According to analysts at Insight Partners, as of January 2021, India, Brazil, Russia, China, Italy, Iran, Spain, the Republic of Korea, France, Germany and the U.S. are among the worst-affected countries in terms of confirmed cases of COVID-19 and reported deaths.
The COVID-19 outbreak has been affecting economies and industries in various countries due to lockdowns, travel bans and business shutdowns. Chemicals and materials, and aerospace are among the major industries suffering serious disruptions such as supply chain breaks, technology events cancellations and office shutdowns as a result of this outbreak.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought the airline industry to a virtual standstill in 2020. Now more than a year later, airline travel is beginning to resume but drastically scaled back.
The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting PPG’s global businesses in many ways, some of which will extend beyond the current crisis. “In addition to reductions in the commercial aviation segment, customer operational changes have resulted in more frequent orders with lower product volume per order,” said Sam Millikin, PPG global director, coatings and sealants, aerospace. “We continue to adapt to changing market dynamics by partnering with our customers and providing value-added coatings products and solutions.”
According to Millikin full recovery of the airline industry is predicted to be slow and expected to last for two to three years before returning to pre-COVID-19 levels. “It’s expected that domestic air travel in most parts of the world should start to recover midway through 2021 and get to 2019 levels by 2022. The aerospace coatings segment will still be down next year in comparison to 2019, but we will hopefully see a full recovery by 2023, as air travel begins to return to normal and more people are comfortable traveling again.”
In the first quarter of 2021, Sherwin-Williams Aerospace commissioned Aircraft Maintenance Technology magazine to undertake an extensive survey of decision-makers in the U.S. MRO marketplace. The survey concluded that the pandemic had little or no effect on 44% of the more than 200 respondents. “That said, 29% said it did have a negative effect, and another 15% noted that it had a dramatic negative effect, said Julie Voisin, global marketing manager, Sherwin-Williams Aerospace Coatings. “However, 13% said that their business actually picked up during the pandemic.”
“The same survey we commissioned last quarter on the lasting effects of the pandemic found that 12% of US-based MRO facility owners/operators and managers felt the aerospace market would return to pre-COVID-19 levels this year: another 42% of respondents said they felt the aerospace market would return next year (in 2022); an additional 26% said the market would be back in 2023; and finally, the other 20% answered they felt the aerospace market would not return until 2023,” noted Voisin.
“Of course, a reduction in aircraft production has meant there is less demand for coatings,” said René Lang, director – head of Aviation at Mankiewicz. “And fewer flights mean reduced liquidity for the airlines and refurbishment programs. This resulted in not only a decline in demand for coatings in general but also more spontaneous call-offs and an increased focus on smaller maintenance programs.”
On the product side, Lang noted an increased demand in the interior sector for its “hygienic coating systems.”
“In addition to the customary high requirements of the official technical OEM specifications, resistance to new disinfectants has become much more relevant,” said Lang. “But as our topcoats are particularly stable to chemicals, the results are very positive overall…the focus has been very much on efficiency and reducing process costs. We were well prepared for this, as our coating systems are already geared toward lean process management with significant cost advantages that surpass the standard during the development phases.”
All indications are that the airline industry has at least several years to recover from the impact of the pandemic. “The aerospace market has suffered an unprecedentedly severe collapse,” said Lang. “Market recovery will depend heavily on how we get the pandemic under control worldwide. Passenger confidence through overall hygiene concepts and the political decisions on lockdowns, flight bans, and so on, will play important roles in the recovery of the industry. It is our opinion, in agreement with various experts in the industry, the commercial aviation industry will certainly need two more years to return to the levels it had in 2019.”
Meeting Customer Needs
Now more than ever, delivering a product that meets all the requirements of its customers is key. Reducing coatings weight on aircrafts has long been a top priority. Lowering the weight of an aircraft improves fuel efficiency, resulting in significant operating cost savings and reduced gas emissions.
One specific weight-reducing product is PPG AEROCRON chrome-free, electrocoat (e-coat) primer, which is used to coat structural parts by electrodeposition instead of a traditional spray process and provides a more uniform film thickness on the part. This can result in up to 75% weight savings on highly complex parts.
“When working through innovative solutions and technologies for aircraft coatings, reducing weight is just one of the many considerations that go into PPG’s aerospace coatings products – superior appearance, ease of application, durability and product quality are all of value to our customers,” said Millikin. “Aircraft painters, maintenance operations and airframe manufacturers have also quickly adopted basecoat-clearcoat. PPG DESOTHANE HD basecoat-clearcoat product line provides additional value to our customers by providing outstanding appearance, excellent service life and faster processing time. Potential weight savings is possible but it depends on application and complexity of aircraft livery.”
