Pilot Coating Line Aids Both R&D and Production

In a society in which bigger is often considered better, especially when it comes to cars, houses, and bank accounts, one film converter has discovered that smaller can be, well, just "swell." In fact, the recent installation of a 16-in. Faustel coating/laminating pilot line at its San Diego, CA, converting facility has allowed MSC Specialty Films to operate all aspects of its converting operation more efficiently, including its larger 60- and 72-in. coating lines.

The company, a div. of Material Sciences Corp., was founded in 1977 as a converter of roll-to-roll sputter metallized coatings. Using this exacting technology, metals are broken into atomic-sized particles and re-deposited onto a thin film on a moving web, reportedly producing a more consistent coating on films than can be achieved using traditional vacuum metallizing technology and a wider variety of metals and oxides.

MSC reports that over the ensuing decades, it became the largest supplier of automotive window glass films in the US and the second largest in total window film sales. However, the company realized its most explosive growth three years ago when it began aggressively marketing specialty coated/laminated products to non-window niche markets, including apparel, graphics, circuit boards, electronics, and displays.

As a result, MSC sales have increased from $17 million five years ago to $60 million in 2000. Non-window film sales have grown from virtually nil three years ago to $17 million in 2000. The company hopes to have the sales volumes of window and non-window films reach parity within the next five years.

To help meet this increased demand, MSC two years ago installed a third coater/laminator, a 72-in. Faustel unit that is 12 in. wider than its previous two models. At the same time, the company installed a high-speed Delta slitter capable of winding, slitting, and inspecting films and foils from 0.5-20 mils thick to 72 in. wide. The coater/laminators can apply solvent and water-based adhesive coatings, acrylic hard and scratch-proof coatings, and UV coatings at speeds to 200 fpm. Coating and adhesive suppliers include Rohm & Haas, Ashland, National Starch & Chemical, and Bostik, while films are supplied by DuPont, Mitsubishi, Toray, and others.

Need Becomes Obvious
But with research and development playing such a large role in producing new formulations for its more than 1,200 customers, MSC found itself utilizing full-scale production equipment to develop and test new adhesive/ coating/substrate combinations. This not only hampered the full-scale production—it inhibited R&D as well.

That's the primary reason MSC installed its first 16-in. Faustel coating/laminating pilot line last April: to develop new opportunities in the industrial business-to-business films market without having to utilize its larger, production-scale equipment.

"That could hamstring your R&D department, depending on the capacity utilization of your lines," says Russ McCready, MSC's director of R&D. "So this certainly opened up a dramatic opportunity for more R&D to reach the marketplace faster, because we were basically at the mercy of our production schedule."

McCready notes that the smaller pilot line is virtually identical to the 60- and 72-in. coating lines, including slot die and machine tooling manufacture. As a result, the pilot line is often used to produce narrow web finished rolls for customer use, since the end characteristics are virtually identical.

Clean Outside and Inside
"We've got a two-pronged approach for using the pilot line," McCready says. "It will be used by our R&D department to develop new products in new applications for customers, and we'll be offering the line to customers and potential customers who want to come in and run trials in an EPA-approved facility."

McCready explains that stringent California environmental regulations have limited, among other things, the number of permits the state has issued allowing the use of solvent-based adhesives and coatings. MSC has been using solvents since its founding more than 20 years ago, and it wanted to continue the practice. Therefore, when it purchased the 72-in. Faustel equipment two years ago, it also installed a $1 million regenerative oxidizer from Smith Engineering and Environmental.

MSC's 72- and 60-in. coater/laminators operate in Class 10,000 clean rooms, while the pilot line is located in what McCready calls a "clean area," the difference being primarily the filters used to remove air impurities. Employees in all clean areas wear clean room uniforms, and interlocking entrances restrict air flow into the pilot line's operating area.

"By adding the pilot line, we've been able to be more responsive to our customers, develop new products with a very quick turnaround time, sample it to the customer, and immediately go into full-scale production," says McCready. "It has approved efficiencies in all aspects of the operation."

Supplier Info.
Faustel Inc.
, Germantown, WI; 262/253-3333; faustel.com

Delta Converting Equipment, Blackburn, U.K., +44 1254-677100

Rohm & Haas Polymers and Resins North America, Philadelphia, PA; 215/592-3000; rohmhaas.com

Ashland Chemical, Columbus, OH; 614/461-8415; ashchem.com

National Starch & Chemical, Bridewater, NJ; 908/685-5000; nationalstarch.com

Bostik, Middleton, MA; 978/777-0100

DuPont Co., Wilmington, DE; dupont.com

Mitsubishi Corp., Tokyo, Japan; +81/33210-4358

Toray Plastics America, Kingston, RI; 401/294-4511

Smith Engineering & Environmental, Ontario, CA; 909/923-3331

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