by C. Vernon Henry
August 2, 2018
Chances are that you spend very little (if any) time of your day thinking about tape. When you do, it’s likely because you need it to wrap gifts last minute or make a (temporary?) household, office, or wardrobe repair.
But pressure-sensitive tape – an $8 billion industry in the US – is everywhere around us, even where you might least expect it. Your smartphone, fitness tracker, and tablet all use tape to bond internal components, thus reducing the size and weight of these devices. This weight saving capability also makes tapes ubiquitous in cars and appliances, where the increased use of electronic features like touchscreens requires tapes for applications like wire bundling and mounting, as well as foam-backed tapes that reduce vibration and noise.
As far as everyday household items go, tape has a pretty interesting origin story. While it’s almost impossible in the present day to imagine a world of kitchen junk drawers and toolboxes without such common household tapes as transparent, masking, and duct types, that was very much the case prior to the 1920s.
Masking and transparent tapes were both invented by the same person, Richard Drew, who at the time was working in the labs at 3M (then operating as Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company, primarily a producer of abrasives). Drew developed masking tape as a solution for automobile painters experiencing difficulty creating the two-tone car designs that were popular at the time. The product was successfully brought to market in 1925. Several years later, while searching for a watertight tape solution to securing insulation in refrigerated railway cars, he went on to develop transparent tape. It ended up becoming popular among grocers looking for an attractive, moisture-proof way to seal their packaging.
Duct tape can trace its history back to 1943 and Vesta Stoudt, an employee in an ordnance plant. Stoudt, a mother to two US Navy sailors, wrote President Franklin D. Roosevelt a letter with the idea to use waterproof cloth tape to seal ammunition boxes. Up to that point, boxes had been closed with paper tape and dipped in wax, and were often difficult to unseal in the midst of battle. Roosevelt passed the letter to the War Production Board, which requested that Johnson & Johnson manufacture the product.
While the product was initially conceived of for practical purposes, duct tape in the 21st century has developed a bit of a cult following, used to craft anything from wallets to tuxedos.
From those humble beginnings, tape has become a versatile, vital component in applications varying from mounting graphics, sealing boxes, and all manner of industrial and construction uses. And even with the added convenience of a gift bag and tissue paper, colorful paper secured with transparent tape is still the preferred method of wrapping gifts.
Tape is also helping shape our technology-centered lives and will no doubt be integral to innovation for the future. Surface protection tape is not only used to protect the finish of new appliances, but a heavier-duty version is used to protect wind turbine blades from sand and other windborne debris. Medical tapes are used for securing devices, managing wounds, and even treatment of orthopedic injuries. Without double-sided and adhesive transfer tapes, our electronics (from phones to satellites) would be much larger and heavier.
The applications for pressure sensitive tape continue to expand and evolve. No doubt, you have a current issue that can be solved, at least temporarily, with tape. Similarly, larger problems will also find a tape-based solution. The reality of our rapidly-evolving technological landscape (and to-do lists) will ensure future progress will be caught on tape.
With electronics getting smaller and lighter (and wearable) and vehicles shedding weight to increase fuel-efficiency, tapes will continue to be a part of our everyday lives for the foreseeable future. For more information on the products, markets and suppliers of pressure sensitive tape, check out the Freedonia Group’s new study, Pressure Sensitive Tape in the US.
C. Vernon Henry is an analyst at the Freedonia Group, where he writes studies focused on the packaging industry.
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