Automotive Coatings

By Mike Agosta | August 9, 2005

The automotive OEM coatings market is becoming increasingly reliant on service. Once the product is delivered, the real work begins.

Auto industry insiders predict that incentive programs will keep consumers flowing into dealerships in 2002. However, J.D. Power-LMC is forecasting 2002 global light vehicle sales of just 55.121 million units. This is down slightly from 2001 sales figures of 56.418 million units, but the number is more than respectable and not at all bad considering current economic situations.

Naturally, the state of the auto industry affects coatings sales. According to the Freedonia Group, global demand for automotive coatings is forecast to increase just 1.7% per year to 1.3 billion pounds in 2005.

A few large corporations dominate the automotive OEM coatings market. Of course, each must work hard to stay ahead of the pack in producing new and innovative coatings products and technologies, but more than ever, service is of prime importance. "We are in the services business," said Scott Follett, global director, total service solutions, PPG Industries.

Changing Needs
Companies like PPG and others recognize that shipping a product to a customer is only the beginning. Steps must be taken to help automakers properly use products and to help solve any problems that might arise both during the painting process and after cars roll off the line.

Suppliers of coatings to the automotive market are well aware of the demands placed upon them by automakers, and many have taken steps to ensure that their company does all it can to meet those needs.

BASF has initiated a "no headache policy" in an attempt to meet the needs of its customers. "The process of painting the vehicle is universally considered to be the most complex, time consuming and cost-intensive stage in the automotive manufacturing process," said Martin Laudenbach, group vice president BASF Coatings. "Our target is to provide our customers with coating solutions they can rely on, thus eliminating paint as a source for headaches." According to Mr. Laudenbach, this strategy is built on a concept BASF calls "triple customer focus" which covers innovation, partnership and worldwide presence.

BASF provides an environmentally-friendly, lead-free electro-coating, water-based surfacer and waterborne basecoats for the Volkswagen Beetle, manufactured in Puebla, Mexico.

Mr. Laudenbach added that efficiency is another key concept, and is a major goal for any coatings supplier. "Pressure to achieve improved efficiency comes from many fronts. BASF continually strives to achieve improved efficiency in the amount of time it takes to produce a coating that precisely matches our customers' color and performance requirements." He added that making sure coatings systems are applied with little, if any, need for touch-up, keeping material amounts down and working to achieve just-in-time delivery schedules are all of prime importance. "This helps us and our customers reduce inventory costs and meet all our efficiency goals," he said.

Meeting the demands of the customer is an unattainable goal, unless there is an established way for a supplier to document and address customer concerns.

BASF has launched a customized information system called Ensphere for automotive manufacturers. According to Mr. Laudenbach, the system enables BASF and OEM customers to collect, analyze and communicate technical data and general information across the process chain. That data is used to determine the influence of different material and application parameters on the coating. "Ensphere allows us to control variances within each process step. It facilitates vastly improved communication between BASF and our customers to better share information that will result in an improved final product," Mr. Laudenbach said.

"OEMs are all looking to be as cost effective as they possibly can," said Mr. Follett of PPG, which has also developed an innovative approach to meet customer's needs. Following a series of acquisitions and business ventures over the past 16 years, PPG formed what it calls its "total service solutions" group, a global organization made of two components: product components, which consists of PPG's specialty products group, including solvents, paint detackification products and other chemicals, and Optima Services, which consists of chemical management, tier two management, process management and supervision services. Through the Optima Services group, PPG manages areas of production for its customers.

"Our mission is to provide auto OEM and select tier one customers the best-in-class, value-added service products that are targeted at the reduction of total cost to our customers and the increase of shareholder value," said Mr. Follett. He also stressed that programs are tailored specifically to meet customers' needs. "Every plant is different. They don't come out of a can," he said.

"We are committed to providing customers with a cost-effective structure management program that maintains or improves safety standards, improves quality, reduces total cost, provides mechanism for continuous improvement and provides comprehensive on- sight service in product technology, application expertise and process optimization," added Pat Harshall, manager, Optima Solutions, North America.

In addition to its focus on economic efficiency, Optima Solutions also works to integrate improved environmental services into a customer's process. "We treat the services we perform in a holistic fashion," said Mr. Harshall. "We try to synergize and provide overall improvement in several areas to maximize production, maximize efficiency and reduce cost while reducing the effects on the environment."

