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New Opportunities for Converting Technology

Since its inception, the technology developed in the converting industry has led to many new products and businesses. This trend is expected to continue.

Through the years there have been many technology developments in the converting industry: the printing press, the Fourdrinier machine, roll coating, digital printing, holography, etc. Today the industry uses a technically sophisticated continuous web process to convert or transform a web of paper, film, or foil and other raw materials into a wide range of final products.

The development of a new product requires a concept and an efficient process to make that product. Converting process technology has many advantages and can be adapted to make many new products. The technologies are available in a variety of sizes and productivity levels so that small-market development hardware can be obtained easily, and the route to full commercial quantities is readily apparent. Their utilization will result in many opportunities for new products and will improve significantly the processes for current products.

Many products and industries will be impacted by these technologies, including:

  • alternate energy systems

  • sensor systems

  • personal security systems

  • medical systems

  • image reproduction systems

  • microelectronic systems

Energy and Imaging

There is an ongoing need for new non-polluting energy systems. Many systems—fuel cells, thin-film batteries, and solar cells—have been explored and are technically feasible, but their commercialization has been delayed because of high costs. All these products have similar structures in that they consist of a support coated with active layers and then are assembled and laminated into a final structure. The application of converting technology, coating, laminating, web transport, and packaging machines will result in efficient, economically competitive web processes for these products.

Recent technology developments have extended the process range, so now they can coat and transport the thin coatings and supports that are required for alternate energy systems. The result is that readily available hardware can be used to create the manufacturing process, thereby leading to favorable economics and rapid product development.

The imaging market has changed dramatically with the advent of digital technology and the gradual decline of silver halide systems. Professional and amateur photographers are converting to digital technology and using their computer systems and printers to store, process, and distribute images. The current printers and media are adequate but not equal to the silver halide recording systems.

There will be major opportunities for converting technology to provide new media and inks so the amateur can expand the range of printed products that can be produced at home or in neighborhood print shops.

Examples of products that converting technology could produce are supports with high quality receptive layers and adhesive backing on which high quality ink jet images could be applied. These would be used for murals, posters for school, greeting cards, and custom wallpaper designs.

Security and Access Control
The need for improved security to control access to buildings, transportation, and sensitive public facilities will require a significant upgrade of the systems used. The current system of long-term passes will be replaced with a short-term, difficult-to-reproduce pass.

The DOVID (diffractive optically variable image device) technology could be adapted to this use. A machine coupled to a computer, which identifies a person by fingerprint or retinal scan, could be coupled to a small coater laminator, which produces passes. Specialized chemistry could lead to automatic destruction of passes when they expire.

Labels coated with chemicals that react to toxins and explosives could become integral parts of ongoing monitoring of baggage and parcels.

Electronic and Medical Applications
Converting technology is used extensively in the electronics and medical industries, and its utilization will continue to expand. Organic compounds are finding increased use in electronics devices and are replacing inorganic functional layers. An example is polymer memory devices, which are being developed to replace current memory devices. The application of ink jet coaters and other precision coating devices will enable these to be made with readily available technology and at a low cost.

The medical industry is developing a wide variety of new wound care and drug delivery tapes. These are based on coating precision layers of adhesives, slow-release drugs, and bactericides to a wide variety of webs. Disposable web-coated sensors are replacing EKG leads, and other sensor applications will be developed.

Edward Cohen is a technical consultant in all aspects of the web coating process. His expertise is in the coating and drying of thin films, coating process development and scale-up, polyester base development, film defect mechanisms, and defect characterization techniques. He has more than 40 years of experience in coating research and manufacturing technology and has extensive publications in the field including two books. Currently he is technical consultant for the Association of Industrial Metallizers, Coaters and Laminators (AIMCAL).

This article along with future articles by other authors are provided as a cooperative affort between PFFC and AIMCAL. Authors contribute to AIMCAL's technical and educational offerings which include the association's Fall Technical Conference, Summer School, and Ask AIMCAL.

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