As the world’s largest paint and coatings manufacturer, PPG Industries is a major force in virtually every market it serves, from automotive and architectural to industrial coatings for electronics. When the company acquired Spraylat, Pelham, NY, in December 2012, analysts looked at Spraylat’s strong position in the industrial coatings sector, particularly in the field of liquid and powder coatings.
Less noticed, yet also significant, is Spraylat’s position in the field of conductive inks. Formed just a few years ago from scratch, Spraylat had built a multi-million dollar business in conductive inks, selling into the automotive, medical and touch screen markets.
“Spraylat didn’t have a conductive ink business, but they realized there was potential, and with their support, we started to have a lot of success, growing sales to $6 million,” said John Yundt, global circuit materials business manager, Electronic Materials Group (EMG) for PPG Industrial Coatings, who has been in the conductive ink field since he joined Acheson in 1994 and later moved to Spraylat.
Yundt said that the more PPG looked at Spraylat’s conductive ink business, the more interested they became in the possibilities.
“PPG acquired Spraylat for its coatings business, such as wheel coatings, powder coatings and golf ball coatings, and once they went into due diligence, they saw the electronics work we were doing, and the more they looked at it, the more they felt there was a tremendous fit for their consumer electronics group in Decorative Coatings, which makes coatings for cell phones and laptop computers,” Yundt said. “There was a lot of interest from PPG; our products are on the inside of electronics, such as touch pads, and PPG’s was on the outside.”
PPG is particularly strong in automotive coatings, an area that Spraylat has had success in.
“We sell a lot of products to the auto industry, such as auto seat sensors for airbags, and polymer thick film inks for electro-chromic rear view mirrors,” Yundt said. “PPG is strong in automotive coatings, so there is a lot of synergy there as well.
“Rear view mirrors will ultimately have touch sensors on them, which is ideal for us,” Yundt added. “PPG’s Optical Group is selling transition lenses, which have anti-glare and anti-fingerprinting properties, which are technologies we already have developed. Now that PPG owns us, we find that there is interest in anti-scratch and anti-fingerprint coatings for rear view mirrors. Cadillac offers multi-touch capacitive touch screens with printed circuitry, and we see this as one of the next big areas of growth for our technology.”
PPG’s EMG group is active in other fields, including medical and cell phones.
“The medical biosensor market offers a lot of growth, in areas such as TENS pads, portable defibrillators and biosensors using enzyme sensing inks,” Yundt said. “We are doing well in the printed silver antennas for the toll pass market. If you can print an antenna on the outside of the cell phone and then coat it, you could improve receptivity at a much lower cost, and this is being done now; some antennas are pad printed now.”
PPG has already committed resources to the EMG’s conductive ink operations, building a new manufacturing cell at its Springdale, PA, industrial coatings plant. The company will develop nano-silver conductive inks in addition to its current range of silver-based and silver-hybrid conductive inks, with an eye on markets including medical devices, automotive airbags, flexible circuitry, electronic sensing devices and touch screens for mobile phones and tablets.
“These are very difficult products to make, and PPG brought the whole Spraylat team over to help ensure the exact same product and technology our customers were used to,” Yundt added. “The more continuity the better. PPG has been planning this for more than six months and didn’t rush anything.
Yundt said that printing offers excellent opportunities for electronics.
“Vapor deposition and etching are too costly and time consuming; screen, flexo and gravure are great ways to put down inks,” he said. “Current capabilities to print 40 micron fine line silver inks, (with an eye on 20 microns) without more costly nano-based inks…that is here and now.”
“We are working on determining what alternative conductive materials we can also use,” Yundt added. “The majority of our inks are silver, with some hybrid materials such as silver carbon, silver nickel and silver coated copper. We are printing screen, flexo and syringe-jettable inks in a range of particle sizes. We also make dielectric and resistive inks and conductive coatings for shielding and anti-static discharge applications.”
Yundt said that PPG’s extensive experience and contacts in key markets such as automotive will allow the EMG to reach new customers.
“PPG is very active in the automotive industry, and our products are an added technology in our toolkit that adds value. In the near term, I am very excited about our business growth in our major markets, such as automotive, printed antennas and electro-chromic mirrors,” Yundt said. “In the mid-term, I think this will expand into PPG’s market space, and into markets we never had access. PPG is an inventive company, and we shall see what happens.”