Most of the products that we use in our day to day are made with very basic materials such as metals, polymers or ceramics. The combination of these 3 types of materials, with all their variants, makes it possible to manufacture almost any type of product, from the smallest and simplest, to the largest and most complex.

However, not all products can be manufactured using materials of the same quality or that have the same performance. A clear example would be the plastic used to make a fork which, despite being the same type of plastic as that used to make a blender, does not have the same performance, as it performs different functions. In the same way, the plastic used to make a blender will not have the same benefits as that used to make the inside of a refrigerator.

That is why each type of material must be adapted to perform its function in the final product in the best possible way. This, combined with the high competitiveness of the market and the great demands of consumers, makes it increasingly necessary to innovate and improve the performance of the materials used in any product to stand out from the competition.

Within this framework, in today’s blog we tell you how a material can be improved, what types of improvements can be achieved, what technologies we use and how we approach this type of project at ATRIA.

What is the point of improving a material?

Normally, when you seek to improve a material it is because it needs to better adapt to some of the functions that it will perform within the final product or to the working conditions that it will have during its life cycle. Therefore, it is usually based on a base material, which meets the requirements of the product, and is slightly modified to enhance some of its properties or characteristics.

With the improvement of materials, future quality problems of a product can be solved, increase its resistance to different external agents, extend its useful life or even achieve new functionalities that it did not have, among other options.

Types of improvement

As we anticipated, depending on the aspect that you want to improve the material, there are two types of improvement:

 

  • Improved properties: Property enhancement is one of the most common improvements of any material. For years, the search for materials with better properties has been one of the most important issues in any sector, since it directly affects the final quality of the product. Obviously, high value-added products can afford to work with materials that have better properties than those used in low-cost products.

This type of improvement is based on modifying or enhancing some of the properties of the material to adapt it to the work that it will carry out in the final product. In general, this type of improvement is usually carried out when it has been detected that the current quality is not enough, and it is desired to improve or when it is sought to highlight a product against the competition. Here are some of these properties:

      • Color
      • Texture
      • Brightness
      • Oxidation
      • Electrical or thermal conductivity
      • Hardness
      • Mechanical resistance
      • Static electricity
  • New features. On the other hand, we find a more innovative type of improvement than the previous one, which is based on obtaining new functionalities within the material. This type of improvement, which in recent years has been gaining more and more importance within various sectors, has the main objective of providing the material with one or more functionalities that it did not have, or that were not sufficient. Unlike the previous one, the material acquires new capabilities.

To achieve the desired functionality, the material must be correctly modified. Depending on the functionality with which you want to provide the material, there are different technologies that we will tell you later. Next, we indicate some of the functionalities that we have achieved in ATRIA for different materials.

As you can see, there are a large number of functionalities that open up a wide range of possibilities for any type of material. On many occasions, these functionalities can be used to improve the performance of a computer, improve the performance of a product or to extend its useful life.

  • Smart materials. Finally, it is also possible to improve or modify a material to make it “smart”. This qualifier, which is very ambitious, indicates that the material can interact with the environment by changing some of its properties (color, size, etc.). For this, this type of improvement seeks to make the material capable of reacting to the action of different external stimuli (temperature, light or pressure, among others). Here are some examples of these types of improvements:
      • Thermochromic, hydrochromic or photochromic materials, which change their color in response to changes in temperature, humidity or light, respectively.
      • Electroluminescent or photoluminescent materials, which emit light when current or when light changes.
      • Materials with shape memory, capable of modifying their shape according to external changes (temperature or humidity among others).

In summary, nowadays it is possible to carry out a great type of improvements in almost any material, from the most basic (improvement of some property) to the most complex (new functionalities). To carry out these tasks correctly, each case must be studied separately, so that the material is modified in the most appropriate way, selecting the technology that best suits the type of material, the production process and the use that it is going to be given to the product.

How can these improvements be achieved? What technologies do we use?

