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Sur­face fin­ish­ing of rub­ber and plas­tic:

What are the options?

04.01.2023   | Diet­mar Barth

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Mate­r­i­al selec­tion is not the only lever for influ­enc­ing the char­ac­ter­is­tics of a rub­ber or plas­tic prod­uct. After the arti­cle has been man­u­fac­tured, it can also be sub­ject­ed to a sur­face fin­ish­ing to improve its func­tion­al or aes­thet­ic prop­er­ties. There are var­i­ous options here, depend­ing on the material. 

Com­mer­cial­ly avail­able process­es for plas­tics and elastomers

The fol­low­ing process­es are uni­ver­sal­ly applic­a­ble and suit­able for most plas­tics and elastomers. 


In flu­o­ri­na­tion, the com­po­nent is exposed to a gaseous flu­o­rine mix­ture. This ini­ti­ates a chem­i­cal reac­tion that par­tial­ly replaces the hydro­gen atoms on the mate­r­i­al sur­face with flu­o­rine atoms. The process makes the mate­r­i­al more slip­pery and improves its resis­tance to weath­er­ing and tem­per­a­ture. At the same time, the com­po­nent becomes less sen­si­tive to cer­tain chem­i­cals (e.g. sol­vents). The flu­o­ri­na­tion process changes the chem­i­cal com­po­si­tion of the mate­r­i­al sur­face, but does not pen­e­trate deep into it. Thus, the basic prop­er­ties of the mate­r­i­al are retained. Fur­ther­more, the mate­r­i­al sur­face can only be com­plete­ly gassed. Par­tial appli­ca­tion is not possible. 

Slid­ing coating

There are var­i­ous meth­ods of sur­face fin­ish­ing to reduce the fric­tion­al resis­tance of a plas­tic or elas­tomer. Exam­ples include bond­ed coat­ings and slid­ing poly­mers. What all process­es have in com­mon is that they improve the slid­ing prop­er­ties, increase wear resis­tance and make the mate­r­i­al less sen­si­tive to sta­t­ic frac­ture. In the case of bond­ed coat­ings, par­tial appli­ca­tion is eas­i­ly pos­si­ble by treat­ing only the desired areas. In the case of slip poly­mers, the sub­stance is added to the mate­r­i­al mixture. 


In flock­ing, man-made fibers are anchored in a pre­vi­ous­ly applied lay­er of adhe­sive with the aid of an elec­tric field and elec­tro­sta­t­i­cal­ly aligned. The result is a uni­form tex­tile sur­face that offers var­i­ous advan­tages. The flock­ing of a component … 
It is pos­si­ble to flock sur­faces par­tial­ly. To do this, sim­ply cov­er the areas that are not to be treat­ed before apply­ing the adhesive. 

Mount­ing aids

In many indus­tri­al com­pa­nies, prod­ucts with self-adhe­sive sys­tems are com­mon as an assem­bly aid or as a per­ma­nent self-adhe­sive film to allow pre­cise posi­tion­ing of the item. They come in two vari­eties: Mount­ing aids, which have a low adhe­sive force and are used for posi­tion­ing, and applied adhe­sive films, which remain per­ma­nent­ly bond­ed to the mate­r­i­al and have a high adhe­sive force. These foils are applied to the cor­re­spond­ing com­po­nents in a sec­ond work step. 

Use crop in land­scape format

Mechan­i­cal processing

Mechan­i­cal process­es for sur­face fin­ish­ing (elas­tomers) include grind­ing. This makes it pos­si­ble, for exam­ple, to achieve the desired dimen­sion­al accu­ra­cy in sheet goods. 

Plas­tics spe­cif­ic processes

Some sur­face fin­ish­ing meth­ods are not suit­able for elas­tomers, as these are soft­er than ther­mo­plas­tics or ther­mosets and have a low­er sur­face ener­gy. The fol­low­ing process­es are there­fore only used for fin­ish­ing in the plas­tics sector. 


Met­al­liza­tion involves coat­ing a plas­tic sur­face with a thin lay­er of met­al. The most com­mon process is elec­tro­plat­ing, but ther­mal spray­ing or chem­i­cal or phys­i­cal gas depo­si­tion are also some­times used. Met­al­liza­tion most­ly serves dec­o­ra­tive pur­pos­es, but can also improve the mate­r­i­al prop­er­ties, for exam­ple by increas­ing con­duc­tiv­i­ty or wear resis­tance. The most com­mon met­al for this process is chromi­um, but oth­er mate­ri­als are also con­ceiv­able, for exam­ple gold, sil­ver or nickel. 

Print­ing and embossing

Print­ing on soft mate­ri­als (includ­ing many elas­tomers) is rel­a­tive­ly dif­fi­cult. For hard­er plas­tics, how­ev­er, there are a num­ber of viable process­es that can some­times han­dle more com­plex geome­tries, such as pad print­ing and laser mark­ing. Alter­na­tive­ly, some plas­tics can also be embossed. 


Cos­met­ic coat­ings are pos­si­ble in the plas­tics sec­tor, e.g. to achieve opti­cal effects or for adver­tis­ing rea­sons. In some cas­es, it is nec­es­sary to pre-treat the sur­face (e.g. with primer) so that the actu­al coat­ing adheres better. 


There are var­i­ous ways to sub­se­quent­ly mod­i­fy the sur­face of a rub­ber or plas­tic prod­uct. Some are of an aes­thet­ic nature, oth­ers improve the mate­r­i­al prop­er­ties or add new ones. What they all have in com­mon is that their applic­a­bil­i­ty depends on the mate­r­i­al in ques­tion. Some plas­tics and elas­tomers are not suit­able for cer­tain process­es or require addi­tion­al steps. It is there­fore impor­tant to note any intend­ed sur­face fin­ish­ing in the check­list and to take it into account when select­ing mate­ri­als.


Secure the Start of Production 

Learn which fac­tors influ­ence your SOP!


Author: Diet­mar Barth

Diet­mar Barth is a sales field rep­re­sen­ta­tive with more than 30 years of pro­fes­sion­al expe­ri­ence. The qual­i­fied busi­ness econ­o­mist orig­i­nal­ly worked in the elec­tron­ics indus­try before join­ing Jäger in 2016. 

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