Curing (chemistry)

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Curing is a chemical process employed in polymer chemistry and process engineering that produces the toughening or hardening of a polymer material by cross-linking of polymer chains. Even if it is strongly associated with the production of thermosetting polymers, the term curing can be used for all the processes where starting from a liquid solution, a solid product is obtained. [1]

Polymer chemistry is a sub-discipline of chemistry that focuses on the chemical synthesis, structure, chemical and physical properties of polymers and macromolecules. The principles and methods used within polymer chemistry are also applicable through a wide range of other chemistry sub-disciplines like organic chemistry, analytical chemistry, and physical chemistry Many materials have polymeric structures, from fully inorganic metals and ceramics to DNA and other biological molecules, however, polymer chemistry is typically referred to in the context of synthetic, organic compositions. Synthetic polymers are ubiquitous in commercial materials and products in everyday use, commonly referred to as plastics, and rubbers, and are major components of composite materials. Polymer chemistry can also be included in the broader fields of polymer science or even nanotechnology, both of which can be described as encompassing polymer physics and polymer engineering.

Process engineering is the understanding and application of the fundamental principles and laws of nature that allow us to transform raw material and energy into products that are useful to society, at an industrial level. By taking advantage of the driving forces of nature such as pressure, temperature and concentration gradients, as well as the law of conservation of mass, process engineers can develop methods to synthesize and purify large quantities of desired chemical products. Process engineering focuses on the design, operation, control, optimization and intensification of chemical, physical, and biological processes. Process engineering encompasses a vast range of industries, such as agriculture, automotive, biotechnical, chemical, food, material development, mining, nuclear, petrochemical, pharmaceutical, and software development. The application of systematic computer-based methods to process engineering is "process systems engineering".

Cross-link chemical reaction

In chemistry and biology a cross-link is a bond that links one polymer chain to another. These links may take the form of covalent bonds or ionic bonds and the polymers can be either synthetic polymers or natural polymers.


Curing process

Figure 1: Structure of a cured epoxy glue. The triamine hardener is shown in red, the resin in black. The resin's epoxide groups have reacted with the hardener. The material is highly crosslinked and contains many OH groups, which confer adhesive properties. VernetzteEpoxidharze.svg
Figure 1: Structure of a cured epoxy glue. The triamine hardener is shown in red, the resin in black. The resin's epoxide groups have reacted with the hardener. The material is highly crosslinked and contains many OH groups, which confer adhesive properties.

During the curing process, single monomers and oligomers, mixed with or without a curing agent, react to form a tridimensional polymeric network. [2]

In the first part of the reaction branches molecules with various architectures are formed, and their molecular weight increases in time with the extent of the reaction until the network size is equal to the size of the system. The system has lost its solubility and its viscosity tends to infinite. The remaining molecules start to coexist with the macroscopic network until they react with the network creating other crosslinks. The crosslinking density increases until the system reaches the end of the chemical reaction. [2]

Branching (polymer chemistry)

In polymer chemistry, branching occurs by the replacement of a substituent, e.g., a hydrogen atom, on a monomer subunit, by another covalently bonded chain of that polymer; or, in the case of a graft copolymer, by a chain of another type. Branched polymers have more compact and symmetrical molecular conformations, and exhibit intra-heterogeneous dynamical behavior with respect to the unbranched polymers. In crosslinking rubber by vulcanization, short sulfur branches link polyisoprene chains into a multiply branched thermosetting elastomer. Rubber can also be so completely vulcanized that it becomes a rigid solid, so hard it can be used as the bit in a smoking pipe. Polycarbonate chains can be crosslinked to form the hardest, most impact-resistant thermosetting plastic, used in safety glasses.

Solubility Capacity of a designated solvent to hold a designated solute in homogeneous solution under specified conditions

Solubility is the property of a solid, liquid or gaseous chemical substance called solute to dissolve in a solid, liquid or gaseous solvent. The solubility of a substance fundamentally depends on the physical and chemical properties of the solute and solvent as well as on temperature, pressure and presence of other chemicals of the solution. The extent of the solubility of a substance in a specific solvent is measured as the saturation concentration, where adding more solute does not increase the concentration of the solution and begins to precipitate the excess amount of solute.

Viscosity Resistance of a fluid to shear deformation

The viscosity of a fluid is a measure of its resistance to deformation at a given rate. For liquids, it corresponds to the informal concept of "thickness": for example, syrup has a higher viscosity than water.

Curing can be initiated by heat, radiation, electron beams, or chemical additives. To quote from IUPAC: curing "might or might not require mixing with a chemical curing agent." [3] Thus, two broad classes are (i) curing induced by chemical additives (also called curing agents, hardeners) and (ii) curing in the absence of additives. An intermediate case involves a mixture of resin and additives that requires external stimulus (light, heat, radiation) to induce curing.

