The Aerospace Coatings Market

By Christine Esposito | August 9, 2005

All types of aircraft – jumbo jets, high-tech military vehicles, antique airplanes and corporate jets – need protective coatings, and coatings companies both large and small manufacture products that are right on target.

Whether it is a jumbo jet, a high-tech military aircraft, a sleek corporate jet or even a two-seater prop plane, coatings are needed to protect the aircraft. And just like the aircraft that their paint covers, companies competing in the aerospace coatings market come in all sizes.

Among the big firms competing for a share of the estimated $150 million aerospace coatings market are Dexter, U.S. Paint and Akzo Nobel. PPG has entered the mix too, now that it owns PRC-DeSoto Inter-national, formulary Courtaulds Aerospace.

With PPG as its parent company, PRC-DeSoto should improve its already successful stance in the market. According to Randy Cameron, global marketing manager for aerospace coatings at PRC-DeSoto in Glendale, CA, the acquisition leverages both companies' aerospace operations by combining PRC-DeSoto's background in aerospace with PPG's experience in general aviation, or smaller aircraft.


Combining Expertise It is PPG's experience with the automotive refinish business that PRC- DeSoto will look to capitalize on in the coming months and years, according to Mr. Cameron "There will be some interesting interaction between the technology groups," he said.

Potential projects may include expanding PPG's basecoat-clearcoat technology from automobiles to airplanes. "We can evaluate that technology to see if we can bring it into the aerospace market," Mr. Cameron said. The company is in the initial stages of communicating between the R&D labs and marketing groups. "PPG's expertise will really help in our next generation of products," Mr. Cameron said.

Prior to its acquisition by PPG, PRC-DeSoto already held a solid position in the OEM aerospace market. Five years ago, the company began to target the refinish business with the launch of Desothane high-solids exterior topcoat, the company's first global product launch.

Desothane HS topcoat is based on a chemical structure PRC-DeSoto described as star polymers. The polymers allow for very low viscosity throughout the pot life of the coating and allow it to cure fully in a short amount of time. The topcoat has low viscosity, long wet-edge and low sensitivity to humidity, according to PRC-DeSoto. After one year in service, aircraft painted with Desothane HS topcoat showed gloss and color readings at or near to their original readings, according to the company. The product, which does not contain excess isocyanate that can lead to build-up of photo-sensitive urea, is resistant to UV light and sulfur dioxide. Desothane HS topcoat has been formulated as a comprehensive set of tint bases that can be blended to provide any color. Products can be delivered globally in a matter of days, according to the company.

Mr. Cameron acknowledged a major reason for Desothane's success. "Desothane HS is doing exceptionally well because of its possibility of fast-dry times." PRC DeSoto's major customers, such as United, Continental and Southwest, find that with Desothane HS, maintenance crews can repaint the aircraft more quickly, in some cases one or two days faster for a large commercial airline jet, according to Mr. Cameron.

Offering OEM and refinish products is essential to PRC-DeSoto's future success. "We see the refinish business as very strong," Mr. Cameron said. "Airlines will always repaint."

Major airlines will always add to their fleets too, purchasing new jets from major suppliers Boeing and Airbus Industries. The competition between the the two is intense and each company is actively vying for business. For example, on Oct. 11, Boeing Business Jets-a joint venture with General Electric started in 1996-announced 10 new orders; at the same time, Airbus announced that British Airways had signed an accord to purchase as many as 24 jets.

Since Boeing and Airbus dominate the market and supply airplanes to every major airline worldwide, it is essential that companies offer products that meet the needs of both manufacturers. "There is somewhat of a change in the airline business. More companies are purchasing both Boeing and Airbus. It is important to be qualified for both," Mr. Cameron said, noting that PRC-DeSoto is.

Smaller Companies Fightfor Their Fair Share But not every company in the aerospace market is as large as PRC-DeSoto. There are still a number small- and medium-sized manufacturers competing in the marketplace. Among them is Randolph Products, based in Carlstadt, NJ.

Randolph Products was started in 1932 by W.G. Randolph in a hanger at Teterboro Airport in Teterboro, NJ. Sixty-seven years later, Randolph Products is still a family-run business but has grown into a firm of 65 employees based in nearby Carlstadt, NJ, just a half-mile from its original location.

To survive for 67 years, Randolph needed to offer something different from the majors. "We're unusual in that we manufacture a wide-range of paints and specialty coatings that a lot of people stopped manufacturing," said John Randolph, technical director.

Randolph Products' offerings include military, industrial and aircraft finishes, including Ranthane polyurethane, a two-component polyester polyurethane finish that features extreme durability, gloss and color retention. Highly resistant to abrasion and offered in 42 standard colors, Ranthane can be custom matched, according to the company.

Randolph Products supplied paints in World War II, and still has those formulations available today for aircraft restoration efforts. According to Mr. Randolph, the Smithsonian has used his company's coatings.

The military market is a major one for Randolph Products, which manufactures approximately 5,000 different military specification paints. Among them are an infrared reflectant paint, Air Force Mil-C-85285 high-solids polyurethane, and CARCs (chemical agent resistant coatings) which resist radioactive atomic fall out and the absorption of anthrax, mustard gas and agent orange.


The Reliability Issue R&D chemists have created truly high-tech formulations that are more reliable than ever before. "Paint is so durable, the military doesn't repaint as often," Mr. Randolph said.

While the military is painting less, maintaining its fleet is still a costly endeavor. According to Mary Marshall of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in San Antonio, TX, the U.S. Air Force spends about $700 million per year on corrosion prevention, maintenance, stripping and painting aircraft, and is always looking for new ways to improve aerospace coatings to help keep costs down.

The Air Force has recently extended its contract with SwRI which focuses on improving aircraft paint and coating reliability and maintainability. The $1.2 million contact extension will allow SwRI scientists, engineers and technical staff to support the Air Force Coatings Technology Integration Office (CTIO).

According to the CTIO, the most recent tasks placed on the contract will provide paint and coatings integration-related services for three major projects. Projects focus on assessing the durability and corrosion-control performance of a new class of commercially available aerospace coatings, developing a revised Air Force aerospace material specification for cleaning solvents, and the identification, testing and evaluation of new equipment to improve application processes to improve paint adhesion. However, another aspect of the project might spell bad news for paint makers: SwRi is also assessing appliques and adhesive materials as alternatives to traditional coatings.

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