New pretreatments and primers are also being developed that offer many attributes. A few years ago, PPG launched PPG DESOPRIME 7530, a chrome-free, wash primer that customers can apply with electrostatic spray equipment. “This technology combined with PPG Desoprime 7065 polyurethane primer offers an excellent alternative to current chromate wash primers. PPG’s chrome-free primers support our customers’ needs to eliminate the use of chrome and provide environmentally sustainable products while offering the potential for reducing weight, increasing productivity and decreasing the total cost of ownership,” added Millikin.
Aerospace coatings customer needs are centered around three key areas: Faster processing times; excellent durability; and the application of thinner films to save weight. Sherwin-Williams is meeting these criteria with its SKYscapes basecoat/clearcoat system.
Designed to enhance productivity, SKYscapes paint processing times have been reduced by 30%. This is because the paint cures or reaches its optimum hardness at ambient temperatures in half the time of other single-stage systems, which often take as much as 6-10 hours. That means less time – and cost – in the shop, meeting customer demand for faster turn times. SKYscapes is ideal for aircraft paint schemes with multiple colors, stripes or elaborate designs, which can be time-consuming. It also incorporates improved film thickness for greater weight savings. The whole system is finished with a clearcoat that provides improved system durability.
“Since fuel consumption is the biggest cost driver for airlines and the weight of the aircraft, in turn, has a large impact on fuel consumption, it is always a major focus for all players in the industry,” said Lang. “Therefore, it is not surprising that the paint must be optimized to save weight, inside and outside. Mankiewicz aviation paints are optimized for low film thicknesses, few layers and with particularly smooth surfaces on the exterior, which minimizes any disturbance to the airflow. In addition, state-of-the-art painting processes help keep the film thicknesses exactly within limits, and even when hand application is used, for example, the Wild Spraying process, which is unique to the Mankiewicz BaseCoat/ClearCoat system, helps save paint: Instead of applying the most frequent color, the least frequent is applied first. It is traditional to spray the most used color first (mostly white), followed step by step to the least used color. Between each of these applications, negative masking is required and this involves lots of time, manpower and masking material. The hiding power of the BaseCoat turns the painting process on its head and results in massive time and material savings.”
The repaint cycle depends on the airline, region and original coatings technology applied.
Millikin said PPG is seeing the repaint cycle increasing and going beyond the traditional five to six years, but this is not becoming the new standard yet.
Both PPG Desothane HD basecoat-clearcoat and PPG Aerocron electrocoat primer provide potential opportunities to increase productivity. PPG Desothane HD basecoat-clearcoat technology offers higher chemical resistance and higher erosion protection that can extend the life of a paint job. Airlines can operate their aircraft longer with fewer repaint cycles.
“PPG Aerocron primer, where metal parts are dipped into an electrically charged tank containing primer, offers significant process time savings,” said Millikin. “Thermal curing occurs in about 30 minutes, while spray primers typically require seven days to cure fully. As a result, parts can be coated and put back onto the aircraft more quickly, so aircraft are back in service sooner.”
There are a variety of reasons why airlines choose to repaint or change their livery.
“Aircraft are being repainted and/or changing their livery for a variety of reasons – the plane may be sold, leased to someone new, reached its required maintenance checks, or the owner just wants something different,” said Voisin. “In the business jet world, it would not be unusual for the plane to be repainted every five to seven years. As far as commercial aircraft, it is more related to the required maintenance checks and the amount it is flown.”
According to Lang, using higher quality products mean airplanes need to be repainted less frequently.
“Thanks to the long-lasting properties of the BaseCoat/ClearCoat system and the superb gloss finish of the ClearCoat, aircraft painted with our coatings still look as good as new years later,” noted Lang. “About 13 years ago Mankiewicz painted the first aircraft with the BaseCoat/ClearCoat system for an airline focusing on long-haul flights in regions of high UV exposure. Even now, this aircraft is still flying with the original coating and continues to impress with its brilliant appearance. Despite the fact that high UV exposure and long-haul flights puts every coating system to a hard test, continued observation of this pioneering project has shown that the gloss and color retention are outstanding, which is why the system enables significantly longer maintenance cycles and less cleaning. However, repainting cycles are generally much shorter than this.”
Sherwin-Williams is focusing future aerospace coatings product development around strategic initiatives – faster paint system processing times, improved environmentally friendly options, color and effect expansion, and application efficiencies leading to thinner films to save weight.