The curing methodology depends on the resin and the application. Particular attention is paid to the shrinkage induced by the curing. Usually small values of shrinkage (2-3%) are desirable. [1]

Curing induced by additives

Figure 2: General representation of the chemical structure of vulcanized natural rubber showing the crosslinking of two polymer chains (blue and green) with sulfur (n = 0, 1, 2, 3 ...). Vulcanization of POLYIsoprene V.2.png
Figure 2: General representation of the chemical structure of vulcanized natural rubber showing the crosslinking of two polymer chains (blue and green) with sulfur (n = 0, 1, 2, 3 …).
Figure 3: Simplified chemical reactions associated with curing of a drying oil. In the first step, the diene undergoes autoxidation to give a hydroperoxide. In the second step, the hydroperoxide combines with another unsaturated side chain to generate a crosslink. DryOilSteps.svg
Figure 3: Simplified chemical reactions associated with curing of a drying oil. In the first step, the diene undergoes autoxidation to give a hydroperoxide. In the second step, the hydroperoxide combines with another unsaturated side chain to generate a crosslink.

Epoxy resins are typically cured by the use of additives, often called hardeners. Polyamines are often used. The amine groups ring-open the epoxide rings.

Epoxy family of polymer

Epoxy is either any of the basic components or the cured end products of epoxy resins, as well as a colloquial name for the epoxide functional group. Epoxy resins, also known as polyepoxides, are a class of reactive prepolymers and polymers which contain epoxide groups.

A polyamine is an organic compound having more than two amino groups. Alkyl polyamines occur naturally but are also synthetic. Alkylpolyamines are colorless, hygroscopic, and water soluble. Near neutral pH, they exist as the ammonium derivatives. Most aromatic polyamines are crystalline solids at room temperature.

In rubber, the curing is also induced by the addition of a crosslinker. The resulting process is called sulfur vulcanization. Sulfur breaks down to forms polysulfide cross-links (bridges) between sections of the polymer chains. The degree of crosslinking determines the rigidity and durability, as well as other properties of the material. [5]

Paints and varnishes commonly contain oil drying agents; metal soaps which catalyze cross-linking of the unsaturated oils of which they are largely comprised. As such, when paint is described as drying it is in fact hardening. Oxygen atoms serve the crosslinks, analogous to the role played by sulfur in the vulcanization of rubber.

Curing without additives

In the case of concrete, curing entails the formation of silicate crosslinks. The process is not induced by additives.

In many cases, the resin is provided as a solution or mixture with a thermally-activated catalyst, which induces crosslinking but only upon heating. For example, some acrylate-based resins are formulated with dibenzoyl peroxide. Upon heating the mixture, the peroxide converts to a free radical, which adds to an acrylate, initiating crosslinking.

Some organic resins are cured with heat. As heat is applied, the viscosity of the resin drops before the onset of crosslinking, whereupon it increases as the constituent oligomers interconnect. This process continues until a tridimensional network of oligomer chains is created – this stage is termed gelation. In terms of processability of the resin this marks an important stage: before gelation the system is relatively mobile, after it the mobility is very limited, the micro-structure of the resin and the composite material is fixed and severe diffusion limitations to further cure are created. Thus, in order to achieve vitrification in the resin, it is usually necessary to increase the process temperature after gelation.

When catalysts are activated by ultraviolet radiation, the process is called UV cure. [6]

Monitoring methods

Cure monitoring is, for example, an essential component for the control of the manufacturing process of composite materials. The material, initially liquid, at the end of the process will be solid: viscosity is the most important property that changes during the process.

Cure monitoring relies on monitoring various physical or chemical properties.

Rheological analysis

Figure 4: Evolution in time of storage modulus G' and loss modulus G" during a curing reaction. Moduli vs Time cuirng reaction - 2019-07-03 - TB.png
Figure 4: Evolution in time of storage modulus G' and loss modulus G" during a curing reaction.

A simple way to monitor the change in viscosity, and thus, the extent of the reaction, in a curing process is to measure the variation of the elastic modulus. [7]

To measure the elastic modulus of a system during curing, a rheometer can be used. [7] With dynamic mechanical analysis can be measured the storage modulus (G’) and the loss modulus (G’’). The variation of G' and G" in time can indicate the extent of the curing reaction. [7]

As shown in Figure 4, after an "induction time”, G' and G" start to increase, with an abrupt change in slope. At a certain point they cross each other; afterwards, the rates of G' and G" decrease, and the moduli tend to a plateau. When they reach the plateau the reaction is concluded. [2]

When the system is liquid, the storage modulus is very low: the system behaves like a liquid. Then the reaction continues and the system starts to react more like a solid: the storage modulus increases.

