The double-digit growth rate levels of the mid-to-late 1990s are gone (but not forgotten) for the rad-cure market. Yet, this sector remains a bright spot for an otherwise mature and slow-growing coatings industry.
Coatings manufacturers continue to focus on rad-cure as a means to do one of two things: sell technologies to new customers or enable their current customers to switch to a better performing, faster curing and environmentally friendly option. However, the latter benefit-the environmental aspect-is no longer the main force behind the move to rad-cure, say industry insiders.
It's Not About Being Green
Rad-cure coating technology, which has long-been touted as a more "green" coating process for the manufacturing industry, continues to face competition from water-based and powder coatings. As manufacturers have more environmentally sensitive options to chose from, the driving force behind the switch to UV has changed. For companies that use UV-or want to-it's not about being green, but making green.
This trend has been recognized by the membership of RadTech International North America, the U.S.-based trade association representing suppliers and manufacturers of UV technology. According to RadTech International executive director Gary Cohen, productivity is the driving factor for many companies that are using or planing to make the switch to UV technology. They want rad-cure to help them make better looking, more durable products and get them out the door and into the market place faster than before.
And-you guessed it-they want to keep their costs in check too.
Although there are some markets and areas considered "old hat" in the UV coatings area, coatings suppliers still face the occasional case of sticker shock. Add this to issues stemming from a weakened economy, and it becomes more important for coatings companies to dispel one of the most common myths about radiation-cure technology: energy cure preparations are more expensive than conventional coatings.
|Above depicts a UV-curable 1K insulating coating process (Herberts Electrical-UV-Process) which is a combination of thermosetting and UV curing, from DuPont Performance Coatings.|
"In times where the economy goes down, the initial investments are sometimes a hurdle," said T. Kopp, business manager powder, DuPont Performance Coatings. "But using the UV technology offers many advantages. In the furniture industry, for instance, it is a very cost competitive coating solution, which additionally offers the ability to meet popular design requirements for curve-linear shapes and seamless edges."
According to RadTech, a quick comparison of the cost per gallon is usually the reason why energy cured 100% solids materials are considered higher in cost. The association contends companies must educate potential customers to look at applied cost per dry mil or per item coated to get the true cost of the UV technology.
"If you look at incorporating UV technology into operations strictly from the perspective of raw material price and the capital required to install the necessary equipment, the coating and application costs are higher than conventional methods," said T.J. Lepkowski, group leader, coatings, BASF Corporation . "What's vital to factor in are the unique properties of (the technology) that deliver net gains in cost savings."
Coatings companies involved in UV acknowledge that there are usually some additional out-of-pocket expenses for customers making the switch to UV from more conventional coatings, but the money is usually recouped rather quickly. "With UV technology, a cost reduction in the manufacturing process is possible in most industrial coating areas due to the increased productivity, hence the application of UV systems is not cost prohibitive in the beginning," said Peter Frese of DuPont Performance Coatings. "A new technology requires new products and a higher production capacity will justify the elevated prices for the UV systems."
The Need for Speed
Increased productivity is a motivating factor for any manufacturer of consumer goods and durables. This is especially the case in the broadband cable market, as Internet use continues to drive demand for broadband access to homes and offices.
DSM Desotech, Inc., which supplies UV-curable materials including coatings, inks and matrix resins, now offers Cablelite 9D7-463, a UV-curable tight buffer (upjacketing) material that meets cablers' need for a flame-retardant product that can be processed at high line speeds.
|UV coatings technology is everywhere, even on the slopes. DuPont Performance Coatings supplies ski manufacturer Atomic with UV clearcoats and|
According to DSM, short length access cables and premises cables, which have lower fiber counts, use tight-buffered fiber for easy access and handling and for quick splicing. These fibers have a built-up UV-curable or thermoplastic layer of 600-900 microns, which is in firm contact with the fiber. Cablelite 9D7-463 can be applied up to 900 microns and has been processed at speeds up to 600 meters per minute. In addition, Cablelite 9D7-463, is optically transparent, allowing easy identification of inked fiber and is stable between -40�C and +85�C and has excellent moisture resistance, according to the company.
As a leader in UV technology for the fiber optics industry, DSM has experienced rapid growth. Next month, the Elgin, IL-based company will re-open a manufacturing facility it acquired at the beginning of 2001. The $35 million investment marks the third new production facility for the company in three years. Other facilities were opened in Hoek van Holland, The Netherlands and Tsukuba, Japan.
