Coatings manufacturers rely heavily on the R&D lab to stay vital in this challenging market. Developing innovative technologies and products is key to growth. Lab equipment suppliers must likewise innovate to keep up with their customers' ever changing needs.
Coatings customers are looking for a number of things when purchasing lab equipment. Not only are they looking for the latest technological advances in terms of equipment, but they also demand training, technical support and a variety of other individualized services.
Just like anybody buying a brand new car would never dream of purchasing it without testing it out first, purchasers of lab equipment also want to take their expensive equipment for a test spin before purchasing it.
"They expect to try our products prior to purchase, which is why we have an extensive rental flee and also our own test and development center," said Christine Angos, application engineer, Charles Ross and Son. "Customers visit our facility to prepare their own formulations on our equipment. Through testing and simulation, we prove our mixing technology as a viable solution and also come up with appropriate recommendations for scale up."
"Customers expect training and application support programs, preventive maintenance programs, calibration verification programs, typically for ISO certification, and the availability of extended warranty contracts from their instrument suppliers," said Hal Good, director of marketing services, HunterLab.
On-site services is an important offering for customers who cannot afford to stop production in order to return an instrument for repair. Brookfield Engineering offers its customers on-site services, where Brookfield's service technicians will visit their customer's facility and perform all necessary repairs and adjustments, in addition to providing tips and techniques to taking better measurements.
"Customers' expectations include fast response time for both inquiries and orders," said Alan Jaenecke, vice president, marketing, Taber Industries. "What has become more popular is the consultation part of the business. As our customers downsize, more of them are relying on expert opinion to help find ways to improve their product durability and solve quality control issues. This is possible with an in-house lab and dedicated applications engineers.
Improving upon existing products and developing innovative new products is the ultimate goal of the coatings R&D lab. Labs are under constant pressure to produce timely results. Customers are looking to produce homogenous and well dispersed finish products in a minimum amount of time. "The presence of lumps and agglomerates significantly extends cycle time as additional mixing is required to break them down," said Angos. "Over a period of time, extended processing can over-shear the product or modify its properties. Our customers are looking for mixing technology that effectively disperses powders and eliminates the formulation of lumps in the first place."
According to Stanley Goldberg of Glen Mills, customers are looking for devices to reduce materials into the nano-range, as well as the ability to scale up for commercial application without hassle. "What happens on the lab bench need not stay at the lab bench," he commented. "For producing nanoparticles, we have small scale mills that can comminute suspended solids to sizes below 20 nm. This is important for creating dispersions of compounds that would be unusable if too large."
"A high performance color measurement spectrophotometer is one of the most important tools used in the lab," said Good. "In addition to color measurement, the many additional functions including computer color matching, batch correction, colorant strength determination, opacity measurement and QC of raw materials."
Customers are looking for technology that is compatible with existing production equipment for effective scale up and quality equipment for repeatable dependable service.
"Customers expect equipment and application support," said Stewart Rissley, national sales manager, Premier Mill Operation, SPX Process Equipment. "Nothing is worse than getting equipment that can't do the job."
New products and services
Premier Mill offers a number of dispersers, horizontal media mills, basket mills, double planetary mixers for lab and pilot size applications.
HunterLab's latest product for the coatings R&D lab is the UltraScan VIS. The UltraScan VIS is a high performance color measurement spectrophotometer that measures the full range of human color perception in less than one second. It easily measures both reflected color and meets CIE and ASTM guidelines for accurate color measurement. Spectral data is reported every 10 nm and tristimulus color calculations are performed from 360 to 780 nm as recommended by the CIE. UltraScan VIS uses diffuse/8˚ geometry with automated gloss component inclusion/exclusion. It features two sizes of sample measurement areas of 0.75 inch (19mm) and 0.25 inch (6.3mm). Available accessories include a reflectance shelf to measure powders, pastes and liquids as well as wet sample port plate to measure wet paint.
Taber Industries has expanded on the flexibility of its Linear Abraser through the development of new attachments to generate scratch, mar and scuff damage. "Specifically they include a variety of scratch tips, multi-mar attachment, and brass brush holder," said Jaenecke. "In response to the requests of a few ASTM committees, our engineers have also spent the time to develop instruments referenced in existing standards, but not commercially available."
Charles Ross and Son's latest offering for the lab is its Model HSM-400SC-2 horizontal inline high shear mixer with I-Slim liquid/powder induction arrangement. The unit features a 2" modified rotor assembly that generates its own suction to draw powders or liquids from either a hose or wand and injects them right into the high shear zone where agglomerates have little chance of forming. The unit is belt-driven by a two horse power motor.
"This lab equipment is suitable for incorporating and dispersing hard to wet-out, low surface energy powders such as cellulose gums, alginates, fumed silica, calcium carbonate, titanium dioxide, dyes and pigments," said Angos. "It can likewise be used to emulsify immiscible liquids."
XiGo Nanotools offers the acorn area, an instrument designed to measure the surface area of particles or droplets dispersed in any liquid. This new generation technique utilizes nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) and offers many advantages in comparison with conventional, first generation, surface area instrumentation. The area is the ideal choice for fast analysis of solid particles of any size or shape.
AreaQuant software allows for ease of operation of the area. Suspensions and emulsions can be measured non-invasively, without dilution, in just a few minutes. No sample preparation or clean-up is required, significantly increasing sample throughput. The area fits in any lab and it has a small footprint. Important processes such as milling and grinding can be readily monitored virtually in real time.
On the software technology front Brookfield Engineering has recently introduced Capcalc32 software, a new tool for use with the company's CAP2000+ Cone and Plate Viscometers, a variable speed instrument ideal for R&D, as well as more detailed QC testing. The new Capcalc32 features Test Wizards that simplify running tests such as time to stop, which collects a number of data points at one speed; time to torque, which collects data until a target torque is reached; ramp, which collects data at several different speeds; curing, which characterizes curing behavior using a series of speeds and thix index, which calculates thixotropic index using two speeds. Capcalc32 has a new interface with menus, toolbars and dockable control windows that can be resized and moved to create a custom display, and a new plot component with a second Y-axis for more plotting and display options.