In the run-up to his presentation on adhesive tapes for industrial applications at ISGATEC’s 8-9 June online forum (Afera Members register at 25% off), Evert Smit shares his thoughts on the potential of tapes, burgeoning market segments, future workforce and regulation affecting Member businesses.
The conservatism of our industry
The industries using traditional fixing and bonding applications tend to be conservative, thus changing over to a new technology that they have not been utilising for the last 50 years is hard to introduce and implement. In these cases, there is always a significant amount of distrust in new technologies.
People relate to things that they are familiar with, so you cannot expect them to imagine that there are materials out there that are so much more precise and stronger than Scotch tape, for example. Traditionally, taping something together was even seen as a substandard way of repairing an object. This is a mindset that we need to do away with.
Reaching the influencers
I am accepting of the fact that getting to a point of full awareness of the countless functionalities and options available in adhesive tape will take some time. In some key industries, such as automotive and building & construction, every material and component utilised must be specified according to strict requirements of environmental and safety authorities as well as customers. This process relies on a systematic approach which routinely takes years. What I have learned at PSTC (Pressure Sensitive Tape Council of North America) conferences is that individuals in the U.S. have been pressing to introduce new tape technologies into certain applications and industries, and indeed, some companies have successfully embraced them. It is important to note that they are not tape companies but actual tape users—our customers—and these people in turn will persuade others in other companies to do the same. So our mission is clear: we have to reach the influencers.
Tapes are going to move from one industry to another. Smartphones are not made with screws anymore—they rely almost solely on tapes. And in cars, you are going to see many more parts that are taped and not riveted, screwed or bolted.
Treating repairability as an opportunity
The challenge of using some tapes is repairability, and here I fear we are going to experience a backlash in this area, because at this moment, adhesive tapes may make taking products apart more difficult. Using tapes does require fewer repairs, but once you reach the end-of-life (EOL) of a product, you need to have a way of taking it apart again. The E.U. has already emphasised that repairability is very high on its agenda, and this is a call that both the tapes and adhesives industries need to answer. We should treat this as an opportunity, as tapes may offer easy removability—think tesa Powerstrips®.
Insulating and sealing houses and securing floors
There are still many areas, however, in which tapes can be used but have not been exploited yet. For instance, in house construction in Germany, government regulation now requires roofs to be insulated using tapes. This practice will probably spread through the rest of Europe, because the benefits reaped are great and can only come from exploiting tapes.
Along the same lines of insulation, houses constructed on ground with a high water table—perhaps those that are partially submerged or that have cellars—can now be wrapped at their bases with a single-sided tape (essentially a film) to prevent any moisture penetration. These are new applications for tapes that not many people are aware of yet—that tape insulates houses and actually facilitates building in areas where you previously couldn’t. In the U.S., this is already being practiced with success.
Flooring is also faster and better installed through the use of tapes over solvent- or waterborne glues which have significant drying times.
Damping noise and vibration in cars
The same goes for noise and vibration damping and similar types of applications in the automotive industry. This plays an important part in design and construction, as today’s vehicles are much quieter than they were in the past. This was achieved initially with the use of bitumen covering the entire roof of the car, and now you can obtain the same result by simply utilising tapes in just a few specific areas. This is another example of an application area that people do not typically think about.
Applying (medical) sensors to the body
We are seeing huge growth in medical tapes in the field of wearable (medical) device design. There is actually only one way to achieve this: Sensors are applied to the skin of the body through the use of medical-grade, double-sided peel-off adhesive tapes.
The European tape value chain’s vision
Afera is widely known and valued as the go-to community of the European tape industry for both Industry and non-Industry stakeholders. Stakeholders connect within the Afera community to address current and future key topics, which individual stakeholders cannot or prefer not to tackle themselves.
One voice for the Industry
Like any trade industry, people need to pull together with one voice to promote themselves and to engage in dialogue with regulatory authorities. Regarding the latter, if you just leave the development of legislation to the government, they will produce something counterproductive, because they are not close enough to the complex dynamics of the trade, and we cannot expect them to be. Furthermore, regulatory authorities will never speak with just one company—only a representative of the entire Industry.
This is why Afera brought on board a regulatory affairs manager, Pablo Englebienne, last year. A chemistry specialist with a deep understanding of requirements for chemicals regulatory compliance, Pablo monitors all chemical and tape-related regulations pertaining to the European tape industry in close co-operation with European authorities, liaising and negotiating with regulatory stakeholders where possible and necessary. Large companies, such as 3M, tesa and Nitto, may be able to hold their own, but in the interest of the tape industry as a whole, SMEs need to be supported and educated, as they could harm the rest of the Industry badly if they plotted their own course where public policy and regulation are concerned.
Working more closely together in an open environment
This working together actually propels the entire tape industry. I personally believe—and I am quite vocal about it—that we as tape companies have to do things together in order to survive and thrive in the future. Human beings are made to interact with and to depend on each other. Progress through competition is a thing of the past—a relic concept of the eighties. I think in the 2020s the way to move forward is through plotting a course and working together. A recent example of collaboration along the entire value chain is the intensified agreement between FEICA (The European Adhesives and Sealants Association) and our association for additional learning and support on regulatory topics such as the European Green Deal.
