Question: We test plastics at incoming inspection that will later be processed in a dry room at <1% RH, and your test procedure sets limits of 30% to 70% RH. What impact would you expect this to have on the validity of the dyne readings?
Answer: The only effect that I know of regarding humidity is that unusually high levels tend to increase the variability of test results. I suspect this is due to condensate on the sample surface. If that is, in fact, the mechanism, then extremely low humidity should not significantly affect readings for most materials. There is one notable exception to this – the nylon family of polymers (polyamides), which are quite hydrophilic in the presence of water vapor. If your testing includes these materials, I would strongly recommend that you do a controlled study, as discussed below. There is little question that a significant change in adsorbed water vapor will have an impact on surface energy test results.
You should keep in mind that evaporation rate comes into play with the dyne test, as discussed here, and extremely low humidity levels may affect the rate of test fluid evaporation. The question is whether the constituents of the test fluids evaporate preferentially in a moisture-starved, compared to a moisture-rich, environment. One would intuitively assume so, but both 2-ethoxyethanol and formamide are miscible in water, so it is not out of the question that they would be drawn more readily to the gas phase in the presence of water vapor. Dyne levels 58 and higher contain water in their formulations, so there is no question that extremely low humidity would to some degree alter the evaporation effect on these formulations.
The evaporation of 2-ethoxyethanol and formamide under varying humidity conditions is an interesting question from the perspective of thermodynamic theory (and if any readers are experts on such matters, I would love to have some feedback on this!), but it probably does not amount to much in terms of real-world test results. The only warning I would have is to pay strict attention to the two second timeframe specified by the test, as that does relate to evaporation, as well as to de-wetting behavior.
In summary, the only way to be sure of the effect would be to test identical sets of samples at both 1% and 40% to 60% RH, and compare the results. In light of the comments pertaining to nylon noted above, if that is a polymer you are testing, I do suggest doing this comparison. But, even if you find a significant humidity effect, as long as the environment in the incoming inspection area is kept constant, results derived there should still provide good predictive information regarding the behavior of the material in the dry room.
Another consideration is that the time elapsed from testing at incoming inspection to introduction to the dry room, as well as the time elapsed from introduction to the dry room to when the materials are processed, should all be controlled as closely as possible. The surface characteristics of plastics – especially those that have been corona treated – change over time and under varying environmental conditions. So, controlling these variables will be important in making the most of the dyne testing results in the context of your overall quality program.
With these considerations in mind, the dyne level number you come up with may not exactly match the material’s surface energy at the time it is processed at low humidity, but it should still offer data which will be effective in helping predict its adhesion and wetting characteristics.