PPG's approach, according to Mr. Harshall, allows customers to focus on their core strength�manufacturing vehicles�without worrying about things like the amount of solvent they are using, detackification chemicals or treating the water.

Robert Daily, color styling and marketing manager, DuPont Performance Coatings, says that color, more than anything else, makes a car stand out, and silver is definitely the color of the moment in the automotive OEM market.

Silver is Gold
Of all aspects in the automotive coatings industry that must be given attention, none is more noticeable than color. More than anything else, color is what makes a car stand out. And, without question, the color of the moment is silver. Industry estimates from color popularity surveys suggest that one out of every five new cars to roll off the assembly line is silver.

"Worldwide, silver is definitely the biggie," said Robert Daily, color styling and marketing manager, DuPont Performance Coatings. "It's hit big in North America, and it's been big in Europe for the last couple of years."

So why is silver, a color that's always had a presence in the automotive industry, so popular? The answer is simple, according to Mr. Daily. "I think the evolution of silver has to do with the fact that new car designs simply look good in silver," he said.

Haydon Williams of Haydon Williams International, a design consultancy with expertise in color, agreed. "Clarity of shape and form is prevalent in silver. You can see the lines of the car and the shape cleanly and clearly," Mr. Williams said.

The popularity of silver is also fueled by other areas, according to industry insiders. "We are also seeing consumer trends indicating that there is a movement in other consumer areas towards silver," said Mr. Daily. Many electronics, cameras, stereos and televisions feature the brushed metal look. "I think this has had some impetus to help silver along (in automotive)."
Yet, Mr. Daily warned that even silver can get stagnant, and companies should strive to make their silver unique and different. "Plain old silver gets kind of boring after a while, so how do you keep it a popular color that people want to buy? How do you make it look different, fresh and new?," he asked. Among the possibilities are "adding different size aluminum flakes to give the color some dimensionality, and adding some color pigments to give the silver a warm tone or a cool tone," he said.

It may be the most popular color today, but the vast majority of cars on the road are not silver. Following silver, white, red, black and blue are the next most popular colors, depending on the make, model and manufacturer.

According to DuPont, blue is showing strong signs of growth in the market and it is believed its popularity will continue to rise. "We are seeing a lot of movement in the category of blue right now," said Mr. Daily. "The events of September�and all the red, white and blue things we are seeing as a result�are helping to push blue along. Blue rose to fairly good numbers in 2001, and I think that strength is going to continue."

Mr. Daily said several shades of blue are making an impact, including metallic blues, elegant blues, light blues and even pastels. "What we are seeing, and what we are going to continue to see, are some very dark blues coming back to those rich almost jewel, gemstone-like colors made with mica-pearl," he said. "There are also some other pigment tools we can use to give us some dimensionality, some sparkle without being coarse looking," Mr. Daily added.

The growth of blue has, to some extent, come at the expense of green. According to Mr. Daily, there is a seesaw relationship between blue and green. "When green became popular in the early 1990s, blue was about 22% of the market, but it dropped down to about eight percent in the middle 1990s when green hit its peak. A lot of green buyers were previously blue buyers," he said.

Silver is expected to remain the most popular color in automotive OEM for the next few model years, according to industry insiders. According to industry surveys, almost one out of every five cars that rolls off the assembly lines is silver.

Despite the rise of blue, for the foreseeable future, most industry experts agree silver will continue to reign as the most popular color in the automotive market. "For the model year 2002, silver is still going to be the main color. The early numbers I am getting from some of the manufacturing sites indicate that it isn't going to change much. Automotive trends aren't revolutionary, they tend to evolve over time," commented Mr. Daily, who said automotive trends tend to last between five and seven years.

When it comes to the evolution of the industry, annual auto shows are where automakers showcase their products to the world and use concept cars to offer a glimpse at what the future may hold. At these events, it has become apparent that the bonds between all materials used in a car are more intertwined than ever before.

Building on the success of its Vision presentation last year, DuPont this year unveiled Synthesis, which utilizes 19 different DuPont technologies from 12 DuPont businesses as part of its holistic approach that reflects the integration of interior and exterior designs and addresses brand challenges.

DuPont's Synthesis design concepts are taken from influences outside the world of car design, such as urban motifs, nature, diverse textures and seasonal elements. "We are trying to step away from the traditional image of the car, and show outside influences and how they work together," said Mr. Williams, one of the designers of the Synthesis project. "It's akin to buying men's clothing. You can buy the shirt, tie and suit separately, but you don't see how they all work together until you see it together�and how they work together is what's important."

