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Partnering launches future growth in laminations

As a long-time supplier to wire and cable manufacturers, Chase & Sons, Webster, MA, a div. of Chase Corp., is introducing innovative process technology into their niche with the use of 100% solids adhesives from Morton Chemical while employing a new coater/laminator from Geometric Machine & Design. The three-way partnership has proven to be an asset for Chase & Sons' traditional customers, while it has opened doors to new markets for the converter.

Glenn Coulter, general manager of Chase & Sons, points out that the switch from solvent-based coating systems was a customer-driven decision. First, he explains, customers are consistently demanding reduced product cost. Second, customers today more and more are demanding "partnerships" that improve profitability, service, and quality for themselves and their supplier (Chase & Sons). And third, both customers and their suppliers are adopting proactive positions regarding the environment, seeking to have minimum negative impact on air quality, landfill disposal, and the treatment of liquid waste. To move in the direction of 100% solids technology just made sense.

History Shapes Future

Chase & Sons has served the worldwide wire and cable industry since 1946 when it experienced phenomenal growth, like others serving the construction industry, after the war. As the country grew in population, the need for electrical power also grew for new homes and businesses, between cities, and even between continents.

Manufacturing at that time started for Chase & Sons with the calendering of uncured rubber (an expensive process) onto a variety of fabrics for use as power cable tapes that were ultimately used by power cable manufacturers. The tapes served as electrical insulation, or they bound several components within a power cable, or they provided outer barrier characteristics. In the 60s and 70s, in an effort to reduce costs, cable manufacturers eliminated the tapes from the outer jacketing, replacing them with extrusion-processed materials. Other parts of the cable eventually incorporated extrusion processes as well (to reduce tape cost primarily), so that in the 70s and 80s, Chase & Sons found itself in a diminishing market.

Add to this problem the facts that the postwar boom was well over and that the power lines installed during that time continued to efficiently transmit power across the country. These situations left dwindling opportunities to sell product.

So in the 1980s Chase & Sons, finding itself in a position where it must grow its business internally, decided to evolve within a different segment of the wire and cable industry. Through the years, says Coulter, the company had developed an "outstanding reputation of product quality, service, and technical performance... We wanted to take that success and bring it into the electronic communications industry."

Despite the fact that this industry was already mature, Chase & Sons nevertheless pursued this course in the late 80s, "hoping to carve a nice spot within the industry for ourselves," explains Coulter. This decision required that the company invest in equipment capable of handling materials that, for Chase & Sons, represented newer laminating technology.

Searching for Alternatives

The converter knew that organic solvent-based adhesive systems were the standard for the industry at the time. But this technology required attention to such issues as emission controls, regulations, permits, as well as solid and liquid waste disposals. To avoid these costly processing issues and to get a foothold in the market, Chase & Sons decided to purchase laminate material in master roll form from a European manufacturer. Upon receipt at the company's facility (located then in Randolph, MA), the material was slit down to the specific widths required by their customers, using a Geometric duplex slitter. For a short time, serving the wire and cable industry in this manner worked, says Coulter. "After all, we were just looking to gain a foothold."

In the past, the Randolph facility had been accustomed to handling materials such as carbon black coatings, rubber compounds and fabric that, when handled, created dust, and powders that are simply inherently "dirty" in the various manufacturing processes. To become involved in the manufacture of products used in the electronics industry - basically a clean manufacturing process - there were some problems with the two processes "cohabitating," explains Coulter.

Having grown the electronics business to a point where production could no longer reside in the Randolph plant, in 1992 the electronic cable tape operation was moved to a newly built production site in Webster, MA., with 25,000 sq ft of space. Here, a slitting operation was set up.

Only three months after establishing the Webster facility, Chase & Sons acquired the shielding/electronic tape business from the Stewart Group in Canada, which owned both a solvent coating and laminating plant in Winnipeg, Canada, as well as a slitting operation in Massachusetts. Chase & Sons moved the slitting capabilities to the new Webster plant and utilized laminated master rolls from the Canadian site (thus reducing the need for the European-supplied master rolls).

