Adhesives and sealants are used in a wide variety of industries - construction, packaging, furniture, automotive, appliance, textile, aircraft, and many others. The primary reasons for the use of adhesives and sealants are due to the fact that their advantages significantly outweigh their disadvantages.
On the average, the consumption of adhesives and sealants is increasing at the rate slightly higher than the gross national products of the regions where they are used. However, the growth rate is very dependent on the market and region.
The market for specialty adhesives and sealants (e.g., epoxy, polyurethane, silicone) is growing faster than that for larger-volume, commodity-type products (e.g., natural rubber, starch, phenolics). The main reasons for this higher growth rate are:
Lower level of pollutants in some products
- New uses
- Higher standards of performance
- New materials of construction.
Many specialty adhesives are more environmentally acceptable than general purpose adhesives. For example, water borne, low solvent content, and hot melt pressure sensitive adhesives have been replacing conventional solvent based pressure sensitive adhesives for several decades.
The many advantages of adhesives and sealants have been well established. However, perhaps the most significant advantage that has encouraged development and increased use of adhesives and sealants is their multifunctional capabilities. For example, adhesives can perform primary joining tasks and simultaneously provide vibration damping and corrosion protection.
Higher standards of performance in modern applications are pushing the boundaries of adhesives and sealants. This, of course, requires the development of newer and improved application and performance properties. But perhaps the leading driver is for "performance on demand". Significant demands have been placed on systems to be fast, easy, and low cost. This has led to several new generations of adhesives and sealants. Examples of these are fast curing epoxy and polyurethanes, UV and light cured acrylics, and cyanoacrylate adhesives.
Just as the raw materials that go into adhesives and sealants are changing so are the materials that these products must bond. For example, the use of nonferrous parts such as aluminum and composites on automobile bodies is forcing the consideration of adhesives since conventional joining methods are not always appropriate.
The overall market for adhesives and sealants has often been said to be made up of many small, specialty, "niche" markets. New applications and innovative technology breakthroughs have always been the prime factors that have kept the momentum in adhesives moving. Products have always been developed for customer-specific uses, and then mature into broader, industry-wide application.
Several interesting factors emerge when one looks at the driving force behind these markets.
The desire for high production rates has led to a growth in hot melt adhesives especially in the packaging industry. Also, robotics has helped introduce adhesive systems in high volume industries such as automotive.
- Water borne systems dominate the industry. The demand for water based adhesives almost doubled during the last two decades.
- Solvent based adhesives lost the greatest market share during the same time period.
- The greatest increase in market share occurred with the structural adhesives (epoxies, polyurethanes, cyanoacrylates, etc.).
The major customer driving forces shaping this market picture is (1) the need to be faster (quick curing rates, room temperature curing, or "cure on demand" requirements), (2) the need to reduce solvent and VOCs, and (3) the need to assemble products built from substrates that cannot be bonded in any other way. The strong growth in "structural adhesives" is the result of these drivers.
What does this mean for the industry, and what does it do to the old, original, not-so-state-of-the-art adhesives? Some experts in the industry believe that adhesives and sealants may follow the course of the chemical industry, which seems to split into two groups - one consisting of commodity chemicals and the other built on niche, high-tech, and high-profit making specialty chemicals.
It appears that no matter what structure the adhesives and sealants industry takes, it will certainly continue to look at specialty or "niche" markets for growth at a steady, if not spectacular, pace.