To achieve the improvements that we have advanced in the previous chapter, there is a wide variety of technologies that can be used. Depending on the type of improvement you want to achieve, or the material, it will be necessary to use one or the other. We tell you some of the most important:

  • Functional coatings. The use of functional coatings makes it possible to provide new properties, or extra functionalities, to any base material (plastics, ceramics or metals, among others). This type of coatings, which is applied by Dip-coating or spraying on the final piece, can be a very practical and easy to implement solution for many cases. The key to this type of improvement is to get a good anchor, or adhesion, between the coating and the material.
  • Additivation. An alternative to the use of coatings is the incorporation of additives, which are usually very interesting for materials to improve polymeric materials. These additives, more and more novel, make it possible to improve some basic properties of the polymer (color, hardness or mechanical resistance) and even achieve new functionalities (hydrophobicity, easy to clea, et.). A key aspect in the use of additives is the percentage of incorporation to the base polymer, therefore, it must be defined correctly to avoid unnecessary expenses and not to harm the properties of the material where it is desired to incorporate.
  • Laser microstructuring. The laser, commonly used to cut or punch, can also be used to enhance a material. Through this technology it is possible to modify the physical and chemical properties of the surface of any material, achieving changes in basic properties such as color, gloss or roughness or new functionalities, such as hydrophobicity. Microstructuring is generally stronger than coatings, so it can be a very good option for some products.  
  • Roll to roll. In the case of low thickness materials, such as plastic films, metal coils or fabrics, where very large areas have to be microstructured in an agile way, the technology that best suits is Roll To Roll. This technology is capable of transferring the microstructuring present in its material rollers that passes through it. In this way, the functionality is permanently applied to the surface of the material. This type of technology is used above all in sectors such as packaging and in applications such as anti-counterfeiting of banknotes or pharmaceutical products
  • In mold microstructuring (IMM). This technique, IMM or microstructuring of the mold, is one of the most innovative, since it allows all the injected parts to obtain a structure or functionality that has previously been given to the interior of the mold. To achieve this effect, the internal faces of the mold are structured with a previously designed pattern to provide the polymer with new functionality (hydrophobicity, oleophobicity, etc.) or modify a specific property (roughness, color, etc.). This microstructure or pattern is transferred to the part during the injection process. The great advantage of this technique over the previous ones is that it is only necessary to apply the microstructure once, so it is economically one of the most interesting options for industrialization. One of the most important aspects of this technique is the transfer of the pattern from the mold to the part, for which it is necessary to adjust the injection parameters correctly.

Examples of projects we have carried out

Below, we show you some examples of projects where we have modified the material to achieve a new functionality, improve a property or make it more resistant to some external agent:

 

  1. Improvement of cleaning properties through additives. In this case, a base polymer was able to obtain the easy to clean functionality by incorporating additives. To achieve this effect, it was necessary to select the appropriate additives for the stains to be repelled. Once the additives were selected, concept tests were carried out in the laboratory with all the additives and different percentages of incorporation into the polymer. Through validation tests, the additive with the best results and the most suitable incorporation percentage were determined.
  2. Improvement of the hydrophobicity of steel through the use of coatings. In this case, it was sought to obtain a superhydrophobic stainless steel to favor the drying of the water in a product. During the project, several coatings capable of resisting abrasion and high temperatures were selected, essential conditions to be incorporated into the final product. After the test of 5 functional coatings, the functionality of all coatings was evaluated before and after the wear tests, which made it possible to select the one that best adapted to the needs of this case.
  3. Polymer modification through IMM to achieve anti-biofilm functionality. Due to the morphology of the final piece and the number of pieces that were manufactured, IMM technology (in mold mocrostructuring) was selected as a means to achieve anti-biofilm functionality in the injected polymer. To achieve this effect, a microstructure was designed to prevent the biofilm from adhering and growing. Once designed, it was transferred to a prototype mold to validate the idea in laboratory samples. These samples were taken to biofilm generation assays to demonstrate that the microstructure fulfilled its function and prevented their generation and growth.

If you find any of these technologies interesting for your materials, do not hesitate to contact us, at ATRIA we study each case individually to select the best possible solution.

Do you want to apply the improvement of materials in any of your Projects? Contact us or call us at 876715051

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