The degree of curing, , can be defined as follow: [8]


The degree of curing starts from zero (at the beginning of the reaction) and grows until one (the end of the reaction). The slope of the curve changes with time and has his maximum about at half of the reaction.

Thermal analysis

If the reactions occurring during crosslinking are exothermic, the crosslinking rate can be related to the heat released during the process. Higher is the number of bonds created, higher is the heat released in the reaction. At the end of the reaction, no more heat will be released. To measure the heat flow differential scanning calorimetry can be used. [9]

Assuming that each bond formed during the crosslinking releases the same amount of energy, the degree of curing, , can be defined as follows: [9]


where is the heat released up to a certain time , is the instantaneous rate of heat and is the total amount of heat released in , when the reaction finishes. [9]

Also in this case the degree of curing goes from zero (no bonds created) to one (no more reactions occur) with a slope that changes in time and has its maximum about at half of the reaction. [9]

Dielectrometric analysis

Conventional dielectrometry is carried out typically in a parallel plate configuration of the dielectric sensor (capacitance probe) and has the capability of monitoring the resin cure throughout the entire cycle, from the liquid to the rubber to the solid state. It is capable of monitoring phase separation in complex resin blends curing also within a fibrous perform. The same attributes belong to the more recent development of the dielectric technique, namely microdielectrometry.

Several versions of dielectric sensors are available commercially. The most suitable format for use in cure monitoring applications are the flat interdigital capacitive structures bearing a sensing grid on their surface. Depending on their design (specifically those on durable substrates) they have some reusability, while flexible substrate sensors can be used also in the bulk of the resin systems as embedded sensors.

Spectroscopic analysis

The curing process can be monitored by measuring changes in various parameters:

Ultrasonic analysis

Ultrasonic cure monitoring methods are based on the relationships between changes in the characteristics of propagating ultrasound and the real-time mechanical properties of a component, by measuring:

See Also

Related Research Articles

Vulcanization chemical process for converting natural rubber or related polymers into more durable materials

Vulcanization is a chemical process, invented by Charles Goodyear, used to harden rubber. Vulcanization traditionally referred to the treatment of natural rubber with sulfur and this remains the most common example, however the term has also grown to include the hardening of other (synthetic) rubbers via various means. Examples include silicone rubber via room temperature vulcanizing and chloroprene rubber (neoprene) using metal oxides.

Polyurethane polymer composed of a chain of organic units joined by carbamate (urethane) links

Polyurethane is a polymer composed of organic units joined by carbamate (urethane) links. While most polyurethanes are thermosetting polymers that do not melt when heated, thermoplastic polyurethanes are also available.

Thermal analysis is a branch of materials science where the properties of materials are studied as they change with temperature. Several methods are commonly used – these are distinguished from one another by the property which is measured:

Thermosetting polymer polymer material that irreversibly cures

A thermosetting polymer, resin, or plastic, often called a thermoset, is a polymer that is irreversibly hardened by curing from a soft solid or viscous liquid prepolymer or resin. Curing is induced by heat or suitable radiation and may be promoted by high pressure, or mixing with a catalyst. It results in chemical reactions that create extensive cross-linking between polymer chains to produce an infusible and insoluble polymer network.

Accelerants are substances that can bond, mix or disturb another substance and cause an increase in the speed of a natural, or artificial chemical process. Accelerants play a major role in chemistry—most chemical reactions can be hastened with an accelerant. Accelerants alter a chemical bond, speed up a chemical process, or bring organisms back to homeostasis. Accelerants are not necessarily catalysts as they may be consumed by the process.

Step-growth polymerization

Step-growth polymerization refers to a type of polymerization mechanism in which bi-functional or multifunctional monomers react to form first dimers, then trimers, longer oligomers and eventually long chain polymers. Many naturally occurring and some synthetic polymers are produced by step-growth polymerization, e.g. polyesters, polyamides, polyurethanes, etc. Due to the nature of the polymerization mechanism, a high extent of reaction is required to achieve high molecular weight. The easiest way to visualize the mechanism of a step-growth polymerization is a group of people reaching out to hold their hands to form a human chain—each person has two hands. There also is the possibility to have more than two reactive sites on a monomer: In this case branched polymers production take place.

Hot-melt adhesive solvent-free and at room temperature more or less solid products which are applied to the adhesive surface when hot

Hot melt adhesive (HMA), also known as hot glue, is a form of thermoplastic adhesive that is commonly sold as solid cylindrical sticks of various diameters designed to be applied using a hot glue gun. The gun uses a continuous-duty heating element to melt the plastic glue, which the user pushes through the gun either with a mechanical trigger mechanism on the gun, or with direct finger pressure. The glue squeezed out of the heated nozzle is initially hot enough to burn and even blister skin. The glue is tacky when hot, and solidifies in a few seconds to one minute. Hot melt adhesives can also be applied by dipping or spraying, and are popular with hobbyists and crafters both for affixing and as an inexpensive alternative to resin casting.

