1. The surprising ways this seemingly simple tape is holding it all together
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  • The surprising ways this seemingly simple tape is holding it all together

    Workers build a luxury motor home using 3M VHB tape
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    A 3M technical expert explains why this tape is in so many important places that you've probably never noticed.

    • What holds up tall buildings and can withstand extreme temperatures?

      What’s incredibly strong and invisible? It’s not a superhero. It’s double-sided acrylic foam tape – a seemingly simple item that revolutionized the way parts all over the world are held together.

    • 3M building façade is held on with 3M VHB tape

      3M scientists invented a super strong acrylic foam tape – 3M™ VHB™ Tape – in 1980, as they started to move away from using solvents in tape. In the process, they didn’t just duplicate the tape – they found ways to improve its performance. The tape was thicker with higher temperature resistance, and according to recently retired 3M corporate scientist Ted Steiner, scientists saw a potential for something bigger.

      Since then, people have discovered what the tape can do and put it to use, holding together everything from trains, appliances, building facades, signs and even the layers of your phone.

      “It brings different benefits to different people,” says Ted. “They might have a very specific need, like strength. Or it might be sealing and bonding, preventing water from leaking, a clean appearance – nice aesthetics, or the wide variety of materials it can bond like metal and glass.”

      Ted works primarily on optimizing adhesives for electronics, and says people tend to be surprised that it’s adhesives holding together both smaller tech devices and big things where they expect bolts and welds – buildings, planes, truck panels, signage and appliances.

    Infographic showing things held together with acrylic foam tape

    • Why use tape instead of rivets, bolts or welds?

      The tape’s property of viscoelasticity is one reason it’s unlike other bonding and fastening methods. This means the tape is viscous – resisting stress and strain. It’s also elastic – resisting distortion so it can return to its original shape and size. So, if two parts are bonded with acrylic foam tape, they can move and the foam will stretch and absorb energy while protecting the bond.

      With a typical mechanical fastener, like a rivet or bolt, the bond is concentrated only in the places where those fasteners are attached; with tape, the bond is extended along the entire length of the connection. In transportation, tests show that a trailer assembled with 3M VHB Tape was 41 percent quieter and had 30 percent less vibration than one assembled with mechanical fasteners at highway speeds.
       

    • What does the future hold?

      Technology trends impact the amount of tape used for different needs, according to Ted. For example, as smartphones and car technology have changed, the way the adhesives are used have shifted. “I think the trend toward more usage of these types of adhesives will continue,” says Ted. “Why people use it – the need for strength and durability over time – that will remain the same.”

    See how this tape is used to build scooters, custom motor homes and more.