Q: "In my application I have a process where I apply UV adhesive between two pieces of plastic, and I am seeing a short contraction period followed by a longer expansion period. Is it possible for UV adhesive to behave this way? How much does UV adhesive shrink during cure? Could this cause a pulling force between two plastic materials? If under an opposite force could the UV adhesive relax and expand somewhat?"
A: When light-curable adhesives cure, whether curing with UV light or visible light, crosslinks are forming between polymer chains. This pulls the chemical chains closer to each other very rapidly. We typically see a 1-2% linear shrinkage, which could translate into a 2-5% volumetric shrinkage. This may stress some plastics or optical components. There is a relaxation effect, usually over the next few hours or overnight, where the chains relax slightly as they rotate into an optimum alignment. Polymer chains like to "spoon" together. If they are at odd angles to each other, they are still touching, but want to find that alignment where they are in the same direction and bending the same way. Chemical bonds can stretch and spin around their axes and allow for this relaxation. Also, good to note, a product with a low modulus will stretch easier under stress, and a product with a very high modulus will not stretch much at all. A silicone (on one extreme) can have a modulus as low as 300 psi, whereas an epoxy can have a modulus as high as 2,000,000 psi. Many UV-curable adhesives are urethane acrylates and can vary in their modulus’ over a very wide range. The product data sheet should list this value.