A Mechanical Designer’s Quick Guide to Adhesives

Every designer or engineer, no matter their background or industry, has at some point run into the critical question, “How can I stick this thing to that thing?” Every industry has its own unique challenges and best practices for adhering components; from bonding labels to beer bottles to combing circuit board wafers to joining medical grade pipes and valves.

The goal of adhesives is to stick things together. It is up to the designer or engineer to find the right way to do that regardless if the materials are porous, inflexible, or fragile.

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Currently there is an extremely wide variety of bonding agents available. Adhesives are often preferred over other joining methods like welding or mechanical fastening, both because adhesives distribute loads more evenly across joints and because of the ease of application and bonding.

When selecting a bonding agent it is important to consider the materials, environment, and stresses that a project will face. For example, in a normal dry environment, a water-based adhesive such as Fast Tack will quickly cure and dry as the water evaporates. However, in a humid climate this water-based adhesive would quickly lose its bond strength as the materials rehydrate.  In projects where there will be a constant tensile stress, a flexible adhesive would not work well due to stress creep. The materials’ bonds would weaken and stretch over time.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to cover every material and adhesive combination in one article, so I will share a few resources to assist with a myriad of projects. One of my favorite go-to websites is thistothat.com which allows you to select multiple materials to bond together and get a list of possible adhesives for the pair. This site also gives some history and other useful information.

In addition, the staff at MakeZine created a nice little reference chart which will allow you to quickly identify the preferred type of adhesive:

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