Coatings manufacturers know that in order to remain successful in this highly competitive industry, they must continue to develop value-added products that meet both the performance and regulatory demands of their customers. To achieve this goal coatings companies must invest a considerable amount of time and money into their R&D labs. Despite the upfront costs associated with investing in R&D, the end results are well worth it.
"We consistently invest one of the highest percentages of net sales revenue in research in our industry-currently four percent," said Douglas S. Cinoman, global R&D director, Rohm and Haas Powder Coatings. "The technologies developed in our R&D facilities will ensure the future needs of our customers are fulfilled, and that current requirements are met appropriately and in a timely fashion. We maintain modern facilities stocked with the best equipment, and that this capability is deployed in the correct places/countries to support the needs of our global customer base."
Rohm and Haas Powder Coatings has invested substantially in the latest equipment for its R&D labs. "We routinely acquire new equipment, and it is our intent to have the best and most modern tools to support both formulation and applications support for our global customers," said Cinoman. "Scanning electron microscopy, elemental analysis and FTIR represents just a few examples of tools that are used to solve application issues or surface defects. Also, as part of the global Rohm and Haas Company, we have easy access to state-of-the-art analytical and computer modeling and simulation tools that are employed in both short- and long-term research programs.
"Nonetheless, the real value is in the 'software'-the people, the collective expertise, how the work is prioritized, organized and delivered," he continued. "In the last few years we have placed considerable effort behind leveraging information technology to work smarter and more productively."
One of the primary goals of Rohm and Hass Powder Coatings' research efforts is cost reduction. "We continue working to drive our technology in ways that result in higher yields (more coverage per unit). Easier and more trouble-free application, thinner film thickness and lower energy cure," Cinoman said. "Our commitment to customers is to deliver the lowest applied cost coatings solution for their requirement. Superior powder technology combined with applications expertise and support will typically deliver a lower applied cost than can be achieved with cheap materials. An example of this is our HY polyester family, which we have supplied for over eight years. We intend to introduce a third generation of the HY products this summer."
R&D Activity heats up in China
Long recognized by coatings companies as a hot spot for growth, China has become the site of a number of new R&D labs for the coatings industry. Equipped with the latest technology, these labs are on the forefront of developing new technologies to meet the needs of this growing region as well as the global market.
Rohm and Haas Powder Coatings recently opened its second lab in China. "This lab works hand-in-hand with our Shanghai powder coatings plant and R&D center to get customers the products they need when they need them," said Cinoman.
BASF has recently opened its first research center for nanotechnology in Asia. BASF's Competence Center for Nanostructured Surface in Singapore involves a €13 million expenditure up to 2008. BASF already operates 17 development sites in Asia Pacific, but this is the first time the company is conducting research dedicated solely to nanotechnology in the region.
"This is a bold step for BASF and is one geared to helping us realize our ambitious goals in nanotechnology," Stefan Marcinowski, member of BASF's board of executive directors and research executive director said in a press release. "The new center will allow us to work more closely with highly respected research institutions in Asia and to attract top talent, enabling us to better serve our customers in the region."
Teo Ming Kian, chairman of the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) said, "We are delighted that BASF has selected Singapore to be a key node of their global R&D strategy. This is in line with EDB's aim to move Singapore from simply being a place to implement technology efficiently, to one where we also create first-of-its-kind technology and know-how."
Martin Brudermüller, member of the board of executive directors of BASF and responsible for Asia Pacific commented, "This center will help us better pick up new emerging technology trends. It allows us to strengthen our ties with innovative, technology-driven customers in Asia and open up new market opportunities. As part of our global research network, this center will also exchange know-how, competencies and innovative solutions with other research centers in our global network, for example, in Europe and the U.S."
The BASF Competence Center for Nanostructured Surfaces in Singapore will concentrate on nano-structured surface modification, which the company contends, could offer a solution to the problem of biofouling. Although no alternatives to the use of biocides are currently available, developments in nanotechnology could offer an innovative and environmentally friendly solution according to BASF.
DuPont Packaging and Industrial Polymers has also recently opened an R&D lab in China. The facility is located in the DuPont China Research and Development Center at Zhangjiang Hi-Tech Park, Shanghai. The new facility will support customers throughout the world on all research and development activities. According to the company, this new R&D facility confirms the long-term commitment to customers and leadership position of DuPont as a supplier of ethylene copolymer materials.
Pascal Rechatin, regional director, Asia Pacific, DuPont Packaging & Industrial Polymers said at the opening ceremony, "Our business has laboratories and R&D facilities in different countries and regions globally such as the U.S., Canada, Europe and Japan. The new R&D facility in China is the latest member joining our worldwide customer development and support network. The facilities all collaborate with one another to help increase competitiveness of our customers. This will help to enhance existing products, and bring new products to market more quickly, efficiently and cost effectively."
At the heart of the new R&D facility is an industrial scale nine-layer blown film co-extrusion line which will support the development of film structures for the packaging and industrial film markets. The line is capable of producing film structures with a film lay flat of up to 1.27 meters and from 30 to 250 microns in thickness. With a separate extruder for each layer, the line will be a versatile development tool, able to produce a broad range of structures including barrier films. The investment also includes a small lab scale three-layer blown film co-extrusion line for rapid prototyping and smaller scale development work. This equipment will be used to serve the packaging, consumer goods and industrial markets on a global basis. It will help customers in developing innovative solutions, materials and structures to boost their business growth.
In addition to new product development capabilities, the new R&D facility is also equipped with a variety of testing and analysis equipment. These include material identification and characterization testing. These capabilities will be used for trouble shooting customer problems, assisting customers to enhance product quality and optimize their production processes. Additional material processing facilities located in the China R&D Center include compounding and injection molding capabilities.
"We are confident of the industry's potential for expansion in Asia- Pacific region and worldwide. China's economy in particular is advancing quickly. By setting up the new R&D facilities in China we will strengthen our overall R&D capabilities and allow us to work more closely with local customers in China as well as in the region," said Tom Powell, chairman and president of DuPont China Holding Company Ltd.