Lab Equipment and Computer Tools & Technology

By Kerry Pianoforte | August 11, 2005

Coatings companies and their suppliers are relying on a wide variety of technologies to improve efficiency, customer service and ultimately their bottom line.

A little more than a decade ago, the Internet was still in its early stages and few people could have predicted what a fundamental influence it would have on every facet of our lives. Nowadays you would be hard pressed to find a coatings company, no matter how small, that does not at least use the most basic computer-based tools. Larger companies have been implementing the latest technology, from interactive web sites to integrated computer systems, to help their businesses grow in this highly competitive business.

BASF Coatings has had a lot of success in its automotive OEM segment by utilizing information technology (IT). According to BASF, recent consolidations in the automotive market have resulted in a handful of global players, which in turn has resulted in the need for international networks and communication.

Resene's EzyPaint downloadable software program reduces the customer's need to have a full range of color charts. Instead, they can use the software to narrow down color choices, then view select color charts and purchase samples, according to Resene.

"The developments in the last decade have shown a clear trend from many small automotive manufacturers to just a few global players," said Herold Mahr, vice president automotive OEM coatings solutions at BASF Coatings. "As a result, international networks are beginning to spread and with this development, the demands on IT infrastructure are increasing as well."

According to Mahr, today's customers require innovative solutions. "They need solutions that highlight potential cost savings in the production process, solutions that are ecoefficient and solutions that raise the value of a vehicle by improving its appearance. In the areas of research, development, purchasing and production there are several crossover points to IT."

"The future will bring improvements in the planning process through better integration within the IT-systems of customers," continued Mahr. "Existing systems will be developed further with particular emphasis on themes such as quality and color matching." BASF Coatings is currently using a number of IT-supported systems including Colorcare, a system that ensures exact color matching between car body and automotive components.

Color matching and management is without a doubt one of the most important issues when dealing with paint and coatings. Resene Paint, a New Zealand-based paint manufacturer, knows this firsthand.

"Color is one of Resene's key offerings," said Danusia Wypych, technical manager, Resene. "With over 17,000 live formulations on the books, Resene developed an electronic-tint book that provides formulations to the tint point. Nightly updates keep formulations current and enable us to quickly return customized matches to the shops."

On the customer side, Resene's web site features a variety of functions including brochures, color tools such as a searchable color swatch library, downloadable virtual painting software, color charts and sample order service, e-commerce facilities and technical information.

"Our most advanced feature is Resene EzyPaint virtual painting software," said Karen Warman, marketing manager, Resene. "This has attracted the most people to our web site and while it is hard to directly link sales to a web site, it has certainly grown our brand and as the brand grows so too do the sales."

The web site also functions as a customer service resource and makes it easier on Resene's sales staff. "The web site saves reps from being constantly called for requests such as color charts and enables us to disseminate information without needing paper and without needing hundreds of people manning phones," said Warman.

Not only has its web site enabled sales representatives to be more efficient, it has also drastically hastened the pace at which business is conducted.

"Business is faster than ever," agreed Warman. "Customers can get direct access to the top so everyone is accountable. It is easy to share information, but information overload is becoming rife. E-mail is a great facilitator of business, but it can also stop you from getting anything else done by the seer volume and speed."

Technology and web site tools can help establish clear lines of communication between customers and manufacturers, as well as within their own supply chain.

"Computers and related technology have helped business become systemized so customers get a more consistent experience in terms of things like product availability," said Warman. "It has also broken down regional barriers that contractors used to experience when they had an account at one store but could not access their account or discounts at any other location."

Resene is currently undergoing implementation of a company-wide ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system, as well as introducing an electronic tint book to its stores.

Resene uses two systems to provide the best of both worlds to its formulating and production teams. "As part of an enterprise solution project that has been implemented within the company these two systems will migrate to MOVEX, enabling ever closer communication between purchasing, technical, production and accounts," said Wypych.

Computer tools and technology have helped in R&D, allowing researchers access to a wealth of information and enabling lab equipment to interact and operate more efficiently.

Suppliers of lab equipment to the coatings industry have developed a number of new products and software to help paint labs run more efficiently. These products offer users customized features that improve productivity.

The dyna-Mix from Glen Mills is fully programmable, allowing each product blend to be customized.
Datacolor offers Maestro, a software system that focuses on analyzing spectrophotometer performance, with the primary objective of ensuring agreement between spectros in corporate fleets and supply chains. Customers use Maestro to orchestrate color consistency and enhance productivity.

"Color tolerances in all industries are continually being forced to smaller and smaller values, which means that even slight inter-instrument measurement differences�which may have been regarded as insignificant in the past�may now very well mean the difference between accept/reject decisions," said Derek Finch, product marketing manager, Datacolor. "Therefore, reducing such differences in inter-instrument agreement has become crucial to establishing and maintaining a successful electronic color standards and acceptance program."

Customization is also a focus of Glen Mills. Its new 3-dimensional dyna-Mix features fully programmable operation, allowing each product blend to be customized. The dyna-Mix rotates the material on three axis, reducing mixing times. It can handle any size or shape container and is available from 50L-1200L, according to the company.

Despite the perception that the coatings industry is "mature," companies are utilizing the latest computer tools and technology to develop innovative products.

"We have access to more technical information through the Internet and e-mail communication that really opens up opportunities for our research and development staff," said Wypych.

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