Anyone who has used a phone or walked on a waterproof floor can thank epoxy manufacturing for making their life easier. Dr. Pierre Castan and Dr. S.O. Greenlee are credited with inventing epoxy resins, also known as polyepoxides, after they came up with the idea simultaneously. Epoxy resins are made up of base resins, modifiers, and hardeners.
Each category can include a considerable variety of raw materials. But no matter the materials involved, there are a few ways manufacturers can make the most of them and minimize waste when making any type of epoxy.
The Epoxy Manufacturing Process
Manufacturers should familiarize themselves with the basics of the epoxy manufacturing process before buying raw materials. This is especially important for first-time business owners or people new to the industry.
Epoxy resins are often produced by combining epichlorohydrin (ECH) and bisphenol-A (BPA) to cause a chemical reaction. In some cases, other raw materials like phenol, aliphatic glycols, and o-cresol novolacs may substitute for the BPA. This is common when producing specialized resins.
Epoxy resins can be either liquid or solid. The process for producing either state of matter is similar.
The first step is to charge BPA and ECH into a reactor. Manufacturers then add a solution of 20-40% caustic soda to the reactor and boil the solution. The unreacted ECH evaporates.
Then, manufacturers separate the solid and liquid phases by adding an inert solvent into the mix. This can be a chemical like methyl isobutyl ketone (MIBK).
Next, manufacturers wash the resin with water and remove the solvent via vacuum distillation. They then add specific additives to make a product with unique properties. The different additives are responsible for variations in color, viscosity, flexibility, adhesiveness, and curing times. Different applications – such as military or aerospace needs – determine which additives the producers use.
To make the epoxy resins into a rigid and infusible material, manufacturers must cure it with a hardener. For example, a Mannich base or ethylenediamine adduct can serve as the hardener. Epoxy resins can cure at most temperatures between 5°C and 150°C (41°F to 302°F).
Taking a Strategic Approach
To maximize the potential of their raw materials, manufacturers need to do more with less. This involves using a measured, step-by-step process. The first step is to buy a multipurpose product to use as a base.
For example, a clear, versatile epoxy binder could serve as the starting material for multiple products, just as all-purpose flour serves as the base for numerous baked goods. Manufacturers should pick a base they can easily use for several projects, at least when first starting out.
Buying Raw Materials Selectively
Manufacturers should run through a checklist before buying raw materials for epoxy manufacturing. These materials should:
- Be legal. Manufacturers should make sure each chemical complies with federal and statewide regulations.
- Meet the manufacturer’s environmental codes. In addition to state and federal laws, companies sometimes create their own environmental goals to lower carbon emissions or reduce pollution.
- Have a long enough shelf life that they won’t expire before use.
- Be safe to handle without incurring health problems.
- Be easily testable to see if they perform well under different conditions.
- Have enough general purposes that they can be used in several products.
- Be in stock now and in the future. It’s not worth buying a product – and getting used to working with it – only to have it discontinued.
- Be suited for the manufacturer’s particular equipment and processes, such as specific temperatures.
Using this list can help manufacturers narrow down which types of products they need before they make purchasing decisions. This can save money and raw materials and it can also ensure consistency in a brand’s quality and performance.
Uses for Epoxy
Manufacturers should know their market when deciding which types of epoxy to produce. This will help narrow down the types of epoxy manufacturing materials to purchase and how to use them.
Epoxy is very effective at preventing products from degrading over time. Due to its resistance to thermal stress and water, it can be used for numerous applications. Some of these include:
1. Paintings and Coatings
Water-based paints that contain epoxy dry quickly. Their low volatility and ability to be cleaned with water, plus their tough nature, means they make excellent coatings that protect against corrosion and general wear. Epoxy can be applied to flooring, cast iron, refrigerators, washers, and dryers. It can also coat the pipes that carry sewage, oil, drinking water, and gas.
Unlike some adhesives that become brittle at high altitudes or in space, epoxy can resist extreme temperatures, radiation, microcracking, and vacuum conditions. This makes it an excellent binder for reinforcements such as carbon and glass in airplanes and satellites. It can bond similar and different materials such as aluminum, composites, stainless steel, and titanium to each other.
It’s also used to reinforce space suits, for sealing and coating different mechanical components, and to improve flame retardancy. It increases the lifespan of structural parts because of its resistance to cyclic fatigue, great compressive strength, and high peel strength.
For bonding concrete, wood, stone, glass, and some plastics, epoxy is an excellent adhesive. It’s also used to manufacture plastics, sealants, grouts, and mortars, to repair materials, and as an additive to concrete mixtures. Epoxy-laminated wood is a common construction material – it makes up many roofs, walls, and decks.
4. Renewable Energy
Epoxy coats steel wind turbine poles and is part of turbine blade production, making them lightweight but strong. This makes the blades more efficient. Epoxies also coat hydroelectric power stations to prevent saltwater corrosion.
Electric transmission cables that use epoxy are light and durable, increasing their electricity-transporting capacity. Solar panels rely on epoxy resins to protect them from rain, cold, and intense sun.
5. Sports Equipment
Sports equipment has to be light enough for human use, but tough enough not to break under pressure. Bicycles, skis, fishing rods, and tennis rackets owe some of their strength to epoxy resins. As an adhesive and coating, epoxy is lightweight and reliable. It also holds up well even in the water, making it ideal for use on surfboards, windboards, and kayaks.
Car parts have to adhere to metal, resist rust and corrosion, and withstand harsh weather conditions including rain, snow, and intense sun. A thin layer of epoxy-based coating can serve as a primer, which is cured and covered with another coat that protects it from UV light.
Because manufacturers only need a small amount of epoxy to accomplish this, it reduces the overall weight of the car, which helps it perform better. This means it uses less gas and produces fewer emissions overall.
The rail industry also uses epoxy to coat battery boxes, air reservoirs, wheelsets, and springs in trains. This protects the trains from abrasion and mechanical damage.
Maximizing Raw Material Usage
It all comes down to proper planning. Epoxy manufacturers should have a clear idea of what type of materials they need, who their target market is, and how much of each material to buy. They should also keep in mind factors such as shelf life and performance under different temperatures. By taking these factors into account, producers should be able to make the most of their raw materials.