The adage, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it," certainly does not apply to what's occurring in raw material suppliers' R&D labs. Most raw material suppliers ac-knowledge that the main focus in R&D labs today has shifted from developing entirely new technologies to improving existing products and materials.
This trend has been noted both in the U.S. and Europe. "I believe that at the present time, the levels of truly pioneering research and development being undertaken in the laboratories of Europe's coatings manufacturers and their raw material suppliers is, if judged by historical standards, somewhat limited," said Richard Holman, head of research, Paint Research Association (PRA). "There seems to be little activity underway which might result in the emergence of really innovative coating technology."
He added that much R&D effort is being directed towards pragmatic, short- and medium-term goals, such as improving utilization of raw materials, the quality of existing products and the efficiency of manufacture and application processes.
"This current dearth in real innovative research may owe something to the prevailing world economic climate," said Dr. Holman. "I suspect however that in Europe, at least, the consolidation of the coatings industry through recent acquisition and mergers, has contributed to a restriction of longer-term blue sky, R&D strategies."
Nowadays, customers want it all-high performance, cost effectiveness and environmentally compliant ingredients. And they also expect these ingredients to be tailored specifically to their unique needs.
"End users want quality performance at a reasonable price," said Gary Ceska, vice president of technology, Sartomer.
"The coatings industry is being continuously challenged to come up with cost efficient, environmentally-friendly coatings that also offer the same, if not higher, performance levels," said Steve Awadalla, marketing manager industrial coatings, UCB Chemicals.
The sagging economy has certainly effected the raw materials market. Paint companies are looking for ways to reduce costs and raw material suppliers must respond to this demand in order to stay ahead. Raw material suppliers are well aware that cost is key.
"The slow economy has driven the paint companies to reduce costs," said Greg Ross, industry manager, Johnson Polymer. "The new products over the last year have been driven by lowering cost," he said.
One of the biggest challenges is delivering the desired performance at the lowest possible cost, stated Pat Dawson, global vice president, Dow oxide derivatives. "The coatings industry is continuously looking for improvements that can be achieved at a lower total formulation cost. This requires the use of high efficiency solvents to reduce solvent requirements for both high solids and water-based coating systems."
This market-driven research has shifted focus from new product development to improving existing products so that they are more cost efficient and deliver the same or better performance. Raw material suppliers that Coatings World spoke with cited a variety of reasons for this research environment, namely paint companies' intense focus on reducing costs and keeping inventory low, the rise in use of waterborne systems and the prohibitive cost of registering new materials, such as biocides.
"The cost of registering a new biocide active for the industrial market is so prohibitive that any new material would have to be a product that would be so overwhelmingly superior to be used to replace most other materials worldwide to justify expense," said Izzy Colon, vice president, science and technology, Troy Corp. Suppliers must ask themselves, "Where do I want to spend my R&D dollars, searching for a holy grail or do I look at improving what exists," he added.
While a large portion of raw material suppliers' R&D efforts have been centered on cost reduction, there have been advances, particularly in the growing areas of environmentally-friendly UV and waterborne materials.
"Research laboratories are having to respond to environmentally driven market and legislative demands, for example, by seeking means for reduction in VOC emissions through focused work on the appropriate newer coating technologies like high solids, waterborne powders and rad-cure," noted Dr. Holman of PRA.
Troy has been concentrating a large portion of its R&D on low and zero VOC products. "We are switching a lot of things from solvents to waterborne dispersions or to completely aqueous solutions in order to meet the stringent new VOC requirements for paints," said Dr. Colon. "Although our products are not used at high levels in paint, in order to give the paint formulator the most latitude, we are bringing zero or low VOC products to the marketplace."
Mr. Ross of Johnson Polymer also acknowledged the trend. "Customers are looking to reduce VOC, preferably meet or exceed current performance benchmarks while achieving equivalent or lower cost in use in formulations." he said. "The actual formulated and applied cost are lower or at the very least equivalent."
Increased environmental regulations have had a great impact on R&D, proving to be challenging to both suppliers and manufacturers.
"Scientists involved with emulsion polymerization face a juggling act today when it comes to achieving environmental compatibility, regulatory compliance and high performance," said Francois Galloudec, business manager, emulsion polymerization, Cognis. "While European regulations are ahead of the U.S. regarding the use of APE-free (alkyl phenol ethoxylate surfactants, it is only a matter of time until the U.S. regulations will catch up with Europe. Canada is already starting to impose water waste restrictions on traditional APE-based surfactants."
As environmental regulations get increasingly restrictive, researchers have started to move away from traditional solvents and are looking for alternatives such as waterborne and UV-cure technologies.
"The drive towards water-based paint systems is bringing with it new requirements in pigment dispersing and rheology control technologies," said Andrew Grantham, international marketing manager for Avecia additives. "Older technologies in these areas tend to cause adverse effects (foaming, water sensitivity) and the challenge has been to develop new products that deliver benefits without the downsides."
The R&D team must work closely with manufacturers to ensure that products will be suitable for their specific needs.
Increasing performance demands and constant change in environmental regulations are placing challenging requirements on the 21st century formulator, said Mr. Galloudec. "Only close cooperation between the R&D chemists and their raw material suppliers can allow the raw materials components to be tailored to the end use application performance."
