Yet even as coatings companies continue to improve their UV/EB technologies, a considerable amount of time is spent talking about transition costs rather than chemistry with potential customers.
A Bit Of Hand-Holding Helps
Coatings companies know that risks taken by OEM manufacturers can pay off-for their customers and their own bottom line. And many firms, such as Becker Acroma, are playing a large role in assisting customers with the transition process.
Dooria Kungsäter AB, a Swedish door manufacturer which was using a system that generated between 30-50 tons of solvents annually, wanted to move to a more compliant technology. In its quest, Dooria and asked Becker Acroma to partner with it in building a new coating line, which Sven-Åke Johnsson, chief technical and environmental officer at Dooria, described as "the biggest risk the company had ever taken."
The new line, which has been up and running for the past 12 months, features Becker Acroma Beckrolight, an acrylate-free, UV curing polyester primer which reduces fiber raising on MDF, a waterborne primer and Aqualight Top, a waterborne, pigmented UV topcoat. The system delivers Dooria a coating that is as hard and abrasion-resistant as the old solvent-based system, with less yellowing.
Similar success came at Burbidge & Son, a UK-based kitchen furniture maker that also wanted to replace solvent-based finishes. Over a two-year span, Burbidge invested more than £1 million on new finishing machinery and processes at its Coventry-based manufacturing facility. Becker Acroma UK developed a custom range of water-based stains, water-based UV curable lacquers and water-based UV curable pigmented finishes, which allowed Burbidge to reduce its VOC emission levels by more than 25%, while improving production efficiency and shortening lead times.
While companies are usually more hesitant to take risks in a sluggish economy, the good news is prices are dropping, which should fuel growth of UV and EB coatings, adhesives and sealants.
"We see the cost of equipment coming down sharply, including electron beam," said Jim Turner, business director, UV coatings group at Borden Chemical, Inc., which manufactures a variety of UV products for fiber optic cabling, CDs and DVDs, and other electronics applications. "The value proposition for UV/EB remains very strong. Raw material supply is expanding globally and costs have continued to come down. Performance-based applications are growing in use of UV/EB."
Borden has recently launched a trio of products for the media market, focusing on both pre-recorded DVDs, DVD-Rs and CD-Rs. DataShield 6-005, 6-008 and 6-001 offer performance advantages focused on improved processing speed and environmental performance. In addition, the company has added a pair of new fiber coating systems, KlearShield 1-005/2-005 and KlearShield 1-008/2, which offer "world class performance in attenuations and environmental properties and specifically with the 1-005/2-005, a significant advantage in cure speed," said Turner.
Auto Refinish: UV Brings Speed
In automotive, advances in radiation-curing technology have been under way for several years on the OEM level, with firms such as Red Spot, PPG and DuPont studying, evaluating and producing a variety of radiation-cured products. Now, radcure coatings are moving into the automotive refinish side of the business.
"The use of UV and radcure coatings is just beginning," noted Bradley M. Richards, manager, coatings research and development, BASF Coatings Technical Support Center.
BASF's initial UV refinish products, marketed under Glasurit and R-M tradenames, launched in November 2003. According to Richards, both are faring well. BASF is working on developing a new clearcoat that can be cured with UV light. This new product line is scheduled to be launched in the near future.
UV curing is valued for a number of reasons, most notably, its environmental friendliness and its ability to deliver a high quality surface with good mechanical properties. But the most obvious benefit of using UV technology in the refinish industry is speed. When using traditional technologies, the urethane is still curing when it's taken away from the heat source. Automotive refinishers must wait for it to more fully dry and crosslink before applying the next coat. This is not the case with UV curing.
Where traditional urethane coating can be cured in hours, with UV it's a matter of minutes. "In the case of UV, it is virtually 100% crosslinked and is solvent-resistant within a few minutes. You can immediately apply the next coating." According to Richards, this makes the process much quicker without fear of losing quality of appearance. "We can do each one of those layers in about five minutes, using merely a UVA lamp as a source of energy," he said.
"There are many tangent benefits that go with the speed benefit," Richards added. "The biggest benefit for a body shop manager is they can do more jobs. If you shorten the process you have more space and the potential for more revenue."
The high quality of the finished product also makes UV curing a viable choice for body shops. The technology offers quality of color, gloss and distinctness of image. "Ultimately the objective of a refinish body shop is to make invisible repairs so that consumers cannot tell it has been repaired," said Richards.
Partly limited by the size of the lamps that provide UVA energy and the fact that it currently cannot be used for clearcoats due to discoloration, UV can't entirely replace urethane technology, but there is a growing demand for it.
"We don't think UV is going to entirely take over but we do think it will be a strong companion to traditional coatings," Richards said.
How committed is BASF to increasing UV coatings usage in the automotive market, both on the OEM and aftermarket level? The company has invested E1.2 million to expand its activities in UV curing coatings with a new R&D center in Münster that will house a pilot plant for coating complex three-dimensional parts and large components.
"We want to consistently research and advance all aspects of radiation-curable coatings," said Klaus Peter Löbbe, president of BASF Group's coating division and CEO of BASF Coatings AG. According to Löbbe, the most important objective of the plant is the development of new coatings for use in the automotive industry.
The new 3D pilot plant offers the possibility to use the existing experience, gained from coating flat surfaces, on the coating of complex three-dimensional parts and large components.
