In 2010, ICA, a group based in the central-Italian city of Civitanova Marche, in the province of Macerata, that is one of Europe's leading names in the manufacture and marketing of special coatings for wood, initiated the Arborea Sun project, which is intended to analyze the performance of its water-based coatings for exteriors, in collaboration with its technology partner Q-Lab, an accredited laboratory for the durability testing of materials. Q-Lab was established in 1956 in the United States; it is based in Ohio, and has a presence in Germany, the UK and China.
The products used in the guaranteed coating cycles have been analyzed, tested and enhanced for more than a decade by the ICA R&D laboratory. This has allowed the company to verify the effective resistance of its products and, as a result, to guarantee a durability of more than 10 years. The tested and guaranteed cycles include the topcoats of the PLUS and Nanotech ranges.
The tests, which were then summarized in the relevant test reports, encompassed natural weathering processes due to exposure to atmospheric agents such as the sun and water; and accelerated weathering processes using a patented Q-Lab system.
The natural weathering processes were carried out at the Q-Lab testing station in Homestead, Fla., and involved testing the performance of ICA coatings in warm/humid climatic conditions. The quantity of energy produced by solar radiation (6588 MJ/m2) and the percentage of relative humidity (70 percent) in this location give a clear idea of the severity of the test and of the substantial stresses to which the coated wood sample was subjected.
The effectiveness of the coating cycles was also tested under conditions of exceptional exposure by putting the products to the test in the desert of Arizona, where the sun exposure is around 20 percent higher than it is in Florida. The warm/dry climate of Arizona is characterized by very intense sunlight, very high temperatures, reaching up to 46°C during the summer, minimal rain and very low humidity. Over the course of a year, the average energy in the form of solar rays striking the sample amounts to 8,000 MJ/m2. As such, the extreme temperature shifts between day and night put the wooden surface, and the coating film applied to it, under considerable stress.
In addition, ICA has activated the accelerated weathering program called the Q-TRAC Natural Sunlight Concentrator.
This patented system makes it possible to concentrate, by means of a series of mirrors, the solar rays on the panel to be tested. In this way, the natural sunlight concentrated on the samples puts the coating film under substantial stress.
During the day, a mechanism makes it possible to track the movement of the sun in order to guarantee maximum exposure at all times. Moreover, from sunset until sunrise, the sample is subjected to a cycle of humidification using pre-programmed sprays. The test is, then, extremely tough, due not only to the energy involved but also due to the artificially generated humidity.
The test conducted in Arizona combines the rapidity that is characteristic of an accelerated weathering test with the reliability of a complete spectrum of natural sunlight. By analyzing the amount of solar energy involved, it can be stated that a six-month cycle with Q-TRAC in Arizona corresponds to five years of natural exposure in Italy.
For more than two decades, ICA has been developing water-based products for exteriors and has, therefore, accumulated a wealth of experience in the field that allows it to select very accurately the raw materials and formulations that are best suited to their use.
The weathering tests conducted by third parties complement those conducted by ICA's in-house laboratories, which for their part provide crucial information in relatively short timeframes.
Right from its very earliest formulations of water-based coating products, which date from the late '80s, ICA has used its R&D laboratories to conduct exterior durability testing on an ongoing basis. Since 1996, the chemical/physical department at the laboratories in Civitanova Marche has also been conducting in-house artificial aging tests (QUV).
ICA's collaboration with highly qualified partners, as well as the research carried out in its own labs, together provide the best guarantee of the seriousness of ICA's approach and of the reliability of its products: their durability is ensured both on the basis of current technological standards and on the basis of the results of multiple aging tests. The constant evolution of the raw materials and formulations has enabled ICA to offer warranties on its products for periods that, until just a few years ago, would have been unthinkable, but are now entirely realistic. For ICA, dealing with its clients in a respectful manner means not pretending that its products will last forever, rather, the company's approach is all about offering cutting-edge products which deliver the highest levels of performance that can feasibly be achieved.
Alongside Q-Lab, the external laboratories with which ICA collaborates include Catas (Italy), WKI and IFT Rosenheim (Germany).