A Sandia National Laboratories research team, led by scientist Jim Aubert, has developed a removable epoxy adhesive that makes bonding and detaching parts a matter of temperature change.
‘Our approach to a removable adhesive relies on the use of a reversible chemistry that breaks apart the adhesive at elevated temperatures, resulting in low adhesive molecular weight and low bond strength,’ said Aubert.
No other adhesive with the strong bonding characteristics of an epoxy is said to have the capability of melting and losing its bonding capability at high temperatures and then rebonding when the temperature is lowered.
Conventional adhesives become soft at high temperatures, but do not melt and do not lose their ability to bond. Thus, to detach two objects, they must be pried apart, which can cause damage.
The bond in the Sandia adhesive is said to break at 90 to 130 degrees Centigrade depending on the formulation. Minimal force is then required to separate the pieces at this heated state. The adhesive will rebond between room temperature and 60 degrees Centigrade.
Aubert notes, however, that this rebonding capability is finite. The adhesive will retain the ability to bond and unbond a number of times but will at some point become nonremovable.
The relatively low debonding temperature reportedly makes for versatile component assembly, easier and cheaper component repair, easy upgrading, and simplified dismantling and recycling. It also allows for upgrading as new technology becomes available or rebuilding if any defects are discovered after deployment or during the original manufacturing.
‘Normally, no thought is given to disassembly after bonding parts with an epoxy,’ Aubert said. ‘Yet disassembly is becoming an increasingly important aspect of manufacturing as we become more concerned with the cradle-to-grave aspect of materials for environmental and economic reasons.’
For example, future weapon systems are planned that can be taken apart periodically for repair and upgrades. Removable adhesives are critical for this type of component disassembly and reassembly.
Aubert said the new adhesive might also be useful for components that need to be put together, tested, and then taken apart for analysis.
The unheated adhesive looks and feels like a large rubber band and can be prepared in any size and thickness. For bonding, it is cut to match objects being attached, applied to one surface, and melted.
The bond is made by bringing the melted adhesive into contact with the other surface and curing it between room temperature and 60 degrees Centigrade. The adhesive then can be removed at 90 to 130 degrees Centigrade, with the adhesive liquefying at different temperatures for different formulations.