A recent article in the Wall Street Journal, “Super Glues Are the Secret to Making Cars Lighter,” discusses the use of adhesives in manufacturing, specifically in automobiles. Cars today are increasingly reliant on advanced adhesives for structural integrity. This means adhesives are replacing welds, rivets, screw, and bolts. This is in effort to make cars lighter and more fuel efficient. Adhesive manufacturers are continuing to push their technology to its limits and craft more and more advanced adhesive substances.
The global adhesive market is estimated to be $2 billion in 2014, up from $1.5 billion in 2004. The industry has been growing around 4-5% per year. The view is that adhesives are the “new welding.” Aluminum, a strong lightweight metal, cannot be welded to steel easily so adhesives give engineers options they didn’t have before. Carbon fiber, another very strong and very light material, also lends itself to adhesives use. Utilizing adhesives allows designers to use more light materials like aluminum and carbon fiber in their designs, decreasing weight and increasing the fuel efficiency of the vehicle.
The 2015 model of Ford’s F-150 pickup truck will use three times the adhesives as previous models. The average amount of adhesives used in the typical car today is 27 pounds, up from 18 pounds in 2004.
Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner is another story of how adhesives are taking on a bigger and bigger role in design and manufacturing. Half of the 787’s airframe is carbon fiber resulting in a much lighter plane. Boeing says that their use of adhesives in the 787 means the plane has between 40,000 and 50,000 fewer metal fasteners than conventional planes.
Adhesives do more than just hold things together, though. They can be used to stiffen areas so the product feels more solid. This is true of the area many people lean against while pumping gas into their car. Adhesives can also be used to dampen noise and eliminate ugly welds.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety will not comment on whether adhesives are safer than conventional fasteners but notes that all vehicles are tested to the same standards, regardless of technique used to build them. Adhesives can contain hazardous solvents and other chemicals, so workers need to be trained to properly handle them.
What’s next for adhesive manufacturers? There is a push to make adhesives that are more capable of dealing with high temperatures. Currently, most adhesives do not respond well in high temperature situations. There is a desire to get closer to the engine by crafting adhesives that are more temperature resistant. Another challenge is that oil or dirty parts can defeat adhesives. And finally, some products may need to be disassembled and put back together. Adhesives can make this difficult.