"This multi-functional chamber is the first of its kind in Germany," said Karl-Heinz Joost, technical head and coordinator of the UV center. "In this pilot plant, coatings can be cured thermally or by means of UV radiation under defined conditions, i.e. fixed parameters for temperature and humidity, for example. The use of protective gases such as nitrogen is also possible. An ingenious material lock and transportation technology, which also includes a revolving table, provides for the mobility of the parts in the steel box ensuring that the beams of the UV lamps reach every nook."
More Than A Pretty Face
In the cosmetics, fragrance and personal care categories, where packaging is as much about fashion as function, products must standout on retail shelves, and UV coatings play a significant role in creating the look that does just that.
And as often is the case in the paint industry, the average customer doesn't wonder how that pretty pearlized finish was created on her perfume box, or what gives her favorite bottle of shampoo that frosty look or her mascara wand that high-gloss shine. Many times it's a UV coating that helps impart a special finish as well as a protective layer against scuffs and scratches.
In the quest to create more attractive packaging, UV coatings are playing a dual role, said Dennis Bacchetta, marketing manager, at Diamond Packaging, a Rochester, NY-based manufacturer of printed, folded cartons. His company is currently working with several customers on new products that will use UV products for pearlized finishes and glitter effects in inks and coatings. Bacchetta noted, "The UV products are currently the best in creating those effects. These specialty UV inks and coatings are highly decorative and they also function by providing abrasion and scratch resistance."
Diamond also uses UV coatings on plastic cartons for a variety of effects, such as the PVC carton it created for New Dana Perfumes' Secrets by Dana perfume. According to Bacchetta, the UV coating imparts a hard, scratch-resistant surface on the plastic substrate.
David Rydell, director of technology and quality at Diamond, also spoke about the environmental benefits of UV technology. "They are all 100% reactive and contain fewer solvents," Rydell noted. "When they are exposed to UV lights, these coatings (and inks) are 100% cured and give off few VOCs."
Color Optics Inc., a Saddle Brook, NJ firm that offers pre-press services as well as commercial printing and packaging, also turns to UV coatings for beauty industry projects.
"The UV coatings and inks are significantly more expensive, but are also used to satisfy the needs of a particular substrate such a foil sheets, which do not accept traditional inks or coatings," said C. Stuart Howell, company president and chief executive.
UV coatings also have a role in finishing the actual container for many beauty products, such as mascara containers, lipstick tubes, compacts, bottles and jars.
"Overall, UV coatings play an important role in protecting the parts we mold so that they look better, feel better and maintain structural integrity," said Carl Lombardi president of Lombardi Design and Manufacturing, a Freeport, NY-based supplier of injection molded packages and components for the cosmetic and fragrance industries. "Many of the plastic materials used in molding cosmetic components are susceptible to scratching, abrasion and product compatibility issues, so by treating these parts with UV coatings, the packages become more adept at surviving the rigors of day-to-day use without showing it," Lombardi explained.
Lombardi uses UV coatings often, especially for cosmetic components such as compacts and cosmetic cases. "These types of parts tend to take a lot of abuse in pocket books and cosmetic kits where they are carried around and bang into other sharp objects such as keys and cell phones. This causes the surfaces to become scratched and the decoration to wear off," Lombardi added. "With a sprayed-on UV coating, the compact will look newer longer, which is a necessity especially for premium cosmetics."
UV coatings are also important for protecting metallized plastic parts. "Metallized parts have a lacquer coating that is susceptible to chemicals that can eat away at the finish. So here we overspray the metallized parts with a UV coating, making them more resistant to chemical abrasion, as well as scratching," said Lombardi.
Techpack-CMI, New York, uses UV coatings on many of the mascara wands made by its Henlopen division. The coatings provide scratch and scuff resistance. "It's a high-end finish that can also achieve special effects such as pearl or metal," said Cathy Alex, director of sales for Techpack/Henlopen.
Alex did acknowledge the added cost of using UV, however she said the benefits outweighed the drawbacks. "It's an added operation and cost, but it's less expensive than making the wand out of metal. UV coatings can also cover some 'sins' of molding such as streaks or scratches," Alex noted.
Crown Risdon, Watertown, CT, applies UV coatings to some of its plastic beauty components at its Barre, Ontario plant. Recently, the company needed a UV coating that would work on polypropylene and impart a fine, glossy, metallic finish. The finish also needed to be durable enough to protect the piece, but not so hard that it would not accept hot foil stamping.
The solution was a hybrid. "After the UV curing, it's best if the components can air dry for 24 hours," said Tod Chamberlain, product engineer at the Barre facility, "but the finish does everything we wanted it to do."
Inoac, a Bardstown, KY injection molder that specializes in jars and bottles, is another proponent of UV technologies. "We use UV coatings to protect the bottles from scratches and scuffs as well as to give a frosted look. The bottles are molded, sprayed with the UV coating and then cured," said Paul Horgan, company vice president of sales. "The biggest advantage is that the process is faster than conventional coatings that must be heat cured."
Different Businesses, Similar Needs
Whether multi-national cosmetics company, a local body shop or a cabinet builder, business goals are similar when it comes to finishing needs: all demand coatings that will help them enhance the performance of their own products, enable them to be compliant with regulations and maintain profit levels going forward. So whether it's a sleek new lipstick, dented SUV or Shaker-style drawer front, radiation-cured coatings can deliver, but only to those willing to make the switch.
About the authors:
Janet Herlihy, Kerry Pianoforte and Christine Canning Esposito contributed to this article.