In the Air With AkzoNobel Aerospace Coatings

By A.S. Richardson | August 15, 2011

Punching above its weight the aerospace coatings market is relatively small in terms of volume, but attracts a great deal of attention.

Whether it is the “big boys toys” image that some people find attractive or just the high tech label that aerospace coatings carry, the market is a focal point for discussion both in the coatings industry and in the aerospace market itself.

When a new aircraft rolls off the end line paint shop, the standard of the paint job carries a huge influence on the viewer’s opinion of the overall quality of the aircraft. The color scheme itself reflects the airline’s brand more than any other part of the aircraft. It conveys the brand image and a good or bad paint job will influence this image one way or another. After all, who wants to get on an aircraft where a repair was made using a roller. The aircraft itself is probably just as safe as one that had been spray repaired but it looks bad.

Aside from aesthetic appeal, at the other end of the spectrum, aerospace coatings are expected to perform in harsh and demanding environments. For example, a few microns of structural primer is expected to protect an airframe for 20 to 30 years without being maintained as is the case in the wing box of an aircraft, which once primed is never to see the light of day again.

Market overview

At AkzoNobel Aerospace Coatings we split the aerospace market into sectors. This is because different parts of the aerospace coatings market behave differently and have different drivers and trends with the larger overall market trends.

There are currently four major global commercial OEMs that dominate the market: Airbus, Boeing, Bombardier and Embraer. New manufactures such as China’s COMAC and Russia’s Irkut are expected to become bigger global players over the next five years or so and Mitsubishi will join the regional aircraft players, where Bombardier and Embraer are now the main players.

The aircraft OEMs operate large backlogs, which currently stands at a total of approximately 7,000 aircraft. This means that they have a number of years worth of production even when the economy is down and new orders are low. This market dynamic helped carry coatings suppliers through the last two turbulent years when the airlines were cutting back on their paint schedules due to cost controls that were implemented during the recession.

A large part of the coatings procurement for aircraft is in the structural coatings area. It is estimated that there is up to five times the amount of coating used on the structure of an aircraft compared to the exterior livery of the aircraft.

Airlines tend to paint their aircraft every three to five years depending on a number of factors. It is often more common for an airline to paint its aircraft due to either a change in livery (rebrand) or to fit in with a maintenance schedule then it is because the paint looks too degraded. Additionally, many of the airline’s aircraft are actually owned by a lease company. Some of these leases are relatively short term and they must again be repainted when they go to a new airline. This means increased volume for the coatings company as a number of otherwise unnecessary repaints are carried out.

Nowadays there are fewer airlines that have their own painting facilities. In Europe they tend to be mainly the larger ‘flag carriers’ such as British Airways, Air France/KLM and Lufthansa. The majority of painting is carried out by specialist companies that will more or less take aircraft from anywhere in the world. National boundaries do not exist in this world and over the last ten years or so there has been a great deal of market consolidation so that a handful of companies tend to dominate on a global level.

Apart from the exterior livery there also exists the interior livery or cabin coatings market. Many of the coatings inside the cabin of the aircraft are foil type coatings but there is still a large market for paint. Cabin refurbishments, renewal and maintenance occur on a frequent schedule. This work is often carried out by specialist companies and a great deal of effort goes into creating an environment with the right balance of ambience and durability.

Market growth forecast

While the market is increasing in both build rate at OEMs and in revenue passenger kilometers (RPKs) the aerospace market runs in cycles. We see an increasing trend upwards but then every five years or so there is a glitch and a fall in the market. However, the recovery after each glitch is quicker both in how long the downturn lasts and how quick it recovers. Examples of this are the Iraq War, SARS, 9/11 and the global recession of two years ago. We are already seeing coatings sales at pre-recession levels.

It is expected that the market will increase at just over three percent over the next few years, on a global level, with higher figures for the Asia Pacific region and slightly lower in the developed markets, such as North America. Air traffic is expected to grow over the coming years by around five percent in Western Europe and North America compared to around 13 percent in the emerging markets. Current estimates differ slightly but in terms of numbers, but the current global commercial aircraft fleet is estimated at around 20,000 aircraft growing to around 40,000 by 2030.

The aerospace coatings market itself is expected to grow at a slightly higher rate than the increase in new aircraft build as there will be a higher number of larger aircraft in the market.

Aerospace coatings technology

There are a number of drivers in the aerospace coatings market. The environment is a key player in these, with new legislation such as REACH in Europe, as well as a number of directives to control solvent emission globally. Both aircraft manufacturers and airlines have had to make sustainability and environmental commitments. This means that the manufacturers such as AkzoNobel have had to develop products with REACH compliant materials. At this time the big issue is how long chromates will still be allowed under REACH. AkzoNobel themselves want to stop the use of chromates in their coatings altogether but in a couple of markets there is a need, driven by customer specification to keep chromates until such a time that it can be proved that chromate-free alternatives give the same kind of protection in the same environments. Epoxy technology is mainly used for primers, both structural and exterior, with polyurethane technology being used for topcoats.

