Overtreatment of TPO

Question: We supply solvent-borne automotive coatings, and recommend that our customers flame treat their TPO components to 48 to 60 dynes/cm for best adhesion and durability. We have seen adhesion failures at higher dyne levels. Would you expect that? And, would your test markers be able to identify overtreatment?

Answer: First, you are correct that any polymer can be over-treated by either flame or corona. The mechanistic details of just what happens to the material’s surface layers are undoubtedly different for the two treating methods. But what basically occurs in either case is the surface layer gets etched and oxidized to the point where it may be water-wettable, but it has been so decimated by the aggressive treatment environment that it no longer anchors well to the bulk of the polymer. The paint adheres well to the surface layer, but the entire paint/surface layer will easily lift away from the bulk of the polymer.

Over-treatment will not cause a decrease in dyne testing results unless too much pressure or abrasive force is used during the test – this would have the same effect as mentioned above, with the untreated underlayer exposed at the surface. So, as long as a light application pressure is used, as directed in the instructions, ACCU DYNE TESTTM Marker Pens can definitely identify the excessive levels of surface treatment that you have found to cause defects.

The problems that arise from over-treated surfaces suggest that it should be standard practice to establish a realistic maximum treatment level, as measured by the dyne test, as well as a lower one. Your suggested range of 48 to 60 dynes/cm sounds reasonable, but I would think that for most applications you’d do fine with a surface energy of 44 dynes/cm or so for solvent-based paints. The presence and concentration of additives and pigments could affect this minimum, especially with thick parts, where there is a large polymer bulk compared to surface area. And, for waterborne or energy cured coatings, the required dyne level would increase substantially.

Finally, as this is a rigorous application (automotive finishing), I would recommend that your customer consider an experimentally designed study of treatment parameters and measured dyne levels vs. end-use quality and durability metrics. Tightening the window of optimal treatment level could prove commercially beneficial.

What Dyne Levels Should I Be Testing At?

Question: My ink requires a minimum of 40 dynes/cm, and my film supplier says they run their poly at 56 dynes/cm. Should I use a 40 as a threshold test, or does the marker dyne level need to match the material? What range should I be using?

Answer: If the poly were actually at 56 dynes/cm when you tested it, a test with a 40 dyne/cm test marker would probably wet out so well and have such an attraction to the treated surface that it would permanently mark the film. That would tell you that the surface was way higher than 40 dynes/cm – if it was actually only 40 dynes/cm, the test fluid would start to bead up within two seconds or so. But there’s a lot more to the story than that.

Polymers lose treatment – especially when induced by corona treatment – over time and with downstream processing, so if a film tests at 56 dynes/cm at the end of your supplier’s extrusion line, you might find it to have a surface energy of as low as 44 dynes/cm a few weeks later, when you are ready to print it. (Please don’t take these treat loss numbers as gospel – they are for explanatory purposes only!) After a few months of storage in a hot and humid environment, it may well have dropped to below 40 dynes/cm. Slip agents are especially problematic when it comes to treatment loss over time, especially at elevated temperatures.

ACCU DYNE TESTTM Marker Pens measure surface energy by testing over a range of dyne levels, starting with a low enough level that you expect it will wet out for at least several seconds. In your case, I would recommend starting at 34 dynes/cm, and having the ability to test up to 56 dynes/cm, which is at the high end of what you are likely to ever see.

While your ink supplier probably is correct about 40 dynes/cm being the minimum acceptable treat level, it will still be instructive to test filmstock as it goes to press. Keeping records of dyne levels (and any comments testers may report) along with other process data may prove to be a valuable tool in troubleshooting at some point. Also, you may find that with higher substrate dyne levels you are able to increase press speed somewhat, and/or improve print quality. Quantifying these relationships can streamline your operation and ultimately reduce costs by enabling you to develop better specifications for your purchased rollstock.