Silicone rubber is an elastomer composed of silicone—itself a polymer—containing silicon together with carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Silicone rubbers are widely used in industry, and there are multiple formulations. Silicone rubbers are often one- or two-part polymers, and may contain fillers to improve properties or reduce cost. Silicone rubber is generally non-reactive, stable, and resistant to extreme environments and temperatures from -67 °F to 572 °F while still maintaining its useful properties. Due to these properties and its ease of manufacturing and shaping, silicone rubber can be found in a wide variety of products, including: voltage line insulators, automotive applications; cooking, baking, and food storage products; apparel such as undergarments, sportswear, and footwear; electronics; medical devices and implants; and in home repair and hardware with products such as silicone sealants.

Tire manufacturing

Pneumatic tires are manufactured according to relatively standardized processes and machinery, in around 455 tire factories in the world. With over 1 billion tires manufactured worldwide annually, the tire industry is the major consumer of natural rubber. Tire factories start with bulk raw materials such as synthetic rubber, carbon black, and chemicals and produce numerous specialized components that are assembled and cured. This article describes the components assembled to make a tire, the various materials used, the manufacturing processes and machinery, and the overall business model.


A photopolymer or light-activated resin is a polymer that changes its properties when exposed to light, often in the ultraviolet or visible region of the electromagnetic spectrum. These changes are often manifested structurally, for example hardening of the material occurs as a result of cross-linking when exposed to light. An example is shown below depicting a mixture of monomers, oligomers, and photoinitiators that conform into a hardened polymeric material through a process called curing. A wide variety of technologically useful applications rely on photopolymers, for example some enamels and varnishes depend on photopolymer formulation for proper hardening upon exposure to light. In some instances, an enamel can cure in a fraction of a second when exposed to light, as opposed to thermally cured enamels which can require half an hour or longer. Curable materials are widely used for medical, printing, and photoresist technologies.

Pressure-sensitive adhesive adhesive which forms a bond when pressure is applied

Pressure-sensitive adhesive is a type of non reactive adhesive which forms a bond when pressure is applied to bond the adhesive with the adherend. No solvent, water, or heat is needed to activate the adhesive. It is used in pressure-sensitive tapes, labels, glue dots, note pads, automobile trim, and a wide variety of other products.

Polyester resins are unsaturated synthetic resins formed by the reaction of dibasic organic acids and polyhydric alcohols. Maleic Anhydride is a commonly used raw material with diacid functionality. Polyester resins are used in sheet moulding compound, bulk moulding compound and the toner of laser printers. Wall panels fabricated from polyester resins reinforced with fiberglass—so-called fiberglass reinforced plastic (FRP)—are typically used in restaurants, kitchens, restrooms and other areas that require washable low-maintenance walls. They are also used extensively in cured-in-place pipe applications. Departments of Transportation in the USA also specify them for use as overlays on roads and bridges. In this application they are known as PCO Polyester Concrete Overlays. These are usually based on isophthalic acid and cut with styrene at high levels—usually up to 50%. Polyesters are also used in anchor bolt adhesives though epoxy based materials are also used. Many companies have and continue to introduce styrene free systems mainly due to odor issues.

Rubber Technology is the subject dealing with the transformation of rubbers or elastomers into useful products, such as automobile tires, rubber mats and, exercise rubber stretching bands. The materials includes latex, natural rubber, synthetic rubber and other polymeric materials, such as thermoplastic elastomers. Rubber processed through such methods are components of a wide range of items.

Polymer engineering is generally an engineering field that designs, analyses, and modifies polymer materials. Polymer engineering covers aspects of the petrochemical industry, polymerization, structure and characterization of polymers, properties of polymers, compounding and processing of polymers and description of major polymers, structure property relations and applications.

Polymer characterization is the analytical branch of polymer science.

Resin casting is a method of plastic casting where a mold is filled with a liquid synthetic resin, which then hardens. It is primarily used for small-scale production like industrial prototypes and dentistry. It can be done by amateur hobbyists with little initial investment, and is used in the production of collectible toys, models and figures, as well as small-scale jewellery production.

Sulfur vulcanization

Sulfur vulcanization or sulfur vulcanisation is a chemical process for converting natural rubber or related polymers into more durable materials by heating them with sulfur or other equivalent curatives or accelerators. Sulfur forms cross-links (bridges) between sections of polymer chain which results in increased rigidity and durability, as well as other changes in the mechanical and electronic properties of the material. A vast array of products are made with vulcanized rubber, including tires, shoe soles, hoses, and conveyor belts. The term vulcanization is derived from Vulcan, the Roman god of fire.


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