"The continued proliferation of regulations on the global chemical industry, coupled with the increasing demands of performance of the end used coatings and decreasing market volume, in part due to increased performance, has required a change in attitude of suppliers and coatings manufacturers," said Bradley M. Richards, manager, BASF automotive refinishing coatings R&D. According to Mr. Richards, the supplier can no longer survive with a short list of standardized products. Instead, the supplier and coatings formulating customer must jointly search through the customer's expertise and abilities to find the required solutions.
Top on any list of environmental concerns is the reduction of VOCs. "The drive to reformulate paints to reduce VOC numbers has become a top priority, especially on the west coast of the U.S.," said Alex Cornish, international marketing manager for Avecia protection and hygiene.
Another challenge is developing products that meet worldwide environmental regulations. According to Mr. Richards of BASF, labs are looking to find "solutions to the demand for globalization of product portfolios and the need to comply with the myriad of regional VOC regulations." He added that differing VOC regulations are not limited to the U.S., but are expanding, especially in western Europe.
The Future: Smart Coatings
As the economy begins to recover, R&D will begin to shift back to new product development. So what might be the next big thing? Innovative research is being done with regards to "cleaner coatings" and recycling coating waste.
"There is an interest in dendrimer based resins, powder and pigment slurries, low or initiator free radcure systems and powder coatings with dual UV-thermal cure," said PRA's Dr. Holman. "By way of a pointer for possible R&D direction, a phrase that is increasingly being heard is the smart coating."
These so-called smart coatings can respond to varying challenges to its environment, by changing color or self-healing. Included in this category are self cleaning and hygienic surface coatings.
"A range of raw materials are already available to formulators, some products exist and research interest in this field is increasing," said Dr. Holman.
Companies naturally want to get the most for their money, and material suppliers are meeting the challenge with a variety of value-added products. Here are some of the latest offerings from the raw materials suppliers Coatings World contacted.
Troy has recently brought out universal pigment dispersants to be used in both solvent- and water-based pigments, which can help customers reduce inventory. It also has a number of new in-can and dry-film products with zero VOC, including Mergal K10N, K12N, Troysan 399 and Polyphase 662, 663 and 678.
Sartomer's newest oligomer developments include hyperbranched (dendrimers) and metal containing oligomers. According to the company, the acrylated dendrimers provide high functionality and low viscosity at high molecular weight. The metal containing products provide inks, coatings and adhesives with enhanced adhesion, excellent pigment dispersion and the potential for obtaining reversibly crosslinked systems. In the non-UV area, Sartomer has new pigment dispersants; one type is a group of styrene maleimides that disperse pigments in aqueous media under acid conditions. Sartomer is also developing a series of amic acids based on styrene maleic anyhydride. These are pigment dispersants that can be used at high, low or neutral pH.
UCB has concentrated its efforts in the areas of higher scratch and abrasion resins; lower viscosity resins for spray and vacuum applied coatings and UV-curable polyurethane dispersions.
BASF's architectural coatings raw materials business unit has developed Acronal Optive 110, an acrylic emulsion engineered for high performance in semi-gloss applications at 150 VOC and Acronal Optive 230, an acrylic emulsion engineered for high performance in flat and low sheen applications at 50 VOC.
Cognis has introduced Disponil A, Disponil FES and Texapon, new environmentally compatible anionic and nonionic surfactants for emulsion polymerization. These products are APE-free biodegradable surfactants produced using primarily natural, renewable resources, according to the company.
Avecia's protection and hygiene unit has launched a number of environmentally compliant preservative systems. Its Proxel TN preservatives deliver cost-effective preservation without adding any VOCs. Avecia's additives business has just launched two new products, Solsperse 43000 and Solsperse 44000, that enable the paint formulator to produce highly pigmented, stable multi-compatible water-based pigment dispersions that have minimal impact on the water resistance of the final paint film, according to the company.
Silberline continues to work on application techniques for vacuum metallized pigments, to achieve a liquid metal appearance in metallic coatings.
Johnson Polymer has increased its manufacturing capabilities as a result of a long-term contract manufacturing agreement with Essential Industries, Inc. that enables it to use Essential's Fernley, NV polymer reactor plant. Last year, the companies announced a technology alliance to service polyurethanes and acrylic chemistries in the protective coatings industry.
Dow currently has a broad range of EO- and PO-based glycol ethers.
Among Ciba's latest offerings are photoinitiators for UV curing. Irgacure 819 provides excellent cure in pigmented or thick film applications and allows applications like automotive OEM, refinish and gel coats to be refinished with UV curing. Ciba has also just introduced a dispersed version of 819 called Irgacure 819 DW for waterborne applications. Both of these products are based on BAPO (bis-acylphosphine oxide) technology. It has also introduced two new products for the industrial coating marketplace. The Tinuvin 5000 series combines UVAs and radical scavengers in cost effective blends for industrial coating applications that don't have stringent color demands, according to Peter Schirmann, head, coatings business, Ciba Specialty Chemicals. "Additionally, we have also introduced a mid-performance line of cost-effective pigments, the Irgazin 2000 series. The series now contains unique reds, oranges and yellows," he said.
OM Group has continued to improve metal-based driers and additives and drier systems for both high solids and waterborne coatings. At the end of 2001, OMG acquired the Rhodia metal organics business, adding a production and R&D facility in Europe.