The major trends in the global coatings industry revolve around environmental concerns and the reduction of VOC emissions, reducing energy costs, improving productivity and improving performance. These four factors are driving companies across all segments of the coatings industry to look for alternative coatings technology. As a result, radiation curable coatings represent the fastest growing coatings segment because they offer numerous advantages including rapid curing process, less scrap, small footprint, less work in process, a reduction in utility usage, reduction in VOCs and improved performance.
"Ultraviolet (UV) and electron beam (EB) coatings have tremendous environmental advantages over solvent-based finishes. The local air regulators along with the EPA continue to tighten emissions standards, which drives business either to areas of lesser regulation or to more compliant coatings," said Don Hart of Mid America Protective Coatings. "UV/EB coatings are easy to recycle since they do not dry until they are exposed to UV light or EB radiation. Most UV/EB coatings can be recycled almost indefinitely unless contaminated. Solvent-based coatings contain petroleum derived solvents that do not add to the final coating but still must be purchased in order to apply the finish.� �
"Additionally, UV/EB finishes can usually be applied and cured in less than one-half the plant space of a conventional finish line," Hart continued. "And the energy required to dry/cure a UV/EB coating is usually about one-third that for a thermally cured coating."��� �
UV/EB coatings offer a much quicker processing time, added Kristy Wagner, UV commerical products senior chemist, RedSpot Paint & Varnish Company. "Lower processing temperatures enable the use of plastics with a lower heat distortion temperature," she said. "UV/EB coatings have been able to pass more chemical resistant testing due to the crosslinking involved in the curing process. Also, UV curable coatings tend to have a higher gloss than water-based coatings." �
UV/EB Coatings Market Analysis
The state of the current market for UV/EB coatings is very strong and continues to grow. "The market analysis I have seen shows that UV coating technology is growing between 8-13% on average over the next five to seven years," said Timothy Tanner, vice president of business development, Ecology Coatings. "While EB technology is showing growth it lags behind UV. I have seen a great deal of interest and desire to implement UV curable technology across all different segments of the industry."
Representing 1.82% of all coatings globally, and predicted to increase to a 2.2% share by 2012, the total value of global radcure coatings in 2007 was $1.410 billion, up from $1.325 billion in 2006, according to The Chemark Consulting Group, a consulting firm focused on the coatings, adhesives and sealants industries based in Southern Pines, NC.
Demand for radcure coatings in North America was strongest at 54,100 tons valued at $505 million, up from 51,872 tons valued at $485 million in 2006. In the EU demand was just behind at 52,000 tons valued at $484 million, up from 50,000 tons valued at $465 million the year before. Growth rates for the North American and EU markets for 2007 were 4.1% and 3.8% respectively.
Rest of the world (ROW) markets for radcure coatings were valued at $347 million in 2007, up from $325 million the year before. Together growth in the ROW markets in 2007 slowed a bit from 7.8% in 2006 down to 6.5% last year. While China is still by far the fastest growing market it too slowed down from 11.9% to 9.9% last year.
In 2008, Chemark estimates global radcure coatings will grow at 5.9%. Growing at a rate of six percent per year, the radcure coatings market globally will reach $1.790 billion by 2012, the firm said.
"Radcure systems are perfect for coating two-dimensional objects requiring fast throughput rates, immediate packaging capability, clear-coats, exceptional hardness and scratch resistance, and fad resistance," said Phil Phillips, managing partner, Chemark.
Therefore, such products as automotive headlight lenses, overprint varnishes, wood and plastic flooring, stamping foil, eyewear, vinyl wood grain, photographic film, plastic tubing, plastic road makers and clear acrylics for pipe are but a few examples where radcure coatings are ideal, according to Phillips. �
On the flip side, Phillips said radcure coatings are not economically practical when items to be coated are three-dimensional. "Three-dimensional items have recessed shadow areas where the UV curing mechanisms cannot easily 'see' the coatings in those recessed areas to be cured," explained Phillips. "Improvements have been made but not without compromises in process line speed, hybrid curing mechanisms and post-product handling."
