Not only is competition in coatings become more intense, particularly in relatively slow growth but high-tech orientated regions like Europe. Innovation has also a vital means of differentiating products.
It is also required to satisfy the increasingly varied needs of customers. Coatings have to perform more effectively, show a wider range of functionalities and prove themselves to be more sustainable, particularly in the protection of the environment.
Maintaining the pace of innovation has become a big challenge for multinational coatings companies whose operations are spread across the world and across the main segments of international coatings markets.
To keep ahead of their competitors’ coatings companies have to look ahead to emerging technologies, such as in automobiles and aerospace, which will require completely new functionalities in coatings.
“At the same time innovations now have extremely short lifecycles,” explained Olivier Magnin, technical director, industrial coatings, PPG Industries Europe. “You have to innovate continuously. It’s the only way to survive.”
He was speaking at a press conference at PPG Industries Europe’s Innovation Summit at Montreux, Switzerland, at which the company was presenting new products to customers in Europe.
Pittsburgh-based PPG has a record of leadership in coatings innovation. PPG achieved a five-year average of76 U.S. coatings-specific patents, higher than the combined average patent totals over the same period of its three main competitors, making the company, “a coatings industry benchmark for innovation.”
With an annual R&D budget of $500 million, the highest, it said, in the industry, it is striving to maintain this leadership while continuing to expand geographically and within markets. Its eight coatings business segments include architectural, automotive OEM and refinishing, aerospace, protective and marine, industrial coatings and packaging.
It also has to keep up with the major global trends dictating customer demand. The company sees these as environmental influences, such as reducing energy use, emissions and waste; health and safety issues, like enhancement of working and living spaces, supporting healthy lifestyles, safety and security; and economic factors, such as developing products and processes which support customers’ business goals and adding value.
The foundation of its R&D strategy is its innovation center at Allison Park, Pennsylvania, which has over 300 researchers in the synthesis and analytical chemistry, formulation and engineering and has generated over 600 patents in coatings and related fields in the last 10 years.
The fundamental scientific advances achieved at Allison Park are rolled out to its worldwide customers through application laboratories, of which it has three in Europe in France, Germany and Italy. Also in Europe, it has specialist research units at Marly, France, in electrophoretic coatings (E-coats) and in refinish coatings in Milan.
For PPG, ideas for innovations come from multiple sources, such as industry macro trends, open innovation, government-funded projects, technology scouting and from acquisitions.
The company’s major fount of ideas is its customers with many of whom it collaborates on R&D projects.
“We keep in close contact with our customers so that we can help to enhance their performance,” said David Bem, PPG’s chief technology officer and vice-president science and technology. “Our global footprint is of key importance to us because of the breadth and scale of customers it gives us.”
PPG innovations have in recent years had a big impact on the automotive sector. These are helping it to shape technologies in new mobility segments such as electric and self-drive vehicles.
Its B1: B2 waterborne compact process, originally developed for Germany’s BMW for the production of its Mini cars in Oxford, England, eliminates the need for a primer coatings layer which reduces the operating costs of the automotive manufacturer’s paint shop by 30 percent, mainly by using less energy.
PPG has been strengthening its presence in the electric vehicle segment through the development of new binder technologies which improve the energy efficiencies of batteries.
Looking at the longer-term future, the company has been targeting the fledgling autonomous vehicle sector as an opportunity for coatings innovations.
One major incentive is that self-drive vehicles manufacturers are already grouping together to draw up standards, including those for coatings. “These standards are going to be important as the self-drive market expands so we want to contribute to the creation of them,” said Bem.
Autonomous vehicles will require a variety of specialty coatings, such as those for enhancing the performance of sensors and camera lenses and those which are responsive to light detection and ranging (LIDAR) signals.
PPG has been exploiting its expertise in color coatings and surface treatments for innovations not only in the mobility market but also in architectural coatings and those in computer and phone products.
The company makes use of reflective technologies, some developed for the automotive sector, across a range of applications. The coating Desothane has been developed for the aerospace industry to provide a combination of reflective primer and infra-red transparent pigments to control heat from the sun by reflecting it away from the aircraft.
PPG’s Duranar coil coating has been designed to provide long-term infra-red reflectivity to the outside of industrial, agriculture and storage buildings to lower internal heat levels and improve comfort. “Among its benefits is less need for air conditioning, typically around 15 percent,” said William Brunat, Europe technical director for automotive OEM coatings.
Color and surface texture innovations are being extended to consumer electronics, products such as smartphones, not only to improve both their appearance but also feel an impact on the environment.
Raycron, a UV-cured ultra matte effect coating with near-zero volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions, not only enhances the design of mobile phones and other portable devices but enables them to remain free of fingerprints or nail scratches.
A similar benefit to mobile device housings and keypads is provided by Velvecron, a range of topcoats resistant to foods, oils, liquids, lotions and other everyday stains while also providing a velvety surface feel.
“We have the advantage of having and being able to develop technologies which can deliver scientific advances across different product platforms, “explained Jean-Marie Greindl, senior vice president architectural coatings and PPG’s president of Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA). “Color and surface appearance are more and more critical in the differentiation of products.”
PPG is well placed to take full advantage of modern color technologies and their complexities in its quest to continue its high rate of coatings innovations across the world.