Let’s drive…cars have come a long way since the first steam-powered vehicles roamed bumpy dirt roads nearly two centuries ago. With innovations big and small, 3M’s contributions of ideas, technologies and solutions has helped advance the automotive industry over the last century—and where it’s going in the future!
Around the turn of the century, it took a work crew weeks to sand down the body of a car before it was ready for the assembly line—far too long to meet the demand of car buyers around the world.
The problem was dust, and lots of it. As crews sanded the car frames, it created airborne clouds of dust. While some advocated for using water—or wet abrading—to reduce dust levels, sandpaper at the time would simply fall apart if it became too wet or water-saturated.
Enter Francis G. Okie, an eccentric inventor with a dream. After Okie developed the first waterproof sandpaper, he wrote to 3M seeking more minerals to use in his product. 3M saw the opportunity for a productive partnership, and in 1921 began to market the iconic product known as 3M™ Wetordry™ Sandpaper. The sandpaper, was a success in both car manufacturing and auto repair shops and helped improve the working conditions for crews in auto plants by helping to eliminate the dust hazard.
Soon after the introduction of 3M™ Wetordry™ Sandpaper, 3M hit upon another automotive innovation. A young banjo player with an interest in science, Richard Drew may not have seemed the type to change history. But soon after he responded to a local 3M advertisement seeking a young and ambitious lab assistant, he did.
As part of Richard’s job, he went to auto manufacturers to deliver samples of the new sandpaper. During one visit, he heard several painters cursing over how difficult it was to paint two-toned vehicles—at the time, they used newspaper and ordinary glue, which often stuck and ruined the paint coating.
Drew went back to the lab with an idea. After much experimentation with various resins, oils, gums and other substrates, he eventually found a solution in 1925—the beginning of what we know today as Scotch Brand Masking Tape.
3M wasn’t just working on the exterior of automobiles—by the mid-1930s, when all-steel cars emerged, adhesives were used to attach everything from upholstery and trim to sound-deadening material.
Because a car is made of many moving parts that can buzz and whir the faster you drive, these materials were key in helping soften the noise and create an enjoyable driving experience. Today, advanced materials like acoustic absorption material take this idea a step further by using science and technology to help enable a quieter, safer generation of automobiles.
To keep the weight of cars down—helping make them more fuel efficient. Car manufacturers use advanced technology like glass bubbles to reduce the weight of plastic parts by up to 15%.
3M developed these special glass microspheres in the early 1960s. These glass bubbles are made from a water resistant and chemically-stable soda-lime borosilicate glass. They’re used in everything from thermoplastics and molding composites to underbody coatings and structural foams. These tiny glass spheres allow auto makers to reduce the weight of a plastic component so their designers can put that weight savings into other features customers want to improve their ride.
From the 1990’s to today, lithium ion batteries are helping power the electric and hybrid car revolution. And today, 3M is using innovative materials—nanotechnology, adhesive, precision coating, fluoromaterials and more—to drive us into the next generation of smart vehicles.
What comes next is anyone’s guess, but there’s one thing you can be sure of—whatever happens, 3M will be on the road with you.