Other limitations occur with pigmented radcure coatings. "These are limited since the UV curing mechanism cannot easily transverse through the pigment particles and search out the oligomer to cross-link very efficiently," said Phillips.
Wood flat stock traditionally has been and still is the greatest growth area for radcure coatings. "The trend in radcure coatings market of flat two-deminsional wood products will continue at a high level of growth capturing more market share," said Phillips. "Plus this segment of the market will enjoy the benefits associated with the trend in North America that is seeing a greater percentage of floor space shifting to wood versus carpeting."
UV/EB technology is becoming more dispersed over more markets due to acceptance in markets that did not use UV/EB a decade ago, according to Hart. "UV/EB coating technology is being used in the metal coatings market, and some exterior coatings markets that were only dreamed about ten years ago," he said. "The wood market is expanding due to concerns over emissions and is always looking to increase efficiency since finishing wood tends to be a labor intensive process."
At the same time, the auto OEM sector is the slowest market to accept UV/EB technology due to the extensive testing that must be done on coatings in this market, according to Hart. "The general health of the auto sector also has slowed the adoption of a new technology that requires capital investment," he added. "The plastic sector is rapidly adopting UV technology due to the increases in curing speed and the low temperature cure that this sector generally requires."
Discussing the auto OEM market in further detail, Phillips said this market continues to covet the promise of radcure coatings including fast throughput, hard and tough coatings, improved smoothness and DOI, and space savings that would allow orders of greater magnitude at assembly plants. "However, the current model for coating a car would have to be completely changed and only a new 'greefields' plant would be a potential option for the coating of automobiles via radcure today," he said. "Importantly, those same drawbacks of three-dimensional object configuration mentioned above would eliminate the unadulterated use of radcure coatings even in a new 'greenfields' plant with today's technologies."
On the refinish side of the auto market, there is a great deal of buzz in this area, according to Tanner. "It seems many of the major UV/EB resins and coatings suppliers are working to commercialize the UV/EB technology for the auto refinishing market, but it may be a few more years before this segment develops and sees sustainable growth," he said.
One of the major barriers to growth in the UV/EB coatings segment is the high initial cost of investment required to switch over and implement the new system.
"While the UV/EB market continues to grow despite the down turn in the economy, we are not seeing as many new start ups due to fewer people investing in capital equipment," Wagner said. "There are still finishers who are interested in all the advantages of a UV system until they find out the cost of the equipment. So the investment is considered a disadvantage to some. However, the return on investment can be made up quickly. When all things are considered, it is still economical to switch to a UV system."
"The initial cost of equipment is still high," concurred Hart. "Even a simple spray and cure unit for small parts can cost $100,000. More complex spray and curing units can cost between $250,000 to $500,000," he said. "This market has been dominated by many European firms and prices of imported equipment has risen recently due to the increase in the value of the Euro to the U.S. and Canadian dollars. More manufactures have entered this market in the U.S. and thus given the manufacturer an alternative to imported equipment."���� �
However, as both the market and technology evolve it is likely that in the future anytime there are flat or near-flat two-demensional substrates requiring clear or semi-clear topcoats, radcure coatings are likely to be under consideration.
Chemark believes there are some significant breakthroughs coming to the market in the near future through advances in nanotechnology. "For example, one such breakthrough will occur with electronically sensitive nano tubes designed into the radcure coating, which will allow curing to take place in the shadow areas of three-demensional surfaces," Phillips said. "Also, near nano-sized pigments will allow fully pigmented coatings to be radcure coated and cured at high throughput speeds."
Tanner also discussed the evolving role of nanotechnology. "Ecology has been successful in implementing nanotechnology into UV curable coatings," he said. "The nanoparticles provide formulators with the ability to incorporate and combine properties that have never been achieved previously, allowing for the ability to gain adhesion and performance on all types of metals."