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Adhesives and sealants to emerge as key bonding technologies in industrial manufacturing applications

  • Published Date: July 2, 2021

Bonding technologies such as adhesives and sealants play a key role in the modern industrial landscape and are rapidly becoming an indispensable part of myriad sectors.

The use of adhesive technologies is considered to be an efficient process in the bonding of materials in manufacturing facilities, owing to their numerous benefits over alternative technologies. For instance, sealants and adhesives help overcome the challenges associated with conventional techniques such as mechanical bonding, which can weaken the material due to the need for drilling, or thermal bonding, which involves the application of heat to the materials, and subsequently alters their properties.

The role of adhesive and sealants across the industrial spectrum has been subject to many developments and changes over the years, leading up to its significance in the modern era.

These bonding materials have been in use for several centuries, originating as naturally sourced materials like tree sap and tar, and eventually evolving into advanced synthetic formulations with the emergence of the chemical industry. Through these evolutions, the adhesives and sealants industry is becoming crucial to an ever-broadening application scope, spanning industrial sectors such as electrical installation, agricultural technology, vehicle technology, and more.

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A notable example of the significance of these bonding technologies in industrial applications is the critical role played by coatings, sealants, and adhesives in the 2020 launch of the ATLAS V 541 rocket as part of NASA’s Perseverance mission to Mars. Key products from PPG, including PPG PR-2001 Class B rapid-curing fuel tank sealant, PPG DESOTHANE™ CA8200 Series HS polyurethane topcoat, and PPG PR-1665 cryogenic potting and molding compound were responsible for protecting the rocket and increasing its tear and tensile strength. Initiatives such as these are clear indicators of the increasing industrial stronghold of the adhesives and sealants market, which is anticipated to exceed $64.7 Billion and $15 Billion by 2027, according to reliable reports.

What are adhesives and sealants?

The demand for advanced sealants and adhesives is growing exponentially in recent years, particularly from industrial and manufacturing applications. These bonding technologies demonstrate strong benefits for businesses, from cost-effectiveness to time-savings and ease of use, and are available as different materials designed to accommodate the needs of a diverse industrial landscape.

Adhesives refer to materials that demonstrate the ability to bond surfaces together for indefinite lengths of time. Possessing strong tensile and shear strength, these materials are considered ideal bonding technologies in high-pressure applications., such as for outer surfaces of buildings. Adhesives are available in myriad forms, water-based, solvent-based, and oil-based, among others.

Sealants, on the other hand, refer to materials used to fill in gaps and curb the relative movement of surfaces to which they are applied. While they possess lower strength than adhesives, the main functionality of sealants is to create a barrier or seal to prevent the passage of liquids through joints, gaps, or openings in materials such as concrete, brick, or tiles.

3 key differences between sealants and adhesives

Although often considered interchangeable, particularly in industries where both adhesives and sealants are utilized, and despite their similar fundamental functionalities, there are strong differences between the two, based on 3 key parameters, which are enlisted below.

General Purpose 

One of the main differentiators between adhesives and sealants is their general functionality. As the name suggests, sealants are used mainly to seal any space between surfaces to which they are applied, in order to create an airtight or watertight area. In home construction applications, for instance, sealants are commonly applied to prevent the passage of soot, air drafts, or other minute particulate matter into the interior.

Adhesives, on the other hand, are used mainly for binding one surface to another, as opposed to creating a seal or a barrier.

Basic Structure

The basic structure of sealants and adhesives is also an indicator of the difference between the two bonding technologies. This includes their primary ingredients, as well as look and feel. Adhesives, for example, are much more powerful and rigid than sealants, since they are produced using complex structures designed to bind and grip on cellular levels. Sealants, however, are comparatively more malleable and possess lower strength than adhesives, since they are created using polymers specially calibrated to create a tight molecular structure that can prevent penetration.

Preparation and Utilization

Adhesives and sealants also differ in the way they are prepared, as well as the way they are applied. For instance, the main function of an adhesive is to offer optimum binding properties to surfaces, in order for them to hold. For this reason, thorough cleaning and treatment of the target surface is a key factor in the application of adhesives, to ensure proper setting of the binding. Alternatively, sealants, which still require a clean surface, do not require any specific treatments in order to perform optimally. Adhesives are usually applied as paint or spray, while sealants are applied suing specialized applicators or calking guns.

Despite these core differences, many adhesives and sealants manufacturers have started to develop hybrid bonding technologies, which combine the functionalities of both materials in a single product.

To illustrate, in August 2020, fixing systems manufacturer & distributor INDEX introduced new MS polymer hybrid adhesives, designed to merge the strength of polyurethane with the insulating characteristics of silicone. This included the MS-PR Professional adhesive sealant, with myriad advantageous properties like strong multi-material adhesion, 300% elasticity, and exceptional vibration resistance, which made it highly suitable for an array of applications, from fixing and sealing of shelves, decks, gutters to sealing of cisterns, expansion joints, and containers, among others.

Rising green building activities to emerge as key growth drivers for the adhesives and sealants market

In recent years, there has been a massive shift in construction trends towards the development of more eco-friendly buildings and green construction projects, given the proliferating environmental concerns associated with the construction industry. As a result, sustainable construction products have gained rapid traction, in turn creating significant growth opportunities for the adhesives and sealants market, Major manufacturers are shifting their focus towards developing greener bonding technologies that comply with the evolving sustainability and circular economy needs.

Furthermore, the issuance of stringent health, safety, and environmental regulations by major bodies such as the U.S. EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), ECHA (European Chemicals Agency)’s REACH in Europe, Australia’s GECA (Good Environmental Choice Australia), and global green building rating system LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) have substantially increased interest in sustainable adhesive and sealant technologies in modern constructions.

The water-based adhesives and sealants industry, in particular, has witnessed remarkable progress and is expected to register a commendable 5,5% CAGR through 2027, according to GMI estimates. Since water-based adhesives contain no VOCs (volatile organic compound) and possess beneficial qualities such as high bond strength, corrosion- and water resistance across several non-porous and porous substrates, these materials are gaining increasing preference from automotive and construction industries, as viable green alternatives to conventional bonding technologies.

Industrial leaders such as Sika are taking heed of this trend, with the development of novel sealant and adhesive products that create new benchmarks for performance and environmental impact. SikaSeal®-106 Construction is an example of such solutions, designed as an elastic, sustainable construction bonding product for various exterior and interior sealing applications. The product, built to seal connection joints, has several key benefits such as low emissions, low odor, and no dangerous good classification, all of which comply with EC1plus, the highest emission classification, and consequently with the LEED v4 low-emitting materials credit.

Material science behind bonding technologies has evolved significantly over the decades, with massive technological advancements positioning adhesives and sealants as major contributors to innovation and growth across multiple sectors. This, alongside prevailing trends towards lightweight and durable product designs, higher productivity targets, and economic efficiency, will make the adhesives and sealants industry a key area of interest for industrial development in the years ahead.

Author: Saloni Walimbe
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