China International Waterborne Wood Coatings Symposium was held May 30-31 in Dongguan, Guangdong province.
Approximately 500 people from furniture manufacturers, coatings producers, raw material companies, regulators and associations joined this two days conference, proving that the waterborne trend happening in China is affecting everybody’s business in this market.
According to a report released by China National Furniture Association, home furniture’s sales revenue and profit both have approximately ten percent growth in 2017. In addition, China exported a total of 51.4 billion dollars of home furniture in 2017, an increase of 4.54 percent over 2016, and imported 3.52 billion dollars of home furniture in 2017, an increase of 15.65 percent over 2016. Home furniture has been a large export area for China continuously for many years.
Waterborne coatings are expanding market share but from a low base
The furniture market in China is firmly controlled by B2B modules. And the B2B coatings market segment is called, by some industry experts, the industrial wood coatings. Opposite to it is the DIY(or retail) market, which has been shrinking because consumers are more willing to buy home furniture, especially bed and kitchen cabinets, instead of making them in home by themselves or by hired carpenters.
Due to regulation changes to reduce environmental pollution, the development of solvent-based wood coatings has been slowing down. With excellent properties, polyurethane coatings is extending their leading position and gaining more market shares in China. On the contrary, the shares of nitro coatings and unsaturated polyester coatings are taken away by other coatings technologies. Solvent-based coatings still hold most of the market shares in China. According to the introduction from China National Coatings Industry Association, in the wood coatings market waterborne varieties only held three to four percent share, and UV coatings have approximately five percent share. Environmental friendly coatings are gaining more market shares under more and more environmental regulation pressures.
Waterborne wood coatings mainly have acrylic and polyurethane systems. Acrylic systems have good UV stability and polyurethane systems offer good elasticity which is necessary considering wood defoamability. And to further improve coatings performance, the coatings companies sometimes mix the two systems to get the benefits of both systems.
Based on the introduction from Wanhua Chemical, the largest MDI producer in China, UV coatings are mainly used for door and kitchen cabin manufacturers whose products have simple and standard shapes. And the growth of waterborne coatings, driven by more and more environmental pressure, is led by Ikea, children toys and furniture companies, door and window as well as some light duty and simple furniture manufacturers. For example, Ikea has been requesting their suppliers in China use waterborne coatings since the beginning of this century. As a result of these applications mentioned above, acrylic technologies are holding the largest market share in the waterborne wood coatings market. But more polyurethane formulas are introduced into the market to meet new customer demand.
Furthermore, during this conference waterborne UV coatings were highlighted after some large furniture companies adopted this technology. Covestro’s representative said during the conference that waterborne UV coatings just took a step in China, but their future is very promising. Waterborne UV coatings market’s size is only 500 tons, approximately one percent of the whole waterborne wood coatings market in China. They estimate the market will grow by more than 40 percent per year.
Large furniture manufacturers cooperate with coatings companies to comply with new regulations
Large furniture companies are working closely with coatings companies to meet the demand for the waterborne trend. For example, Baiyulan, the largest kitchen cabin exporter, has been a leader in China for adopting waterborne coatings technologies by cooperating with Covestro, Sherwin-Williams and Allnex. The company has been applying waterborne 2K polyurethane system and waterborne UV system on their products and the company also invested heavily in automatic painting machines. Wanjiayuan Doors has been working with Clivia since 2014 on adopting waterborne coatings on their production lines.
Powder coatings try to get a piece of wood coatings “cake”
Although waterborne and UV technologies are taking all the credit for being the environment friendly option, powder coatings companies are also trying to get into this lucrative market. Short curing time and low carbon footprint are the benefits for the powder coating process. Some companies, including DSM, are willing to offer project management help for furniture companies who are interested in trying powder coatings. But with powder coatings competing with waterborne varieties, the furniture market needs more reasons to pick up another alternative coatings technology, a dilemma faced by powder coatings companies at the moment and a reason for powder coatings companies to do more to educate the market. Bardese, the largest domestic coatings emulsion producer as well as a major decorative coatings company, is working with DSM to promote powder coatings applications on furniture. Right now their powder coatings have been used as base coatings on the production of wood furniture that are exported to America. They are the most prominent coatings company in China to put such an effort on marketing powder coatings applications on wood furniture. But downstream companies, most of which are still in the phase of studying the waterborne coating technology, may need more time to digest powder coatings technology and compare the benefits they can get from these two technologies, and in the end, choose one or both technologies.
The center of new coatings economy is China
One phenomenon is that visionary companies are quick to react to new market trends. Renewable energy cars are developing faster in China than anywhere in the world, so PPG has established a Mobility business unit to address the needs of this new fast-growing market. Similar to new energy cars, the furniture industry is centered in China, so powder coatings companies who want to break into this market know they have to succeed in China. But what’s next? What coatings technologies can help AI increase their performance? Will China become a wonderland for EB coatings?