The acquisition of the Stanley, NC plant will allow DSM to increase production capacity by as much as one third, and provide a central location for its North American fiber and cable customers. The company plans to expand production to include fiber optic coating materials and other specialty UV-curable materials including hardcoats, CD lacquers, DVD bonding adhesives and rapid prototyping resins.
DSM Desotech has also launched DesoBond optical adhesives, one-part UV-curable acrylate adhesives that provide excellent adhesion to multiple substrates and come in a wide variety of flexibilities ranging from very soft/ flexible to very rigid. Applications include bonding optical fibers, lenses, mirrors, prisms and other components that require a permanent bond. These are fast-curing adhesives, have low outgassing and high optical transmission (1310 and 1550 nm), and can severe climate conditions without disintegrating, according to the company.
DSM's other recent introduction, DeSolite recoat materials, build on the success of DeSolite 950-200 for the telecommunications industry, in which UV-curable recoat materials are used to protect optical fiber after the original protective coatings are removed for splicing. The line includes DeSolite 953-002, a colored recoat material that can be used to easily identify the splice location, while offering the same protection and ease of use as 950-200; DeSolite 3471-3-14, a higher modulus recoat that provides stiffer splices; and DeSolite 950-106, a low modulus, soft recoat suitable for applications where fiber may be extremely sensitive to stress.
Next time your favorite magazine arrives in the mail or you stop by the newsstand, take a whiff. What you smell could be Craig Adhesives and Coatings Co. scented UV coatings.
While some publication coatings fade quickly, Craig's have staying power, according to Pat Foust, president of the Newark, NJ-based firm. "Ours are different in that the scents stay with the coating versus others that disappear quickly," said Mr. Foust.
Craig took a cue from its success in encapsulation technology for fragrance scent strips and incorporated a polymeric scent into the coating which provides a longer lasting effect than oil-based fragrance.
Better Boxes and Bumpers
Speed matters, but so does quality. And as any coatings company knows, quality includes the finish as well as the finished product itself. Manufacturers want to ensure their product's finish is durable when it rolls off the assembly line whether it is a simple folding carton for a video tape or a bumper on a new pick-up truck.
Craig Adhesives and Coatings Company, a highly specialized UV technology company based in Newark, NJ, has extended its expertise in UV coatings for the multi-wall bag industry to the folding carton industry.
"We converted the multi-wall bag industry from water-based coatings to UV coatings about five years ago," said Pat Foust, president. It wasn't an easy task. The multi-wall bag industry had some stiff requirements that needed to be met, including high gloss, no odor and COF/slide angles-all of which Craig was able to provide in the UV coating, said Mr. Foust.
Craig discovered that the same chemistry would offer similar advantages and attributes to the folding carton market. Launched to its customers last year, the technology has already had an impact. "Our customers have told us that they get the same or better properties (gloss, slides, chemical resistance, etc.) as with competitive with UV's, but with only 70-75% of the thickness applied. It lowers costs without sacrificing performance," Mr. Foust said. By doing so, folding carton makers have been able to tally up to 25% savings, he added.
Performance was another issue faced by folding carton makers searching for a less expensive alternative to film laminating. "They wanted to switch to UV because it was cheaper, but it was never as good in terms of performance," said Mr. Foust. Another issue that caused problems for the potential success of UV was the ability to hot-stamp the carton.
As formulators increase the chemical and abrasion resistance of a UV coating, the ability to hot stamp diminishes and vice versa, said Mr. Foust. Craig's R&D team was able to balance this "see-saw" situation with new Liquid Laminate (6019MMHS) which is extremely abrasion resistant, has high gloss and can be hot stamped, according to Mr. Foust.
|Tell the kids: Shrek loves UV-or at least the folding carton packaging for the video tape does. Craig Adhesives and Coatings supplies the UV coatings for folding carton packaging suppliers, including the company supplying the box for the hit movie Shrek.|
Just as Craig Adhesives and Coatings solved problems for the packaging industry, BASF's UV R&D team answered the call from car and truck makers that wanted to use lighter weight materials like sheet mold compounds (SMC) on car and truck tailgates, hoods and fenders.
Although SMC is lighter in weight, it presented problems. Out-gassing of volatile materials from the substrate during the curing process, made SMC difficult to paint with standard coating systems that were thermal cured. The process caused defects on the surface of molded parts, leading to high repair rates and limiting SMC's viability for use in exterior class A body panels.
