The evolution of new adhesives
Sustainability is the new buzz word in the business community. We find out how adhesives manufacturer Henkel set about meeting demands in this 'green' area.
Environmental awareness has come a long way. Whereas once it was often treated as the territory of some extremists, today it is a vital part of discussions within corporate boardrooms all over the world. Sustainability has become a buzz word in the business community. What exactly does sustainability mean to you, though?
That is the question that Henkel Product Manager Erik Edelmann and his team asked their industrial customers. "For most customers it is rather difficult to clearly define sustainability. The term generally encompasses energy and climate, materials and waste, water consumption, health and safety, as well as social progress. However, the primary focus is clearly on occupational health and safety, plus a sense of environmental responsibility."
This was not an entirely new challenge for Henkel, as the company has always placed great importance on non-hazardous substances and minimal eco-toxicity in the more than one hundred years of its history. In 2008, Henkel employed about 2,900 people and invested 429 million euros in research and development - much of which was directed towards its sustainability policy. Not only that, the organisation says that it works closely with its customers in order to help them to understand and appreciate the added value of these innovations.
Breaking new ground
Recently, however, with its new threadlockers, Henkel says it has broken new ground in occupational health and safety. The medium strength threadlocker Loctite 2400 and the high strength threadlocker Loctite 2700 are a leap forward, because they both have a 'white' MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet). "A white MSDS means that according to the tough regulations of (EC) No. 1907/2006 ISO 11 014-1 neither threadlocker carries any hazard symbols, risk or safety phrases," explains Edelmann. "In addition, they do not contain any declarable CMRs - Carcinogenic."
He continues: "Most people are surprised to see that many ordinary dishwashing agents or all-purpose cleaners carry more hazard symbols than industrial products."
So, how do the lab-oratory experts go about the task of devising a formula that will meet regulations? "There are four stages to this development," explains Edelmann. "First, the adhesives are formulated according to the regulations and lists. Then we co-operate closely with our customers' medical officers. Next, we make sure that the adhesives actually perform well in the application. And finally, there is extensive testing to ensure consistent quality, performance and shelf life." Edelmann is keen to emphasise that although these products have been developed to give the highest possible level of compliance with EU regulations, the company's existing adhesives also conform to these rules.
Never sacrifice performance
Following their normal practice for product improvement, the Henkel specialists in the Dublin Technology centre worked very closely with customers during the development process. "In the case of these improved threadlockers, we were collaborating with two large customers in France," says Edelmann.
David Condron, Senior Chemist at Henkel in Dublin, picks up the story: "Understandably, the customers took a very cautious approach and insisted that not even the decomposition products should be hazardous."
The medical officers in France took a personal interest in the project and gave direct feedback on the various prototypes. Not willing to sacrifice performance, Condron and his colleagues worked for more than a year on the project and finally found the formulation that meet all the demanding requirements. Not only did the developed products retain the customary high Loctite performance, they also achieved a 'white' health and safety bill.
"Through this cooperation, the Henkel engineers were able to set a new standard in the field of industrial threadlocking," says Condron. "I have to say that we are proud of this achievement and the fact that we were able to reaffirm Henkel's position as a technological industry leader."
Of course, meeting the aims of a sustainability policy is an ongoing process. "Health and Safety regulations change over time and substances may be reclassified. We must be continually vigilant and react to modify products as required," reflects Condron.
And Edelmann concludes: "It is always to our benefit that we had the chance to cooperate with highly sophisticated and demanding customers, and therefore meet the requirements of both changing regulations and emerging technologies."
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