of the surface energy and cleanliness of the substrates. In addition, the adhesive must have sufficient cohesive strength to meet the needs of the application. As you select the substrates for your design, you can work with 3M to select the best adhesive for your application.

  • An animation illustrating the surface energy wet out process. A droplet of water makes contact with a surface and spreads out over the surface.

    Surface Energy, Wet Out and Adhesion

    Surface energy is a physical property of the surface of a material that determines whether an adhesive will make intimate contact. On a material with high surface energy, a liquid will spread out or wet the surface; on a material with low surface energy, the liquid will resist flowing and bead up. An adhesive must wet out the substrate to provide a bond.

    To choose the proper adhesive it’s important to understand the surface energies of all the substrates and how well the adhesive will wet out each one. Surface cleanliness is also a factor in how well an adhesive wets out the substrate: some adhesives require a high degree of substrate cleanliness, while for others it is less critical.

  • An animation illustrating a bonded surface being pulled apart. The adhesive fails as two bonded substrates are seperated.

    Cohesive Strength

    Cohesive strength is the internal strength of an adhesive, the ability of the adhesive to hold itself together under stress. The higher the cohesive strength, the stronger the adhesive. It’s important to consider the specific types of stress that will act on an adhesive joint. Common stresses include shear, cleavage, peel and tensile.

    Cohesive strength is determined by the chemical composition of the adhesive. The strength of adhesives covers a wide range, from pressure sensitive adhesives to structural epoxy and acrylic adhesives. Knowing the magnitude and frequency of the stresses your application will be subjected to is helpful in choosing the adhesive with the best cohesive strength for the task at hand.


Substrate Types

3M has a broad range of adhesives and tapes and a comprehensive understanding of substrates to assist you in your design.

  • Metal

    Metals, especially common ones like steel or aluminum, are strong, durable, easily machined, cost-effective and widely used in industry. They have high surface energies and are usually easy to bond with appropriate surface preparation. Many of the advantages of bonding adhesives, such as gap filling and isolation of substrates, are especially beneficial in metal bonding.

  • Traditional Materials

    This includes substrates like glass, ceramic and concrete, as well as natural materials like wood, textiles, leather and stone. These materials have medium surface energies and are fairly easy to bond, but each has a specific consideration for surface preparation and cleanliness. 3M has adhesives designed specifically to bond each of these materials.

  • Engineered Plastics

    These are generally strong, stiff plastics that perform well at higher temperatures and often cost more; examples include polycarbonate, ABS, urethane foam, many composites and most paints. They may go through significant processing and aren’t too difficult to bond, but specific details such as mold-release agents can be problematic.

  • LSE Plastics

    Plastics with low surface energy (LSE) have an inherent resistance to wetting which makes the adhesive selection process more critical. Examples include polypropylene, polyethylene, polystyrene and many powder-coated paints. 3M has developed plastic adhesives specifically to bond these materials.


Assembly Types

In determining which adhesive will perform best, it is very often helpful to consider the assembly type. The six assembly types shown below have different design characteristics that often determine the best adhesive or tape.


Manufacturing and Design Considerations

One of the quickest ways to find the optimal adhesive or tape solution is to consider how your product will be manufactured and used. For example, will the production be manual or automated? How much space is available? How hot does the product get in use? Are there any industry specifications your product needs to meet?

  • Technician in an assembly line plant creates an adhesive bond

    Bonding Process

    Here are some key questions about your manufacturing process to consider. What is your current manufacturing and assembly line process? Does the adhesive solution need to fit your current process or can the process/equipment change? How quickly will the assembly be moved between manufacturing process steps? Will the bond need to be repositioned? What are the environmental, health, safety and regulatory requirements? Any of these factors can affect adhesive choice.

  • RV manufacturing plant showing RVs made with industrial adhesives

    End Use

    The performance of your end product is important to you. How and where is your finished product used? Is it a finished product, or is it a sub-assembly that goes to another manufacturer? Will it be exposed to a harsh environment where temperature, UV, vibration, impact, humidity or rain will affect it? Are there military, FDA, UL, ASTM, construction, marine or other detailed specification requirements? All are important considerations in making your final choice.


Key Resources for Material Bonding

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