Chrysler has decided to shutter production of its popular Prowler in 2002. The company will offer its final run of 300 Prowlers in a new color, deep candy red. According to the company, the color will feature a new paint technology in its pearl coat that will make the car appear to sparkle in bright light.

Much like the idea of the concept car, the innovations depicted in Synthesis are not showing an absolute picture of the future, but instead the possibilities of coatings technology. "Synthesis is a projection forward�an imaginative leap forward�showing automakers possibilities they might want to explore," said Mr. Williams. "We are only starting to break ground on these new ideas. It's a vision, a way of putting things together for collaboration, a catalyst for starting new ideas. We're not saying this is the future, but it could be."

Products and Processes
Shifts in color preference are not the only trend that coatings suppliers must pay attention to in the automotive market. Concern for the environment is a major issue in the automotive industry, and suppliers must respond.

"Environmental footprints must be minimized for future automotive coating products," said Robert Matheson, technical manager for strategic technology, DuPont Performance Coatings. "However, this consideration cannot be allowed to overwhelm the other attributes of cost, handling ease, durability, film properties and appearance. Our goal, challenging, but achievable, is to decrease the environmental burden of automobile coating without sacrificing either performance attributes or degrading the environmental load in making or using the coating products."

Coatings companies continue to work on environmental technologies, such as waterborne, UV and powder coatings. According to Mr. Matheson, powder coatings "will have continued use in the future, but we don't believe it will completely replace liquid coatings. We are also working to demonstrate the feasibility of UV or dual (UV plus conventional heat) clearcoats and sealer coats."

Riding the Brake
According to J.D. Power LMC, after hitting an industry high in 2000, worldwide light vehicle (cars and light trucks) sales are on the decline.

PPG also is working to offer more environmentally efficient coatings technology. The company's Greencell Group is centering its research and development on several environmentally friendly products and processes that assist with the operation, cleaning and maintenance of a variety of coatings application processes. Among these are a biotechnology-based detackification process, which provides effective treatment of paint overspray and remediation of organic components through the use of naturally occurring microorganisms. The method also helps to reduce paint sludge volume, minimizing sludge-hauling costs and future liability, according to the company.

BASF has instituted an Integrated Process, which it calls the most significant representation of BASF Coatings' ECO2 product development and technical consultations initiative.

According to BASF, the company's Integrated Process enhances ecological performance by reducing emissions and eliminates the time-consuming and energy-demanding post-primer bake by using a wet-on-wet-on-wet process that features waterborne coatings and a powder slurry clearcoat. All of this is accomplished without compromising quality or the vehicle's finished appearance�and without a major retooling of application equipment, according to BASF officials.

DuPont has developed a wet-on-wet-on-wet process for a new white-pearl coating through an initiative with Volvo Car Corporation. The brilliant, white-pearl coating, seen on the Volvo S80, is a European first in waterborne topcoat technology, according to DuPont. Unlike previous white pearl waterborne technologies, this system has been designed to allow a wet-on-wet-on-wet process, without an intermediate bake step, to be used so that all three layers can be applied in one single passage through the spray booth. This waterborne tricoat system, which can be sprayed using a standard paint line, is the first to go into regular production in Europe, according to the company.

A Look Ahead
Success in the auto coatings industry relies heavily on being able to produce new and innovative products. Automakers are always searching for new products that can make their cars stand out from the pack in terms of appearance and performance.

Late last year, BASF launched a new line of experimental Constellation Colors for automotive coatings, which uses various technical approaches to make colors on vehicles visible at night. There are two systems being explored by BASF. The first uses a "retroreflection pigment" that illuminates cars when exposed to a light source, similar to that seen in protective clothing, street signs and safety markers. The second is a glow-in-the-dark coating that can be turned off and on via a low-voltage electrical charge.

PPG Industries has begun operations at its new $6 million electrodeposition coating (e-coat) application center at its automotive application development center in Troy, MI. The facility contains two full-size dip tanks that allow PPG and its customers to test and evaluate various primer products and processes. PPG contends it is the only global automotive coatings supplier that has two e-coat tanks and the ability to dip full vehicle bodies up to eight feet wide by eight feet tall by 25 feet long.

