As the economic downturn continues, wood coating manufacturers, whose business is closely tied to the housing and manufacturing sectors, have felt the crunch. "In 2008, the wood coatings market was subject to a general downturn due to a sharp fall in the construction industry and the consequent downsizing of manufacturing across the entire wood-production industry, from furniture to parquet floors to floor and window frames," said Sandro Paniccia, president of Italian firm ICA Group. "Despite this, ICA Group still managed to close 2008 with an overall increase in turnover of four percent. For 2009, we are not expecting a major increase, but are aiming to build on the solid growth we achieved in 2008."
"The market in 2008 was basically flat for wood coatings due to many factors including decreasing wood prices and demand, an increase in synthetic and composite decking materials used in the market and a slow housing market for new construction," said Sean Morris, product manager for Cabot Corp. "We expect a slow start in 2009 with more demand for wood products and coatings in the third quarter, after new construction and remodeling rebound and eventually stabilize. Wood products and coatings are gaining popularity in the worldwide marketplace as they are a truly 'green' re�newable resource with great features and benefits."
"In 2008, the interior wood finishing category is estimated to be down approximately five to ten percent across all channels of distribution," said Jacquelyn Ferrara, director of marketing, Minwax, Sherwin-Williams Wood Care Products.
Tough times call for tough coatings
In these challenging economic times, consumers are placing more pressure on wood coatings manufacturers to deliver quality products with a reasonable prices. Consumers may also be more likely to tackle a project themselves, rather than hire a costly contractor. These DIYers are looking for affordable, easy-to-use products that deliver performance.
"The trends that we've been tracking include the demand for easy-to-apply, low odor, fast-drying products which Minwax has certainly addressed with our wide product range of water-based stains and finishes," said Ferrara. "Also, there continues to be a growing demand for low VOC products as contractors and consumers become more environmentally aware and local and regional regulations become more stringent We've also seen an increased interest in products used to maintain wood surfaces and ensure the natural beauty will last."
In terms of color, the current trend is rich, dark natural-looking wood tones. "Consumers want to have coatings that preserve the natural look of wood like when it is first installed," said Morris. "These natural or translucent tones will still show the beauty of the wood grain and texture while providing protection against the sun's harmful UV rays and water infiltration damage. The more pigment used in these coatings, the more durable the finished wood product will be in the field. In North America there are drastic regional color preferences in the market, yet most are still earth tone and lightly pigmented colors so they look as close to new wood as possible. Our best recommendation on new wood is to use a semi-solid acrylic stain with trans-oxide pigments that will protect the wood and show the natural beauty the consumers desire. It will offer protection from the environment and appear like new wood for years."
According to Ferrara, rich dark wood-tones such as dark walnut and ebony continue to be popular for furniture, cabinets and floors. "Chocolate, recently 'the new black' in fashion, is emerging as the new go to color for decorators and designers," she added.
"Color is a crucial issue in the wood industry," said Paniccia. "Pigmented coatings, including gloss lacquers, remain very important for the coating of furniture. In addition, the level of performance delivered by coating products is becoming increasingly important for clients. For this reason, in our R&D lab we have an entire area dedicated to conducting chemical/physical tests on our coatings once they have been applied. We feel it is fundamental to receive feedback during the development of new products, so that we can accurately calibrate the performance of the dry coating film."
Greener technologies and the switch to waterborne
Another key issue for the wood coatings market is the switch to greener technologies. "Good environmental practices are increasingly important in this category," said Mike Koz�lowski, director of marketing, Thompson's Water Seal brand. "The Thompson's Company is committed to providing consumers with a wide range of superior quality exterior waterproofing protection and cleaning products that help extend the life of wood decks and similar surfaces. In R&D, we strive to develop, manufacture and market longer-lasting, high performance products by sourcing ingredients and developing technologies such as low-VOC, water-based technologies for improved air quality. The Thompson's Water Seal line provides low-VOC products to meet any regulatory need."
The switch to greener technologies, plus tightening VOC regulations have led wood coatings companies to develop a number of water-based products.
Photo: Cabot Corp.
