Powder coatings is currently one of the strongest growth sectors in the European coating market. But powder coatings producers and other players in its supply chain will have to continue to be highly innovative to maintain the momentum, while also keeping costs down.
Before the 2008 financial crisis powder coatings sales in Europe had been declining because the technology was seen to be too expensive and inflexible.
However, over the last few years powder coatings prices have been easing as new formulations have been introduced enabling applications at lower temperatures which has allowed the use of a greater variety of substrates.
Powder coatings are increasingly being regarded as an attractive alternative to more established liquid coatings systems because the powder option offers greater resistance and durability and often more visual appeal.
As a result sales of powder coatings in Europe have been going up, at least in volume terms, at an above average rate. Whereas demand for powder coatings in the emerging markets of Asia and Latin America is being pushed by rising growth in demand for automobiles, household appliances and other consumer products, a lot of the increased sales in Europe has been triggered by environmental regulations like controls on emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and the need for alternative, better performing coatings.
While many coatings segments in Western Europe have been tending to lag behind the average for global growth rates, powder coatings has been keeping pace with worldwide trends.
Acmite Market Intelligence, Ratingen, Germany, reckons that in the period 2010-2018 acrylics powder coatings will show a compound annual growth rate of 6.6 percent against a world average of 6.7 percent, one percentage point below that in the Asia Pacific, the fastest growth region.
AkzoNobel, the global market leader in powder coatings, reported that although its worldwide powder coatings sales last year declined by 2 percent, they actually went up in volume terms in Europe.
Powder coatings are gaining greater prominence in industrial coatings shows in Europe, like PaintExpo, a leading international industrial coatings event whose latest biennial exhibition took place at Karlsruhe, Germany, in April (2014).
Numbers of the show’s exhibitors, a large share of them powder coatings producers or application equipment manufacturers, went up by 14 percent to 470 while numbers of visitors rose by the same proportion to 9,170.
“At PaintExpo it was apparent that the powder coatings sector is growing again,” said Juergen Haussmann, managing director of the event’s promoter FairFair GmbH. “One reason is the environmental friendliness of powder coatings. They don’t contain VOCs and due to the expected tightening of the European Union’s VOC regulations, some companies are considering changing from wet painting to powder coating because they can be sure of working in compliance with environmental regulations.”
At the same time companies in the metalworking industry are seeking to expand their portfolios by investing in powder coating equipment.
“On the one hand this enables them to become independent from job-shop coaters and their delivery times, while on the other they’ll have a greater influence on quality and can react faster to demand,” explained Haussmann.
Awareness of the existence of powder coatings among potential end-users has now extended to knowledge of their properties and advantages.
“They understand what gives powder coatings qualities like greater resistance and more colour intensity,” said Markus Koenigs, marketing communications manager for Europe, Middle East and Africa (MENA) at Axalta Coatings Systems Germany GmbH, Cologne. “They also know now that powder coatings can be combined with other types of coatings, like electrodeposition and liquid systems. But to gain this level of understanding among end-users, powder coating producers have to work closely with the equipment manufacturers.”
Powder coatings have also been able to gain market share in Europe as a result of innovations which raise their resource and energy efficiency.
“There has been quite a demand for low temperature powder coatings and less and thinner layers,” said Haussmann. “(These include) for example ultra-thin powder coatings which can provide an optimum coverage with film thicknesses from up to 25 microns—depending on the color.”
AkzoNobel has been the latest among major powder coatings producers to introduce a two-coat powder system which does not need two cures, one after the primer and the other after the application of the top coat. Instead the two layers are cured simultaneously.
“This results in significantly improved productivity, as well as energy and cost savings,” said John Wolff, managing director AkzoNobel Powder Coatings.
As two-coat one-bake systems become more widely available at operating temperatures of 160-180 C degrees or even lower, their providers are having to differentiate them through specific formulations and ways of applying them, particularly in the use of tribotechnology to control the interaction between surfaces.
“We use standard raw materials for our two-coat, one-bake powder coating but the formulation is different and we pay a lot of attention to particle size,” explained Jochen Reihs, technical services manager for construction vehicles at Karl Woerwag GmbH & Co. Renningen, Germany. “ Also the method of application is important with thinner powder coatings.”
Some powder coatings companies are, however, treading carefully with the development of technologies with low temperatures or reduced energy consumption.
“It is not easy to maintain or improve quality at temperatures below 200 degrees,” said Koenigs at Axalta, previously DuPont Performance Coatings until its acquisition early last year by The Carlyle Group equity fund. “We are working on a low temperature technology. But we want to get it absolutely right first.”
The innovations in powder coatings have been opening up new segments in the market, traditionally dominated by liquid coatings.
“The current economic upturn in Europe is increasing investment in new projects for which companies are thinking of replacing conventional liquid coatings with powder coatings,” said Karl Pint, commercial director at Protech-Oxyplast N.V., Gent-Mendonk, Belgium. “Low-temperature and other new technologies are giving us opportunities to move into new markets like medium-density fibreboard (MDF), plastic components and big machine parts.”
The continued expansion of the powder coatings sector in Europe will depend a lot on the inventiveness of not only the powder coatings producers but also that of the manufacturers of application, curing and other equipment.