Two of the latest electrodeposition products from PPG earned the company R&D 100 awards from R&D Magazine. The Power-Prime coating system is a two-step process that applies corrosion protection and anti-chip primers to vehicle bodies and features the first commercial primer-surfacer to be applied via electrodeposition. Enviro-Prime 2000 electrodeposition coating is a lead-free product that features advanced resin technology that provides superior corrosion protection while offering the inherent advantages of previous generations, according to the company.

A joint venture between PPG and Behr Systems, Inc. has created Dynamic FlexColors, which enables coatings components and application technologies to work in conjunction to meet the level of flexibility required for five-day car and mass customization concepts.

Much like a concept car, DuPont's Synthesis presentation showcased several new color and decorating ideas and technologies that may grace the exteriors and interiors of automobiles in the coming years. Ideas for Synthesis came from several different influences, including natural and urban landscapes, and are targeted at different markets, ranging from youth culture to more refined luxury categories. Below are four of the concept areas shown during the event held in Troy, MI.

The system can paint an automotive body virtually any color on demand, according to the company. The patent-pending Dynamic FlexColors system operates on the same premise as a color computer printer, adding pigment to coating materials at the paint atomizer and can be used to apply colored primers, basecoats or tinted clearcoats. Currently, a prototype of the system is being tested at Behr's Auburn Hills, MI facility. The companies are working to enable existing higher volume production plants to benefit from flexible vehicle painting with the development of the Dynamic MiniBlend system. This system mixes colors in tanks on a just-in-time basis, according to PPG.

Many coatings companies are looking to alleviate the need for expensive and slow intermediate bake steps.

PPG has also been busy developing products that make a quieter ride. Audioguard acoustical coating is the first sprayable coating designed to reduce noise and vibration in vehicles, according to the company. Using proprietary high-solids polymer resin technology that cures to a tough film, the coating significantly reduces interior noise by providing enhanced vibration damping to body structures. It also reduces weight, cost and manufacturing complexity when used instead of hand-applied acoustic pads.

Meeting Demands
The automotive OEM market is a large and important market for coatings suppliers, and the job now entails far more than simply providing a product for customers. Increasingly the market is becoming heavily reliant on service. Once a product is delivered, the real work begins.

A car body rises out of the electrocoat dip tank at the BASF facility in Southfield, MI.

Suppliers must provide new and innovative coatings technologies that address a multitude of issues ranging from aesthetics to durability to efficiency to environmental compliance. "Our customers demand excellence in every aspect from the quality of the product, delivery, service, pricing and everything else we can or do contribute," said Mr. Daily. "Customers are scrutinizing us all of the time, so you can't slack on anything."


The List Goes On

The list of coating products available to auto manufacturers is long, and with suppliers constantly striving to find better, easier, safer and faster ways to do things, that list is growing ever longer. The functions of these products are as diverse as the automobiles they coat.

A major issue in automotive coatings has always been the ability of a coating to retain its like-new appearance. "Consumers told us that they rate vehicle appearance either very important or extremely important, and they are concerned about surface damage from things like shopping carts, trees or bushes and the wear and tear of car washes," said Victor Corrigan, director, global technology, of PPG's automotive refinish division. To combat this, PPG recently released a new clearcoat, CeramiClear, which provides protection from scratches and abrasions and gives vehicle surfaces enhanced durability and beauty. CeramiClear coatings consistently maintained their gloss, outperforming more conventional isocyanate-based clearcoats, according to the company.

PPG has also launched Bonazinc weldable primer. Applied before galvanized steel vehicle bodies and their components are stamped and assembled, Bonazinc provides enhanced resistance to corrosion.

A DuPont product designed for improved performance is SupraShield clearcoat. Laboratory tests indicate that this product should improve scratch resistance and overall appearance to new levels for commercial coatings systems, according to the company. SupraShield is a liquid based on new proprietary formulations that produce lower VOCs than other products.

BASF is developing TwinCure technology clearcoats. These materials use a hybrid curing mechanism where heat provides the basic curing, while a UV flash seals the surface for additional resistance to mechanical impact.

All suppliers must be wary of the effects their products have on the environment. Many of the products being designed today are safer than ever for the environment. PPG's GreenCell Group, which was formed specifically to explore environmentally safe coatings technologies, is investigating biosolvents, derived from nature, as an alternative to traditional solvents. In addition, the GreenCell Group is exploring bioremediation of cleaners, which use microorganisms to continually digest oil that is removed from the surface of substrates, providing a more stable process and reduced maintenance. The unit is also investigating the potential of biofiltration in the automotive market as a means of VOC abatement.

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