Afera is also good for enabling the adhesive tape industry to obtain more and better contact primarily with the supply base in a legal, straightforward way. Member companies and tape professionals need to have a neutral environment in which to meet and talk to one another. Outside of our industry collective, one-on-one talks, especially among competitors, are difficult. Even if we have the same goal, and this benefits the entire Industry, some interaction is only possible within the bounds of the Association, because this is overseen by all our Members. This ensures that no antitrust activity takes place.
Openness is the new business model, and Afera plays a great role in promoting and facilitating this among leaders and innovators in our industry. At the moment, co-creation is still being hampered by those acting out of fear and needing to protect IP. People simply do not know what is coming towards them, especially SMEs, and this is where the Association can help by bringing all the European and even global industry players together in a trustworthy, forward-thinking, business-challenging environment. This is something no company can do on its own.
Firstly, Afera strives to unite stakeholders along the value chain of the European tape industry, to ensure and increase the relevance of the tape industry in the world of tomorrow. As a European trade collective, we must speak with one voice to the outside world, both to governmental authorities and to those facilitating technological progress, such as designers, architects and engineers.
Secondly, we want to expose Members to novel technologies and ways of thinking. Afera has organised Conferences and seminars on topics that people do not typically think about, such as how tape-related businesses, employers and managers attract our future workforce. People may be so occupied with the business of making money that they forget that no money will be made if they do not hire the best possible employees in the next few years. But where do we find them? And how can we ensure that they know about opportunities in the adhesive tape industry, which is relatively invisible?
Afera also advocates for the Industry in the direction of higher education and research institutions and will step up activity in this area again once we enter the post-pandemic era. This is a great opportunity to raise awareness in the rest of the world about what is compelling about working in this industry. We as tape companies are not competing among each other for future personnel but with our very different ranges of customers. And especially with demographic changes in Europe—in Germany alone there are now more people over than under the age of 50—where we find new employees will be a very important topic which we will cue in on after our Valencia Conference. Once again, these days no company can approach the greater future workforce issue on its own anymore, especially smaller companies. And the Industry should not be dominated by 3 or 4 large companies. We will simply not survive unless we work together on this.
Embracing sustainability and the circular economy
Sustainability and the circular economy are 2 of the biggest drivers right now. Again, these are topics that even large companies cannot tackle on their own. We are all struggling with the new business mandate of “going green”, so it is helpful—it sharpens our minds—to sit and brainstorm about its meaning. Some companies are more engaged in the process than others, and I believe this really comes down to the people managing the affected areas. As is always the case, some are more forward-thinking and active than others. Those driving sustainability, circular economy and related regulatory affairs issues are making others aware of how complex the entire field is and that we need to head in the same general direction to succeed—because going it alone will hamper individual company success and the Industry as a whole.
Our biggest goal is to help our Members deal constructively with sustainability—which is why we have just launched our Flagship Sustainability Project “Translating the European Green Deal to Afera Members” focussed on waste management, calculation methods, advocacy and information exchange. It is technologies and applications which fit into the EGD and Circular Economy Action Plan that are going to fuel the future of the Industry. Businesses that do not get this now will eventually arrive where we all need to be but much more painfully. And they may actually lose along the way to companies that pick up green practices and technologies more quickly and less expensively. It is having the correct information and perspective to determine what choices have to be made and when, that is most important to companies in today’s business environment.
Identifying the trends critical to success
Stepping away from advocating certain technologies, practices or policies, Afera’s job is actually to make our Members aware in a timely manner of the important trends and topics critical for future success. This goes for sustainability, repairability, recycling and renewables, especially for adhesives, carrier and liner makers, who are at the forefront of the Industry in these areas. The suppliers, which are often larger than tape manufacturers, are frequently the innovators—treating chemical and environmental regulatory developments as opportunities—basically dictating the trends. We are keeping our ears to the ground in order to identify what is important and make this part of our marketing agenda. I am also really pleased that we are teaming up with associations in adjacent technologies, such as the aforementioned FEICA, to co-operate on key issues of overlapping interest.
The first step in rolling out our Flagship Sustainability Project is not only making Members aware of the EGD but actually making them nervous about it. This niggling fear will keep them honed in on it and lead them to realise precisely which issues they may have to deal with according to the developing legislation. For example, disclosing waste streams to the European Commission has already been required in some countries and will soon apply to everyone in the E.U. We know that all our Members need to realise and embrace this. If Afera can facilitate companies’ learning all they need to know about this and other Industry developments, then we have done our job.
Read ISGATEC’s latest article on Mr. Smit „Industriell genutzte Klebebänder brauchen Influencer – in vielfacher Hinsicht“ here.
Mr. Smit will speak at ISGATEC’s newly created online forum on “Adhesive tapes for industrial applications. Technology. Potential. Practise.” 8-9 June 2021, 9-13.00 CET. Afera Members will receive 25% off when registering (indicate this is in the “remarks” section).
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