Reduced process times are increasingly required, both to ensure that the OEM can produce more aircraft but also to ensure that the airline can reduce the time the aircraft is on the ground, returning it to passenger revenue quicker. Low VOC, either waterborne (for structural application) or high solids dominate in new developments, with conventional products being used in steadily reducing volumes.

AkzoNobel Aerospace Coating’s Aerodur 3001 Basecoat and Aerodur 3002 Clearcoat is a superior basecoat/clearcoat coatings system specifically designed to meet the requirements of the commercial aircraft market and is currently going through approval against a number of Airframe specifications, having recently been approved by Bombardier. The Aerobase Basecoat system is also under final qualification.

The basic idea of a basecoat/clearcoat system is to apply color in less coats than conventional high solids formulations, leading to time savings. For example, on a recent application, only one coat of orange was needed, compared to a number of coats when using more conventional high solids technology. This not only saves time in the application of the color but in the time taken to wait for each coat to dry, before applying the next.

Coupled to this, tape times are around two hours compared to eight to 12 hours and this means quicker masking and application of multi-color schemes. All these reduced application and taping times mean that, dependent on the refinishers shift pattern, an aircraft can be turned around in quicker times. Material usage is also significantly lower meaning that the applicator has lower emissions from the process and this helps companies meet their sustainability commitments.
The cosmetic appearance is enhanced by the application of Aerodur 3002 Clearcoat. This gives the color enhanced durability, less dirt pick up and therefore makes the aircraft easier to clean. A cleaner aircraft creates less drag and this contributes towards less fuel burn. The ‘wet look’ of the clearcoat helps to enhance the brand image of the airline.

Cabin coatings technology

Paint is used in aircraft cabins either in specific areas such as overhead luggage bins or in wider areas such as cabin walls, where an airline does not want to use foil type coatings. Often coatings can be used in aircraft cabins to provide a cost effective refresh or help as part of rebranding. The current systems on the market tend to be very expensive, in part due to the significant burn testing and certification needed to be applied on the inside of an aircraft or they are older technologies that do not comply to VOC regulations and therefore hinder companies who have sustainability commitments or specific regulations to meet.

AkzoNobel Aerospace Coatings will launch in September a brand new range of cabin coatings. The Aerofine brand stands for consistent, durable performance, easy application and value for money while also being VOC compliant. Most products in the line are waterborne single component products. They will consist of a waterborne topcoat, a waterborne primer/surfacer and a near solvent-free pinhole filler. These will be supplemented by a unique touch up repair kit that can be used between flights (i.e overnight). A mixing facility that can be installed within the customers hanger—Mix2win—means that small amounts can be produced around the clock to assist the MRO or help the airline get paint quickly when an AOG (aircraft on ground) situation occurs. This also reduced freight costs for the facility. The quick drying of the Aerofine products mean that process times are shorter then with solvent-based products and enable too the application of special effects within very short time periods.

AkzoNobel Aerospace Coatings continues expansion across the globe

AkzoNobel Aerospace Coatings is a global leader in the manufacture, development and supply of coatings for the OEM and MRO sectors of the commercial, airline and general aviation markets as well as the military aerospace and military ground equipment markets. Product names such as Eclipse, Alumigrip, Aerobase, Aerodur, Aviox and Intergard are just a few of the products renowned for their high quality, endurance and performance as well as their ease of application and cost-effective advantages.

In recent news, AkzoNobel Aerospace Coatings announced the qualification of their Aerodur 3001 and Aerodur 3002, Base Coat/ Clear Coat system by Bombardier Aerospace Materials and Processes Engineering. The exterior coatings system, qualified under BAMS 565-018 specification, comprises a chromate-free primer, a basecoat and a clearcoat. The system offers a quick drying time between coats, saving as much as 30 percent on process time and allowing even complex liveries to be completed more quickly before returning the aircraft to service. The fast-drying base coat provides opacity with less film thickness while the clear topcoat gives a superb and long lasting gloss and color retention that will help airlines to consistently project and reinforce visual identity. The smooth finish offers excellent weather resistance in addition to lower dirt adhesion and better cleaning properties.

In addition, AkzoNobel Aerospace Coatings also recently reinforced its position within the Chinese market. It is liaising with the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC) following COMAC’s approval of an interior, fluid resistant epoxy primer (463-12-8) and a high solids epoxy topcoat (21 series). The chemically cured, two-component primer offers high protection from chemicals, hydraulic fluids, aviation fuels and corrosion causing media. The topcoat is also designed to provide the same chemical protection as the primer whilst meeting low VOC requirements and is available in gloss, semi-gloss and flat finishes. 
AkzoNobel Aerospace Coatings, having established a number of Chinese locations, are delighted to be reinforcing their positioning within the Chinese aviation market and look further to develop their relationship with COMAC through the development of the C919 commercial, narrow-body airliner in the coming years.

About the author: A.S. Richardson is global market director at AkzoNobel Aerospace Coatings.
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