Industry Insights
Eliminating Guesswork in Mixing Solutions April 24, 2013 | by Adam Mathewson, Engineering Technician, Carestream Tollcoating

Customers come to Carestream Contract Manufacturing with ideas for finished products that require high-precision coatings in their assemblies. Some customers bring solutions or their chemical components for mixing and solution delivery, while others are still working on ideas and requirements. Working together they rely on Carestream’s experts to devise and mix the optimal coating solutions for their products, to create robust and cost-effective, high-volume manufacturing processes. Regardless of the situation, the professional staff at Carestream is highly efficient at developing fluids that can be coated for trials and fast-to-market commercialization. The company’s unique documentation process also ensures the quality assurance and repeatability required for success on a small or large scale, for scale-up to production.

Meeting the Complexities of Mixing Solutions

The solutions to be used in coating layers are engineered to deliver specific properties, according to the application. Every application is unique, and the coating solutions must be exactly created to fit the purpose and performance requirements. Each fluid is created with the purpose of matching to a specific coating method from the library of 35 different coating technologies available at Carestream.

To meet the demands of such a complex process, Carestream’s dedicated mixing department features 30 tanks housed in a large room, staffed with a mixing engineer and other technical experts. For each project, a Carestream engineer works closely with a mixing department specialist to mix one solution. The mixing department can create multiple solutions at a time, and can mix coating solutions of various viscosities and thicknesses in quantities ranging from one quart to 850 gallons. Carestream also has mixing capabilities at the coater itself, and a wide range of mixing equipment – with high shear, low shear, rotor stator and temperature control capabilities. Carestream’s professional staff of engineers can program recipes into the company’s computer system to operate heating/cooling 24/7.

Documentation for Quality Assurance and Repeatability

Carestream Contract Manufacturing’s mixing department has a documented, proven practice for creating the right solutions in every situation. The company’s unique plants feature extensive pilot coaters and ancillary equipment in addition to high volume full-scale coaters. As a result of a legacy established while part of 3M and then Kodak many years ago, Carestream’s staff possesses long-term experience, stable management and a secure supply chain. Their outstanding ability to think on their feet enables the company’s technical experts to start with a plan, give the customer options, and work through any issues. Additionally Carestream works with a very large variety of solvents.

For batch documentation, Carestream uses “charge cards” – detailed spreadsheets with the ratio of chemicals in each batch backed up by SAP processes in an ISO-certified atmosphere – to double-check. One technician weighs chemicals out, and another re-weighs them. They use a handheld scanner system and crosscheck each other to double-check weights and raw materials and make sure the mix is right.

Mixing technicians document each step and even sign off on the time that each chemical is added to a solution. Customers and engineers are able to decide together what is needed, and can conduct extensive testing and trials if needed.

Batch protection is another essential element to Carestream’s approach. The company’s scanner system tells the technicians exactly how each solution was made, so that after it’s been trialed, they know how to optimize it for best quality. Time in trials can be one to four days or months, depending on the characteristics of the product. Carestream’s engineers ensure traceability for quality assurance and testing to verify that the product meets customer needs. They also have knowledge and capability to filter solutions, and design and build solution delivery systems for customers. Some solutions have multiple quality checks during preparation. In most cases, however, technicians make an entire batch and run a series of tests when complete. Viscosity, percent solids, and density tests are typical, but rheology and surface tension are also sometimes tested. It is also typical for performance attributes developed by the customer to be included in test coatings, and not infrequent that customer-supplied procedures and even equipment is present in Carestream QC labs.

In addition, Carestream offers full production scale-up – making small to large batches for pilot coaters and full production runs. This is crucial for most customers, who tend to work in lab-based facilities without similar capabilities.

The Carestream Difference

Carestream Contract Manufacturing has the mixing technology to take an end-product idea and tailor the precise solutions needed to coat it using different methods. The documentation process allows technicians to track and trace every component of a solution, what order it is added in, when, and in what ratios. This provides quality assurance and repeatability as well as enhanced development processes by being able to continually test and fine-tune the mixing solution to meet the customer’s needs – and then to make it consistently. Also in cooperative development with a customer, engineers and technicians can make adjustments until the solution is just right, with expertise to do this on a small or large scale, working with a variety of chemicals including solvents, and speed to trials and scale-up to production.

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