“Thanks to strong, well-established relationships, PPG’s R&D team is constantly in contact with our customers to better understand what product features will make their jobs easier,” said Millikin. “This allows the company to evaluate its formulations to ensure they are meeting the evolving needs of our customers to develop products that protect and improve the aesthetics of their assets – from appearance to weight to compliance with future regulations on the environment, health and safety. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we have continued to work on new and innovative coatings solutions to better serve our customers.”
“The most important development project is presently the replacement of products that have been tried and tested for a very long time, offering such a large property profile and having such a strong responsibility,” said Lang.“These are anti-corrosion paints that conventionally contain chromates. These structural component coatings protect the backbone of an aircraft. They are no longer accessible after new aircraft are built and must perform safely and efficiently for around 30 years, withstanding all challenges. If they do not, the lives and health of passengers are in direct danger. Due to their critical importance, the EU has also granted this type of paint an extension under REACH, which was applied for jointly by other end-users and manufacturers.”
Mankiewicz is also moving toward chromate-free primers for environmental and health purposes and has introduced these to the market. Such systems are currently being continuously improved and optimized.
“The work on chromate-free systems in our company is well advanced,” said Lang. “As these systems are very important, a battalion of tests must be carried out and fulfilled. We are working flat out to ensure that flying continues to become safer and more environmentally friendly as well as more sustainable, as well as safer for the processor.”
“We are also working on many exciting developments for the future in the interior sector. Besides all the important design and functional aspects, however, antimicrobial is no longer just a convenient feature, it has become an absolute necessity. We are strongly focused in this direction on the R&D side.”
New Product Offerings
Within the last five years, PPG introduced a solar-heat-management coating system that helps keep aircraft passenger cabins cooler, a significant development for aircrafts operating in hot weather environments. PPG’s solar-heat-management coatings technology is based on the development of novel pigment dispersions technologies that increase the transmittance of near-infrared energy, or heat, through a dark coating and increase the subsequent reflection from a white under layer.
“The technology is modeled after the eggplant, which naturally remains cool to the touch even when exposed to intense sunshine,” said Millikin. “The eggplant’s dark purple skin does not absorb near-IR radiation but transmits it to the white interior flesh, where it is reflected and transmitted out through the skin.”
“Similarly, the skin of an aircraft painted with the new PPG heat-management system remains as much as 25°F cooler, while interior cabin temperatures are reduced 5 to 7°F,” Millikin added. “In addition to being an energy saver for airlines that need to run auxiliary ground units and air conditioning systems to keep the cabin comfortable on the ground, this technology gives airlines greater freedom in choosing aircraft livery colors.”
With this technology, PPG’s heat management coatings address three important customer concerns: energy costs, color choice and heat protection for composite parts.
JetPen is one of Sherwin-Williams’ new products. “The JetPen, which launched in the last year, allows users to touch up chips, dings and scratches quickly and easily in a onetime use on aircraft,” said Voisin. “This two-component touch-up pen contains Sherwin-Williams aerospace coatings that can be used on aircraft exteriors and cabins at any point during the painting process.”
It can be used at the maintenance facility when doing some quick touch-ups but also used at the customer site later.
“It provides a perfect match with previous primers, clearcoats and a variety of topcoat colors for systems such as Jet Glo Express, SKYscapes and Jet Flex. At Sherwin-Williams Aerospace Coatings, we’ve already made color selection and coating application simple. Now users can touch up aircraft with the same ease.”
CELEROL IntermediateCoat 990-09 is a selective strippable system from Mankiewicz, now qualified by Airbus and Boeing.
“After aircraft have reached the end of a maintenance cycle, they must be repainted according to OEM specifications,” said Lang. “To avoid adding unnecessary additional weight, the old paint system must first be removed. This is normally done by chemical stripping. Chemical strippers usually work well on the aluminum skins of aircraft. However, modern aircraft such as the Airbus A350 or Boeing 787 are chiefly made of composite materials, which can suffer from a chemical stripping process. The only alternative would be to sand down the old coating layers: a mechanical process that is labor intensive and costly. It also results in the painting process getting very long, requiring the aircraft to remain longer on the ground for maintenance and consequently impacting the airlines with loss of service revenues.”
“For that reason, OEMs require what are known as a selective strippable system for aircraft made of composites,” he added. “This consists of a barrier layer that prevents the stripper from attacking the layers below it and the composite, which remain completely intact. As well as making the time-consuming process of sanding down the aircraft unnecessary, it also saves reapplying the basic primer and the exterior primer.”
The CELEROL IntermediateCoat 990-09 is by its robustness, its simple and safe application and providing significant savings of time and cost. The system allows the use of special chemicals for stripping, making it safer for the environment as well as for the staff using it.