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37 Surface Treatment of Plastics 37.1. Introduction 37-1 37.2. Functions of Surface Preparation 37-1 Reinoval of Contamination» Control of Surface Roughness ‘Matching f Surface to Adhesive» Providings Boundary Layer» Control of Oxide Formation + Coneo of Absorbed Water 37.3. Factors Impacting Preparation Intensity. 37-2 ‘Type of Plastic Surface Contamination + Init and Ultimate Stength Requirements» Service Environment «Time + Component Size» Cost 2 37.4. Surface Preparation Techniques. 373 Solvent Cleaning» Detergent Cleaning » Mechanical ‘reatment> Chemical Trestoent + Other Treatments William F. Harrington, Jr Untoyal Adhesives and Seatanes 375. Evaluation of Surface Preparation. 37-6 Campeny. ne Bibliography 37-7 37.1 Introduction No single step in the coating process has mote impact on film adhesion than surface preparation, Film. adhesion to a plastic is primarily a surface phenomenon and requites intimate contact between the substrate surface and the coating. However, intimate contact of that plastic surface is not possible without appropriate conditioning and cleansing. Plastic surfaces present a number of unique problems for the coater. Many plastics, such as polyethylene or the luorinated polymers, havea low surface energy. Low surface energy often means that few mate will readily adhere to the surface. Plastic materials often are blends of one or more polymer types or have various quantities of inorganic fillers added to achieve specific properties. The coefficient of thermal expansion is usually quite high for plastic compounds, but it can vary widely depending on polymer blend, filler content, and filler type. Finally, the flexibility of plastic materials puts mote stress on the coating, and significant problems can develop if film adhesion is low due to poor surface preparation, Is 37.2 Functions of Surface Preparation ‘Treatment of the plastic surface performs a great many functions depending on the individual polymer type involved. 371 372. Coatings Technology Handbook, Third Edition 37.2.1 Removal of Contamination Any substance that interferes with the contact between the coating film and the plastic must be removed. Process ils, dirt and grime, waxes, mold release agents, and poorly retained plasticizers mustall be removed. 37.2.2 Control of Surface Roughness No surface is perfectly smooth, and various techniques enable the coater to match the finish on the plastic component to the coating viscosity for improved film adhesion, 37.2.3. Matching of Surface to Adhesive Conversion of the outside surface of the plastic can provide an interface that is more like, or more compatible with, the chemical structure of the coating, 37.2.4 Providing a Boundary Layer Plating or coating the surface with a primer often provides a more suitable surface for coating adhesion, 37.2.5 Control of Oxide Formation Polymers generally exhibit good resistance to oxidation, but because an oxidized surface has a higher level of surface activity, several procedures promote oxide formation, 37.2.6 Control of Absorbed Water Many plastics readily absorb moisture from the surrounding atmosphere, This moisture can interfere with film adhesion, especially for coatings that require heat cure cycles. 37.3. Factors Impacting Preparation Intensity Often the goal of surface preparation is to accomplish several of the functions listed in Sections 37.2.1 to 37.26. A sequential sevies of cleaning techniques is appropriate where a single step or process might prove inadequate. In fact, the intensity of surface preparation procedures used depends on a variety of factors, all of which must be considered in the product design process. 37.3.1. Type of Plastic Higher surface activity reduces the need for surface preparation. Some molded thermoplastic parts that require a high melt temperature and a fast cool-down cycle ate mote easily coated. Many thermoset plastics, such as phenolic, ate readily coated 37.3.2 Surface Contamination ‘The type and level of contamination will dictate the degree of cleaning required. Silicone release agents ‘on molded parts require intense cleaning procedures. 37.3.3 Initial and Ultimate Strength Requirements Film adhesion develops faster on prepared and clean surfaces. In addition, higher adhesion values are achievable with higher levels of surface cleaning. Surface Treatment of Plastics 373 37. Better surface adhesion generally indicates a more permanent coating, one more adaptable to end-use conditions, 4 Service Environment 37. Delays between surface preparation and coating application often requite repetition of preparation steps to reclean, or higher levels of cleaning to start with, to overcome possible recon 5 Time mination, 37.3.6 Component Size ‘Typically, large parts are more difficult to process than small pars, and certain processes are not suitable lable for large pacts. 37.3.7 Cost Within the manufacturing/product cost eyele, certain limitations have an impact on the degree of preparation utilized. Limitations on surface preparation procedures can affect returned goods and wat ranty claims, costs often overlooked in the design phase. 37.4 Surface Preparation Techniques As may be expected, there are nearly as many procedures for cleaning and preparing plastic surfaces as there are polymer types. Some procedures are inexpensive and easy to accomplish; others ate not. Most plastic types have a few highly recommended procedures for achieving the best finish for coating, but often the user is faced with many equally valid choices, or worse, conflicting advice on the level of intensity. Plastics can be obtained in a variety of forms: molded, sheet, shaped past, foam, and film. Many polymers can be readily blended together to achieve specifi properties. Fillers and plasticizers ate also included in the resin matrix to yield certain characteristics. Obviously, the same surface preparation procedure may not be appropriate in each of these cases, even though the major ingredient remains the same ‘The manufacturers of both the plasticand the coating should be prepared to give advice on appropriate surface preparation techniques to use with the product. However, because user needs differ so widely, even the manufacturer may not have a definitive answer for an individual circumstance. Considerable experimentation may be required to identify the appropriate technique for a given operation "The procedures outlined in the remainder of this chapter concentrate on the technique, rather than the plastic. Where appropriate, however, certain techniques have a listing of the polymer types for which they are most suitable. Finally, many of the processes utilize hazardous, corrosive, oxic, flammable, or poisonous chemicals, Safe handling methods, worker training, and appropriate control procedures are essential to mi risk in the work environment. 37.4.1 Solvent Cleaning Solvent action removes surface contamination by dissolving the unwanted substance. This is the easiest and most commonly used procedure and often serves as a frst step in more complex procedures ‘Organic solvents and water are the solvents recommended, The organic solvents can be flammable or nonllammable. Most commonly used for plastics are acetone, methyl ethyl ketone, isopropyl alcohol, ‘methyl alcohol, toluol, 1,1,1-trichloroethane, naphtha, and sometimes Freon (either by itself or blended. with another solvent). Water is cheap and readily available but often has trace levels of impurities, which. can also contaminate surfaces, Most often recommended is distilled or deionized water. Waters frequently used as a rinse for other surface preparation procedures.