Chase & Sons continued this mode of operation until 1994, when they concluded that the firm needed to be more competitive, a signal initiated by its customers. Coulter elaborates, "It's difficult to compete in a commodity market when you have to include costs of freight to move materials from Canada down to the US. So we decided to explore ways that would help us be more cost-competitive."

Exploring New Technology

Just at this time, recalls Coulter, Morton Chemical and Geometric Machine announced the joint sponsorship of a seminar dealing with the use of 100% solids adhesives in the coating and laminating process. Coulter and Ed Silva, technical director, were educated on both the 100% solids adhesive chemistry (handled by Morton) and the mechanical requirements of coating and laminating (covered by Geometric). A short demonstration on a pilot coater inspired them to test Chase & Sons' materials on the equipment.

To adopt a new processing technology that essentially had been untried in their industry before this time left Chase & Sons with the difficult task of justifying an expenditure on new equipment. However, after thorough and intense scrutiny, a financial commitment was made to the proposal, and Chase & Sons proceeded to evaluate equipment suppliers.

Over the course of about one year, Chase & Sons' materials were tested at the Geometric pilot lab as well as at two other equipment manufacturing pilot plants. All three equipment manufacturers tested the viability of 100% solids adhesives to satisfy the needs of the electronic cable tape market.

Selection of an equipment supplier, says Coulter, comprised an "elaborate matrix of different aspects that we wanted to evaluate, including a weighted averaging of cost, quality, and service. Geometric came out on top for our needs. We then worked with Geometric to build a machine tailored to our specifications. Since installation, we have made some modifications, as is typical with any new technology. We now feel that we have leap-frogged the technology that has been in existence in the electronic tape market for decades and believe that we are clearly the technology leaders."

With the acquisition of the equipment, Chase & Sons hired new personnel, including an on-site process engineer and two operators. Training was developed internally both on the equipment and for the new adhesive systems. Although there are a number of converters throughout the country, particularly in the packaging field, involved in 100% solids processing, Coulter reveals that most consider the technology very proprietary. "There was really little help available in learning some of the tricks of the trade."

Keeping it Simple

This lack of available information, reports Coulter, made the Morton/Geometric/Chase & Sons relationship especially important to develop and maintain. "We had to extract information from both companies, assimilate it, and figure out how to put the two sources of information together to arrive at a successful process. Our operators, John Lamont, Steve Brooks, and J. Bowden, worked diligently with our own engineering staff as well as with engineers from Geometric and chemists at Morton to fine-tune the machine and adhesive system to the exacting standards required of products that service the wire and cable market."

The Geometric coater/laminator accommodates a web as thin as .00025 in. and widths of 60 in. wide and speeds of 1,000 fpm. A comparably sized solvent line would likely incorporate multizoned ovens, perhaps measuring 100 ft in length; both thermal and cooling stations; some type of pollution control device that captures and destroys volatile organic compounds generated by the process; monitoring devices that measure and control the amount of solvent being used and emitted to the atmosphere; controls for the natural gas required to fuel the ovens and to burn the emissions; monitoring devices and controls for ducts and dampers for appropriate air flow and volumes; monitoring of lower explosive limits, etc.

And, of course, there is the cost for engineers who must monitor and report all of the above to the local Environmental Protection Agency. Quite "simply," it gets pretty complicated and costly to employ a solvent process. Coulter adds that neighbors generally aren't all that happy about a solvent operation that is present in their community.

Conversely, in a 100% solids operation, he says, "The equipment itself takes up considerably less room once you remove the ovens and bring the coating head up to the laminating station. There's no hood surrounding the coating head, no thermal or cooling stations, and no pollution control devices, attending duct work, or extra personnel and monitoring devices required to run a solvent system. Since the adhesives start out as a liquid upon application and remain at room temperature throughout the process, manufacturing has been tremendously simplified." All the while, Coulter estimates, they are able to run at comparable solvent speeds.

