by Steven R. Block
Demands on sealants and sealant manufacturers are becoming more and more varied. Window fabricators and architects want sealants for innovative designs and new substrates. Fabricators and building owners want sealants with improved durability and lower life-cycle costs. Glaziers are looking for user-friendly sealants. There are more choices than everproducts, colors, textures, performance properties, warranties.
Furthermore, sealant performance requirements are being scrutinized to a great extent by a variety of key industry organizations (e.g., ASTM, AAMA, CSI, IGCC) seeking to promote more than just a minimum level of performance. Adhesion, durability, color stability, resistance to environmental effects, flexibility and stable properties are all mandates that sealant manufacturers must understand and respond to. The challenge is to meet these demanding requirements with products that also add long-term value for the end-use customer.
In the midst of all this, sealant manufacturers are looking for ways to streamline their operations by making sealants with multiple uses so they can improve their competitiveness. Do the market trends and the manufacturers goals seem to be at odds with each other? On the surface, yes. The reality, however, is sealant manufacturers can achieve their goals and meet the needs of their customers by focusing on economies of scope instead of traditional economies of scale.
Sealant manufacturers used to past practicesfew products, few customer options, mass production and economies of scaleare being faced with major changes. Where one product fits all was once an acceptable stance in the market, it is no longer. Successful companies are taking a fresh look and moving towards an agile manufacturing environment, finding economies in the scope of their operations. They are working on mass customizationmanipulating a base set of properties and processes (the mass in mass customization) to offer quick response to specialized customer requirements (the customization). Flexible manufacturing processes and quick action in the factory are the backbone of success. It also helps to listen to customer needs and translate those needs into products.
Another area of new demands for sealants is in OEM operations. OEMs need faster curing sealants with high green strength in order to operate their plants faster and at lower costs while producing a better product. Sealant suppliers are responding with sealants designed to start a rapid cure immediately after application and which can be applied with high-speed automated processes. Window manufacturers, for example, can optimize their use of labor by automating sealant dispensing and application and using a rapid-cure silicone sealant. The sealant achieves integrity very quickly after the unit is assembled, creating a continuous seal against air and water infiltration, something glazing tapes can not do. In addition, the ability of the right silicone sealant to improve the structural integrity of a finished unit makes these materials increasingly popular for manufacturers of all types of windows: wood, vinyl and aluminum.
When deciding on a sealant to use for new construction, renovation or OEM manufacturing such as windows, doors, insulating glass, skylights, curtainwall panels and so forth, the following points can guide sealant selection:
It is not enough to rely on sales literature, advertisements and a presence in the industry. What really sets reliable sealant manufacturers apart from others is a qualified, trained, experienced sales force, technical service and support from industry-focused experts, superior supply capabilities and products that consistently perform as promised. Consider these aspects in addition to product properties alone. This combination of capabilities gives customers the choices they want and, more importantly, a chance to have their sealant supplier listen to their specific needs and provide specific solutions.
Steven R. Block is senior technical specialist for the fenestration products group at Dow Corning Corporation in Midland, MI. He specializes in material development and application engineering for sealants, adhesives and related silicone materials in the fenestration industry.
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