Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Discussion with Ralph Hermansen on the New Title "Polymeric Thermosetting Compounds"

Polymeric Thermosetting Compounds

Engineering design teams sometimes have need of a material that may not exist because the combination of required properties is difficult to achieve. One solution is to develop a new material having the required set of properties needed in the application. During the author's 40-year career he has successfully worked on many such problems. The uniquely useful and valuable book, Polymeric Thermosetting Compounds: Innovative Aspects of Their Formulation Technology, presents twenty of those design problems and the solutions, which resulted in patents and spin-off applications.

Author Ralph Hermansen, with years of experience of hands-on experience, is an expert in formulating epoxies, polyurethanes, and other polymers into compounds that have unique properties, and here he shares his knowledge and experience of attaining novel solutions to very challenging problems. He covers polymeric compounds such as coatings, adhesives, encapsulants, transparent plastics, and others.

We recently had a chance to discuss this new book with Mr. Hermansen. 

Your book is titled: “Polymeric Thermosetting Compounds”. What are these
materials exactly?

Ralph Hermansen: Well, polymers are giant molecules. Polyethylene is the polymer of a plastic
material, which everyone knows. Thermosetting polymers are a special type of polymer, where
two or more reactants build a three-dimensional polymer. Thermosetting compounds are
products, which are designed to serve a function. They might be adhesives, coatings, sealants,
encapsulants, casting compounds and the like. Two-part epoxy adhesives are examples of
polymeric thermosetting compounds.

Your book’s subtitle is “ Innovative Aspects of their Formulation Technology”.
What does that mean?

Ralph Hermansen: These individual adhesives, encapsulants, etc. are called compounds and
they consist of a number of ingredients. The specific ingredients, the amounts used, how they are combined, etc. are analogous to a recipe in cooking. However, instead of calling it a recipe, we call it a formulation. A simple epoxy formulation might consist of a liquid epoxy resin and a
liquid curing agent. A simple polyurethane formulation might consist of a polyol and a di-
isocyanate. The typical epoxy compound cures to become a hard stong plastic. The polyurethane compound might cure to become hard or rubbery, depending on the choice of polyols and isocyanates. More complex formulations contain multiple resins, etc. as well as fillers, colorants, diluents, stabilizers,catalysts, and other ingredients.

I understand what a formulation is now. What do you mean by “formulation technology” and who would be concerned with that topic?

Ralph Hermansen: Formulation technology is the art and science of formulating. The formulator
is concerned with formulation technology because he uses it to create formulations which satisfy
customer requirements. The customer is also concerned because he wants the adhesive, coating, casting compound, etc. to properly work in their applications. Let’s take a skateboard
manufacturer as an example. Let’s say he wants to purchase a polyurethane casting compound to make skateboard wheels. He wants the cured wheels to be transparent, as water-white in color as possible, and he wants the wheels to be the right flexibility, firmness, and resiliency to satisfy the skateboard users. The manufacturer also wants a compound, which is inexpensive and easy to process. The formulator selects ingredients, which he believes will produce these desired properties. He will conduct tests in the lab, but evaluation with actual skateboards is vital to putting out a safe product. It is almost always an iterative process of reformulate and test to
optimize the compound to suit the application.

You had referred to this formulation process as custom formulating. How did you
get interested in it?

Ralph Hermansen: I was hired to create a research and development department for a California company that did custom formulating in 1970. I saw a wide spectrum of such customer
problems. I hired and trained my formulating staff over a period of years. Eventually, I had a
team of skilled formulators working on these problems. I saw that some of our competitors did
not listen carefully to the requestors list of property requirements and casually submitted their off-the-shelf products as samples. The customer had the burden of testing random submittals in the hope one of them worked. I thought this was the wrong way to operate. Instead, I tried to make the formulation development process as scientific as I could. I became fascinated with the
challenge and developed a set of rules to optimize my success.

Your book has many case studies, where you solved very challenging custom
formulating projects. Tell us about one of them.

Ralph Hermansen: All of the case studies in the book resulted in a patent. I am free to discuss
them because they are in the public domain. One project, that particularly interested me, was
about replacing a thermal transfer adhesive (TTA) used on space satellite electronics. There is no air in space to cool the electronics, so the TTA served to conduct heat away from the electronic modules and give them longer service life. The existing TTA was composed of a commercially-available polysulfide adhesive, which had a high loading of tabular alumina to give it thermal conductance while retaining dielectric properties. The problem was that it was a bad out-gasser and NASA was going to outlaw it for future satellites. My assignment was to duplicate or exceed its numerous property requirements with a new TTA that passed the NASA outgassing
requirement. I began by reviewing previous efforts to find a replacement. Compound suppliers
had been invited to submit samples. None were acceptable. Yet, a polyurethane elastomer had
come the closest of any to succeeding. I worked closely with the supplier to correct the
deficiencies, while running a parallel effort in my own lab. I made a major breakthrough with
significance to a range of products. Read the full story in the book.

Why do you think your book is unique?

Ralph Hermansen: There are handbooks, which examine the properties of thermosetting plastics and elastomer formulas. However, I have not yet seen a book, which helps you formulate a compound to meet a list of property requirements. I wanted to write that book. I had saved 40 years of notes and reports from my career. I am a chemist by education, but have operated in a multidisciplinary environment my whole career. I moved around a lot in my early career to broaden my experience. I had planned to write a book on formulating when I retired and made several abortive attempts before this one. I believe that “Polymeric Thermosetting Compounds” is truly unique in addressing custom formulating.

Who would benefit from reading this book?

Ralph Hermansen: Companies that formulate and sell adhesives, coatings, sealants, encapsulants, casting compounds, and similar products should benefit enormously from this book. There are many great products, which have recently gone off-patent in this book. They are
available for free. Even better though, is the spin-off potential from these products. Engineers
seeking a compound for their application, but unable to find it will benefit from this book. Young
people, considering a career in materials, can walk in my shoes and feel the emotion of solving an impossible assignment. Ingredient suppliers need to know what is in this book. They will get a
better understanding of what their customers experience.

About Ralph Hermansen: 
Formerly Senior Scientist, Hughes Aircraft Company, El Segundo, California

Ralph D. Hermansen was formerly Senior Scientist at Hughes Aircraft Company in El Segundo, California. He was very active in the Society for the Advancement of Materials and Processes Engineering (SAMPE) and has presented papers annually and attended many seminars and sessions. He has 21 patent awards and won best inventor award in 1991 from Hughes Aircraft Company. He has taught courses at HAC as an instructor in their Advanced Technical Education Program (ATEP) for several years materials engineering and Pascal Programming Language and is the author of Formulating Plastics and Elastomers by Computer (Elsevier). Mr. Hermansen was known nationwide as one to see with challenging material problems. Anxious clients, from as far across the continent, traveled to seek his help with "unsolvable problems.” He currently reviews books in his field.