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Henkel Adhesive Technologies

Henkel Adhesive Technologies

How micro emission products create a safer working atmosphere for furniture producers

The most important factor is operator health. With this product group, the emission of isocyanate is reduced to a level that makes it indistinguishable in the air.
5 min.
Micro Emission Henkel

At Henkel, we are always thinking about what we can do to improve our customers’ experience. A key part of this is improving the experience for operators on our customers’ factory floors; helping give them a safer, cleaner environment to work in. This is where Micro Emission technologies have a role to play.

There are, of course, reasons why polyurethane (PUR) hotmelts containing diisocyanates are used. Every day, manufacturers benefit from their best-in-class bonding performance on a variety of substrates, easy application, long shelf life, and low level of VOCs compared to alternative technologies. However, PUR hotmelts containing diisocyanates still carry a sensitization risk. The exact degree of risk depends on the type of isocyanate, and the concentration in which it is found.

Over the years, the industry has made significant progress in reducing the risk from isocyanates. Conventional PUR-Hotmelt adhesives once contained 2-5% of monomeric MDI, which led to them being classified as carcinogenic. Over the years, the residual monomeric MDI could be continuously reduced, resulting in much safer products.

The industry benchmark for these ‘low-emission’ polyurethanes was previously 1% isocyanate content (or to be more precise, ‘low monomer MDI’). ‘Low emission’ may sound good, but the risk is still there, and there are associated regulatory requirements, such as specific labelling, training and infrastructure.

However, advancing technologies mean we can push the boundaries even further without compromising on product performance. We are now able to reduce the isocyanate concentration to below 0.1%.

This is the threshold for what’s known as a Micro Emission (ME) product. At this level, the product is recognized as safe – meaning no hazardous labelling and no mandatory training for operators. This is why ME technology has taken off since its introduction 18 years ago, and the term has become standard across the market.

What are the benefits of ME adhesive products?

The most important factor is operator health. With this product group, the emission of isocyanate is reduced to a level that makes it indistinguishable in the air. This means operators do not need to worry about sensitization, and manufacturers do not need to go through expensive compliance projects and trainings or install new exhaust systems.

It’s important to stress that there is no risk to the consumers who buy the furniture, whichever system the manufacturer uses. Once adhesive is fully cured after application, there are no longer any chemical emissions to be concerned about.

From a technical perspective, Micro Emission products function in the same way as traditional PUR materials. They can run on the same line, and key properties such as efficiency and stability are at a comparable level. Customers do not need to worry about loss of performance. In fact, in some cases, either the ME product will be more stable than conventional PUR technology, or it will have less cleaning requirements.

How can manufacturers switch to ME technologies successfully?

The good news is that switching from traditional PUR to Micro Emission is not difficult. Processes and equipment will not need to be changed, since the chemistry is the same: a reactive system.

As with any transition, the best advice is to work with an experienced partner who knows the opportunities and how to deal with any situation that may arise. At Henkel, we have long-term experience with ME technologies, as we have been working with them since they were first brought to market. This means we can offer technical service, make process simulations within our own premises to replicate the customer’s conditions, and support analysis with tailored training materials. Finally, we constantly keep in touch with regulators, and have an entire department purely for dealing with regulatory issues and making sure to support our customers in their transitions.

What does the future hold for safe, sustainable adhesive solutions?

Our safety journey is certainly not finished yet. We are always striving to improve the safety and prosperity of our customers and our end consumers.

The adhesive industry makes up just a small proportion of all the users of isocyanates, but nevertheless we have a responsibility to look to the future and to champion positive change. Recognizing this, Henkel works continuously to improve its portfolio and to fulfil customer needs. Health and safety are always a top priority. Within this framework, we will work to ensure that our products are high-performing, best-in-class choices.

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Micro Emission Henkel