As a solution, BASF now offers DynaSeal, a coating cured in a dual process that combines exposure to UV light and a thermal cure. BASF currently supplies DynaSeal coatings to Meridian Automotive Systems' facility in Kansas City, KS where more than 700 rear fenders are produced and coated daily for Ford pickup trucks.
In addition to resolving porosity concerns, DynaSeal helps improve efficiency. Prior to DynaSeal, an in-mold coating used to coat the SMC rear fenders was delivered at five mils film thickness. DynaSeal is used at one mil film build, which results in paint product savings of up to 80%, according to BASF.
In addition to its use in the U.S., DynaSeal, which was named a finalist for a 2002 PACE award, is currently in submission at key European OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers, according to the company.
"DynaSeal prevents porosity defects in automotive coating layers by sealing the SMC surface," said Mr. Lepkowski of BASF. "For refinishes, a UV cured primer/sealer addresses a need for quick-cure, lower VOC systems. The focus for automotive OEM clearcoats is to improve scratch/mar resistance."
DynaSeal can also help a company's balance sheet. "For DynaSeal sealer, improved plant capacity, improved part quality and reduced repairs result in cost savings to our customers' bottom line," Mr. Lepkowski added.
Another growing niche for UV is the automotive refinish market. DuPont Performance Coatings and PPG Industries have both launched products specifically geared to help body shops. For this market, both firms are selling UV repair materials products, as well as the lamps needed to use them.
DuPont's entry is UV Quick Filler, an accelerated spot repair (20 sec. and no flash-off time) product. Easy to handle, the product is sold by DuPont with UV curing equipment.
PPG's entry is an aerosol-based UV-cured primer for spot repairs on car body panels. Sold under the Nexa Autocolor P110-5000 UV SpeedPrime and PPG Global D8080 UV-cured primer banners, PPG is selling the product with a "PPG-approved" UV lamp.
Officially launched at the 2001 International Autobody Congress & Exposition (NACE), with the PPG UV primer surfacer an area as large as 8.5" x 11" can be cured in just two minutes. According to PPG, the UV technology enables repairs to be ready for topcoating in less than six minutes-more than 45 minutes faster than conventional primer products. Another benefit of the aerosol application is less overspray, which helps collision shops to cut down on masking.
Waiting for a Rebound
As UV technology continues to help lower overall costs, increase production speeds and create more durable coatings, rad-cure's applications continue to diversify. And for companies selling UV technologies, these benefits will help the market surge again when the economy starts to rebound. But when it does, will UV's continued success come at the expense of other coatings in a company's portfolio?
Maybe so, but many firms recognize that they must supply a bevy of coating solutions for their customers, no matter the chemistry or application method, if they want to succeed.
Said Mr. Lepkowski, "BASF is not positioning UV technology against other coatings systems, but rather as a complement in the full arsenal of coating options from which customers can select to achieve the best properties."
Ethan Allen, a leading U.S. furniture manufacturer with annual sales of more than $900 million, is just one end-user that has realized the benefits UV coatings technology can deliver for wood products.
The company's Cherry Hill manufacturing division in Union City, PA, which switched to a robotic application system and a UV finish in late 1999, has since reaped financial benefits and environmental accolades alike.
In December, the facility was honored with the 2001 Pennsylvania Governor's Award for Environmental Excellence in recognition of its technology and finishing system which substantially reduced waste and air pollution.
Governor Mark Schweiker presented the award to representatives of Ethan Allen during a ceremony in Harrisburg, PA.
With robotics and automated equipment, Ethan Allen increased the accuracy and consistency of its coating applications. Pre-catalyzed finishes helped the company reduce the number of finish coats needed for its tables. And by using ultraviolet finishes, Ethan Allen reduced applying and curing times-and increased production by 25%, according to the Danbury, CT,-based company.
"Ethan Allen is using innovation and green technology to boost production and help the environment at the same time," Pennsylvania EP deputy secretary for pollution prevention and compliance assistance Robert J. Barkanic. "The company did not respond to a mandate or new regulations, but instead saw an opportunity to improve its business and reduce waste, particularly air emissions."
The success of the system at the Cherry Hill facility prompted Ethan Allen to expand the plant. The company spent $2.75 million on facility expansion and new equipment. It recouped its investment is just one year through $4.2 million worth of increased production, according to the company.
Source: The Freedonia Group, Inc.