Industrial Coatings

By Tim Wright | June 13, 2006

Intense competition combined with raw material price increases and overseas competition is forcing industrial coatings manufacturers to invest in energy-efficient technology to stay alive in this market.

In general, the North American industrial coatings market, which covers non-automotive segments such as construction, appliances, machinery and home furnishings is relatively healthy, reflecting an improving economy, manufacturing growth and rising productivity, according to coatings manufacturers Coatings World spoke with.

The major challenges faced by industrial coatings suppliers in today's market include global competition, the high cost of energy, strong increases in raw material costs and increasingly strict environmental regulations. Coatings companies are responding to these challenges by continuing to develop more cost-effective and efficient coatings and coating application processes.

"Despite these factors, we still see the manufacturing economy as being relatively robust at this point in time and obviously, our business trends with the manufacturing sector," said Ken Burton, president, Finishes Unlimited. "We anticipate that the market will level off but be steady for some time. Already we are starting to see some early signs of this occurring."

However, he expressed concern about North American manufacturing being shipped overseas. For the coatings industry, especially for small- to mid-sized companies, this trend does not bode well. In the U.S. coatings companies have invested heavily to develop VOC-compliant, environmentally friendly coatings that are more durable than many of their solventborne counterparts.

"They are normally more expensive than the coatings they replace but they do a better job and enable industrial companies to meet government regulations, make their plants better for their employees and improve our environment," Burton said. "As more industrial companies have their products manufactured in foreign countries the downside for us is that these products come back to the U.S. already finished. Many foreign production facilities do not face the same environmental restrictions as companies in the U.S. so they can apply lower cost, high VOC coatings that can't be used here. As an industry, we are not receiving a fair return on our investment."

As efforts by manufacturing companies to reduce VOC emissions from their plants continues to be a major trend driving the market forward, other industrial coatings market trends reflect consumer demands for more color choices, lower curing temperatures for bake enamels, shorter dry times for air dry coatings, increased corrosion and moisture resistance, resistance to marring and fingerprinting of home appliances, and improved durability of coated surfaces.

Related to the desire to lower VOC levels and improve plant conditions, manufacturers want to lower the operating cost of its coating operations. Sometimes this can be achieved by switching to a lower cost coating while at other times, the answer is helping them achieve higher transfer efficiencies and reduce coating consumption by identifying changes that can be made in the application process, according to Burton.

"A growing number of manufacturers want 'just-in-time' delivery arrangements to avoid carrying large coating inventories and to be able to switch coatings quickly to match their own 'just-in-time' order delivery commitments," he said. "They require continued technical service to help them match coating formulations and application processes to new products or production schedules."

In North America one of the leading trends in the construction industry, including the commercial, institutional and residential sectors, is the use of energy-saving and environmentally friendly designs and building materials. "Almost everywhere we look, 'green' is in," said Tom McKay, product/marketing manager, BASF industrial coatings business in North America. "Coatings makers, of course, have responded with 'greener' products that reflect heat-generating sunlight more efficiently and include more energy-efficient application processes."

Besides developing coatings that help save energy, coatings companies continue to work on improving the weatherability of coatings used in exterior applications such as metal roofs and walls, building trim, and garage and entry doors among other applications. "Other objectives include better resistance to abrasion and other kinds of damage, as well as improved color consistency and color matching," McKay said. "Like other coatings companies, BASF is also working on UV-cured coatings. These offer coil coaters the potential for faster and more energy-efficient coating operations."

Energy Efficient Technology

In terms of R&D, the next frontier for industrial coatings is to further develop greater aesthetic value and energy efficient solutions.

"Great strides have been made in developing 'drop in' liquid paint replacements for old solventborne technology," said Burton. "These replacements are more durable, require little capital to make the conversion, are environmentally friendly and normally offer lower total operating costs when considering all the costs associated with solventborne. They are also much safer for the employees."

On the technology side, BASF continues to invest heavily in coil and extrusion coatings research, with a focus on energy-saving solutions that also meet customer requirements in efficient application, end-use durability and aesthetics.

One increasing trend offering energy efficient solutions to the construction industry has been the development of "cool roof" technology. While many building roofs are coated with hot tar or black rolled asphalt because of their sturdy nature, these materials do nothing to cool down temperatures during the hot summer months.

Cool roof technology, in contrast, coats the roof surface with a reflective material that can lower the temperature of a building's roof by up to 100 degrees, producing lower interior temperatures and reducing cooling costs by up to 50%, according to EPA.

Earlier this year, EPA recognized retailer Target, for its use of the cool roof technology on most of the chain's 1,397 stores in 47 states.

Cool roof coatings are white liquids-the consistency of thick paint-applied over an existing roof structure. They can be applied over a traditional roof to achieve energy savings, and extended life span and protection from weathering and ultraviolet radiation. The new surface can last 10-20 years, depending on coating quality and the thickness applied.

Not only does the technology reduce energy costs, it also benefits the environment. Reduced energy demand means less burning of fossil fuels, which create the air pollution associated with smog, acid rain and global climate change. By reducing the amount of energy needed to cool buildings, cool roofs help reduce these air pollutants.

Several years ago BASF introduced its Ultra-Cool line of coatings to the construction industry. Recently, the company introduced Super SP II Ultra-Cool Jet Black, the first high-reflectivity polyester coil coating that meets both the definition of "jet black" and the industry's increasingly strict standards for cool coatings, according to the company.

Although cool roof technololgy has been available in a wide range of colors, including medium and dark tones, the company said not all dark colors were able to meet cool standards. Moreover, attaining a truly cool black, especially in siliconized polyester, has been an elusive goal for coatings companies. The cool colors closest to black were dark grays or dark browns. As a result, architects and building owners who wanted to specify a truly energy-efficient, black or dark-colored roof were limited in their choices, the company said.

BASF's latest development in cool coatings represents a technological and aesthetic breakthrough. With a solar reflectivity of at least 25%, the new coating offers the metal roofing market a new range of dark colors, including a true black, that meets cool standards.

"For the first time, designers and owners that want a really black roof will be able to obtain an accurate color match in a cool coating," said McKay. "Of course, the ability to make a cool 'blacker black' means we can also improve the coolness of other dark colors. That's important because the industry continues to raise the bar for what it considers 'cool,' and we can help designers keep up with those standards without giving up color choice. In addition to improving the reflectivity of siliconized polyester, we're also developing a cooler Ultra-Cool coating in PVDF technology."

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