Chase runs a two-component, 100% solids system that incorporates two feed lines that transport the Morton adhesive to a Liquid Control Corp. metering pump system where the two components are proportioned. Continuing in separate lines to the coating head, the components are fed into a motionless mixer, after which the blended two-component adhesive is immediately dispensed to the coating head, where adhesive curing reaction begins. A 10-kw Compak 2000 Series Enercon treater power supply is positioned before the coating head. Substrate constructions used in the lamination process for the wire and cable industry usually incorporate a range of thicknesses and materials but generally include and start at .5- through 2-mil polyester/.35- through 2-mil aluminum foil.

A five-roll transfer system accomplishes metering of the adhesive. An initial check at the start of the day establishes the appropriate conditions for production followed by a sampling of the amount of adhesive weight applied. (Periodic quality checks and samples are taken to test for tensile strength, elongation, yield, thickness, etc., during production). Once the conditions are met, explains Silva, "statistical studies indicate there is very little change in the adhesive deposit through the course of the day."

He continues, "The interesting part is that there are no extraordinary conditions that are occurring in the process, because there's no heat that typically changes roll dimensions or viscosity of the adhesive. Once you start up at room temperature, you're off and running...It's simple, consistent, and repeatable!"

Additional Help

An additional aid in running the Geometric coater/laminator is the GEOLINK[R] modem used to diagnose machine-related problems that may occur during processing. If there is a problem, this communication link over the phone lines provides around-the-clock monitoring and troubleshooting.

The Siemens drive system, installed as part of the original equipment, "has a high level of sophistication and control," reports lead operator J. Bowden. "Simply because of the nature of the laminating adhesive system itself, it acts like a lubricant because it is in a liquid state at application - it can build up viscosity in an hour's time and effect a complete cure after several days. We could, therefore, create problems with tensioning and curling. The drive system allows us to properly wind a roll while the adhesive is still acting like a lubricant. So drive systems become very important to this process."

All operator controls are centralized at a computerized console at which the operator can make adjustments to machine speed, tension zones, nip pressures, etc. Recipes can be accessed at this console to simplify setup and startup. Statistical process control is also available. Coulter proudly adds, "We even have a stereo system built into the console for the operator to enjoy. Starting ten years ago, for any new piece of equipment we buy, we incorporate a stereo system for the enjoyment of our operators."

Total Adhesive Support

From the adhesive perspective, Coulter explains, "Currently, most commercial applications require a clear adhesive. In our industry, however, most of the product we sell requires a colorant in the adhesive layer. This is a problem in 100% solids, because there is no solvent, thus preventing solubility of the dye. We had to work very closely with Morton chemists in Woodstock, Illinois, and Holyoke, Massachusetts, to achieve proprietary colorant systems for our requirements."

Other advantages to using 100% solids adhesives are the lack of odor and reduced scrap - both of which have a positive impact on the environment. When you buy a drum of material, the whole drum is used.

With the new 100% solids technology initially intended for the wire and cable industry that Chase & Sons has serviced for more than 50 years, the company is now looking for new applications that can better utilize the full capabilities of their new equipment to help sustain further growth.

Says Coulter, "We're looking forward to installing a second line in the near future and are entertaining any requests from companies that might be interested in evaluating different product constructions so that we can provide custom coating and laminating capabilities. Heat-sensitive substrates would be ideal for our new line, as well as aircraft barrier insulation, packaging and decorative laminates, and thermal insulation.

"It's clearly been a win, win, win situation," Coulter says of the working relationship with Morton Chemical and Geometric Machine. We all have our own best interests in our own business, but in each other's businesses as well. That in it-self has proven to be enough of a driving force so that we didn't need to have some sort of structured partnership agreements. We're proud to say that everything has come together now, and we are very pleased with the results."

Supplier Information:

Morton International Inc., Chicago, IL; ph: 312/807-3468; fax: 312/807-3328.

Geometric Machine & Design, Edison, NJ; ph: 908/287-2303; fax: 908/287-1057.

Liquid Control Corp., North Canton, OH; ph: 330/494-1313; fax: 330/494-5383.

Enercon Industries Corp., Menomonee Falls, WI; ph: 414/255-7784; fax: 414/255-7784.

Siemens Energy & Automation, Elk Grove Village, IL; ph: 847-640-1595; fax: 847/228-5490.

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