High precision custom coating expertise has given InteliCoat the edge for its own materials developments writes Pauline Covell
With 40 years of experience in precision toll coating and laminating, InteliCoat has since 2000 gradually, yet systematically switched emphasis to the added value converting of materials based on its own technology for the digital imaging, electronics, medical components for wound care, ostomy and medical devices, and optical films markets. Toll coating now represents less than 20 per cent of production at the European facility in Wrexham.
“Our capabilities have allowed us to springboard into these markets,” says global market manager- medical Peter Walker. “The success is all about focus on markets. With our own technology and solutions based on experience we may be able to sell to several people in the field.”
The company’s production enters the marketplace through three main channels: InteliCoat branded products, innovative proprietary products developed under partnerships and OEM or distributor labelled products.
Owned by Sun Capital – the company was acquired from Rexam in 2002, followed swiftly that year by the acquisition of SKC Sunnyvale and Azon in the USA – InteliCoat is headquartered in South Hadley, MA. Here, with 10 coating lines, it specializes in digital imaging media and conductive materials. InteliCoat operates from two other locations in the USA. In Mathews, NC, it specializes in custom coating on eight coating lines and a feed site for South Hadley is situated at Portland, OR. Specialities at the European facility in Wrexham are the medical applications and optical films. A second site at Runcorn has recently closed as “we saw a change in market conditions and a major customer changed its technology away from our focus,” explains Peter Walker. Worldwide company turnover in 2003 was $200M, with Europe accounting for around £27M.
At Wrexham, where 150 people are employed, the facility houses four coating lines based on Dixon and Spooner technology, but developed further by the company. “For example we have added different curing technologies such as UV and we’ve developed web flips and rewinds,” says Peter Walker. The coaters operate in cleanroom conditions (controlled environment positive pressure areas) to Class 10,000. Two coaters have web widths of 1,600mm; one is 1,300mm and one 660mm. In addition, a small pilot coater is used for product development. Dryers are hot air operated, but the company also has UV and IR capability. Coating methods include reverse roll, direct and reverse gravure, direct and post metered slot die, knife over roll, UV, thermal, aqueous and proprietary. “We can also offer zone coating,” adds Peter Walker.
Accuracy is clearly important in precision coating for these markets. “Most of our products live or die on quality. We pride ourselves on that – quality is a given,” says marketing manager Gwen Simms. On-line thickness measurement by beta gauge, laser inspection and on-line optical densitometry is complemented by active 6 Sigma programmes, process data logging and control of process variables.
A wide range of substrates is used including the difficult to tension control aluminium and copper foils. Plastics films include polyester, polyimide, PU, PE, PP and polycarbonate. Non wovens, wovens and tissues are also coated or laminated. Film down to 3.5 micron thick and foil down to 12 micron can be achieved, claims the company.
Slitting, rewinding and sheeting are also achieved in a controlled environment. Six slitting machines include equipment supplied by Dusenbery, Eldec and Titan. “We are also installing a wide web striping machine that used to operate in our Runcorn plant, where it was putting stripes on microfilm. We’ll be looking to use it for reverse printing some of our medical films,” says plant superintendent Neal Edwards. A smaller flexo printer is also on the cards.
One of the reasons many companies chose to put part of their coating requirements out to InteliCoat is to avoid the capital intensive environmental legislation requirements. The company has a state of the art thermal oxidizer that takes the solvent fumes from the dryer and the fugitive emissions from the mixers. “It has the ability to handle different solvent streams at the same time,” boasts Neal Edwards.
Nearly all the coatings are mixed by the company. “Our experience in this area is very important when it came to producing our own products,” explains Neal Edwards. “We have capacity to handle high and low viscosity lacquers, aqueous material, powders and resins. And, because of the range we use, there could be potential to cross contaminate, so we have an employee who is dedicated to clean every component after each mix.”
No better example of innovative coating and laminating technology can be found than in the Inspire range of advanced flexible components the company supplies to the wound care and medical device sectors. Extremely hi-tech materials are constantly being developed – many to be launched shortly. The range falls into adhesives, thin films – PU membranes in a 5 – 80 micron range, foams, conductives and hybrids of several of these.
“Our PU materials offer a bacteria barrier guaranteed for seven days once applied,” says Peter Walker. “They are ideal components for wound dressings. We coat the films with adhesive so that they can be used to keep IV lines or catheters in place, for example. With a standard acrylate coating, moisture would tend to build up behind on the skin. We offer a breathable acylate adhesive, which at 1,600g/m2/24 hours MVTR is twice that offered by others,” he claims.
“Following this we developed pressure sensitive adhesives based on hydrogels. At up to 250micron thick they are repositionable and will also adhere to moist skin. At 2,400g/m2/24h, the MVTR eclipses everything else in the field. In addition it doesn’t hurt the patient when removed – especially important for the elderly.” Work is also being done on novel coated component development in the trans epidermal neurone stimulation (TENS) market.
In another market the company has also recently developed and launched EC (Easy Clean) hard coated film. Designed to foil graffiti and scratching, the surface is highly repellent to spray paint and permanent markers. Droplets simply rub off even when dry. EC Hardcoat can be applied to polyester, UV stable polyester, polycarbonate, acrylic and CAB films of various thicknesses. And the company can customize the material, for example by adding formable and anti static properties.
Looking to the future, InteliCoat is currently working in collaboration with a number of partners and government agencies to design material constructions “which will help solve some of our future energy needs”. Expect some exciting news shortly.
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