In regard to the demand for waterborne products, Minwax has been at this for quite some time, producing innovative water-based products that are easy to apply, low odor and quick drying with efficacy of their oil-based counterparts. "Minwax was on the crest of the wave of demand for waterborne products early on, having introduced Minwax Polycrylic Finish, a water-based protective clear finish more than 18 years ago," said Ferrara.
Since then, Minwax has continued to steadily expand its water-based offerings. "Most recently, recognizing that time-stressed consumers wanted a product that would dramatically simplify the wood finishing process, save time and make cleanup a breeze, Minwax has introduced water-based WoodSheen," said Ferrara. "This rubbing stain and finish, in a water-based gel formula, applies easily with a cloth and dries in one hour."
Cabot's R&D efforts have been focusing on offering more product alternatives that include waterborne coatings and stains. "We continue to modify existing product lines to meet the performance demands while lowering VOC emissions and offering more acrylic and waterborne resin technology to advance our product offering," said Morris. "Waterborne acrylic products generally will have better performance characteristics such as color retention, adhesion, flexibility and appearance than traditional solvent-based products. They are often easier to apply and water clean-up is a real advantage."
The deck is coated with Thompson's Water Seal Deck and House Solid Latex Stain in Cedartone. The green chairs are treated with Thompson's Water Seal Deck and House Semi-Transparent Latex Stain in Evergreen.Photo: Thompson's Water Seal
ICA Group has focused its efforts mainly in the field of waterborne coatings in general and on gloss coatings and UV-cured coatings in particular.
"Moreover, in the past few years, the range of waterborne coatings has been expanded thanks to the introduction of a line of specific products for the cold-coating of glass," said Paniccia.
Minwax has introduced a number of new products into the market for 2009. "This year we're adding Minwax Super Fast-Drying Polyurethane for Floors (350 VOC) to this growing roster of products," said Ferrara. "This clear, oil-based durable protective finish was specially formulated for floors. It has a maximum VOC of 350 g/L, meeting regulations in the OTC and LADCO states. It provides superior durability for hardwood floors and optimized drying technology resulting in faster recoat times with no sanding between coats."
Cabot recently launched Lockzall, a 100% acrylic white primer designed for exterior wood species with exceptional tannin resistance. "This product will offer exceptional performance on woods containing natural tannins�waterborne extractives that are common in wood materials like cedar and redwood that naturally exist and extend the durability of wood," said Morris. "Often times these tannins will migrate to the surface and discolor the wood like a brownish tea stain. While tannins are inherent in top quality wood products, the discoloration will often inhibit a consumer from using these products. Lockzall offers acrylic waterborne resin technology that will chemically react and seal these tannins and keep them from migrating to the surface after painting.
One of Thompson Water Seal's newest products is a multi-purpose exterior cleaner. "Cleaners are an increasingly important part of the deck care category," said Kozlowski. "Thompson's Water Seal Oxy Foaming Action Exterior Multi-Surface Cleaner removes dirt and mildew from wood and composites, concrete and more. It is an effective, oxygen-powered cleaner concentrate that is biodegradable and gentler than chlorine bleach-based formulas."
ICA Group supplies furniture maker with water-based UV coatings
Due to recently introduced legislation, ICA Group has been� driving forward with its program to substitute traditional solvent-based coating technologies with water-based equivalents.
Photo: ICA Group
GFL's coating plant, which has been fully operational since 2005, allows the company to manufacture 15,000 cupboard doors per month using ICA Group's water-based coating cycles. According to the company, the water-based coatings deliver exceptional levels of yield, meaning that 30% less product need be applied to achieve the same result as would be achieved with solvent-based coatings. GFL's close cycle coating system, which has two automatic sprayers and a tilt/shaft device, makes it possible for ICA Group's coatings to be applied to both sides of the cupboard door at the same time. Once the the doors have been loaded and dusted down, an oscillating sprayer with eight airmix guns applies the coating products, and subsequently, after the doors have been through two different ovens, each side of the door is exposed to two UV lamps before the cycle comes to an end in a cooling hood.