Architectural paints are changing slowly but steadily, and more is on the way
ALEXANDER H. TULLO, C&EN NORTHEAST NEWS BUREAU
Observing change in the architectural coatings market is like, well, watching paint dry. You may not notice that something is happening but, indeed, something is.
A generation ago, architectural paints switched from solvent-based to waterborne formulations, and since then consumers have become used to putting acrylic latexes on their exterior walls and painting their interiors with vinyl acrylics.
But under the consumer's nose, a slow evolution is under way. Paints last a little longer then they did 10 years ago. They smell better. Consumers can get away with applying them in October because of better resistance to cold and moisture during application. To keep up with a market in continuous flux, paint companies are working on these and many more issues.
But you can't go to Home Depot and buy a paint that changes color with the flick of a switch--at least, not yet, says John Martin, a consultant with Boston-based Tiax, formerly a part of Arthur D. Little.
"The technology developed years ago--emulsion polymerization--has been very effective" thus far, he tells C&EN.
Chemical suppliers share the sentiment. "If you look at how architectural coatings have developed, it has been an evolutionary process," says Heidi S. Alderman, business manager for architectural coatings at Air Products Polymers, a joint venture between Air Products & Chemicals and Wacker Chemie. "The basic technology has not changed all that much."
Alderman says this is because paint is applied in the same labor-intensive and low-tech way it has always been: with brushes and rollers. A change in automotive coatings, in contrast, often changes the whole painting process.
But to Carl Minchew, director of technical services for paint maker Benjamin Moore, it seems like there has been a lot of change over the past 30 years. "The first latex paints weren't very good in exterior applications," he recalls. Since then, acrylics have improved to the point where they outlast their solvent-based alkyd ancestors. He notes that alkyds dry through oxidation, a reaction that continues long after the paint is dry to the touch. In fact, he says, it continues until the paint starts to crystallize and become brittle.
|OFF THE WALL Many of the changes paint makers implement to improve their product lines aren't immediately obvious.
COURTESY OF BENJAMIN MOORE & CO.
SUCH CHANGES are the magic of formulation chemistry, says Tim Stanton, associate director of technology development at Sherwin-Williams. "A whole paint formulation is really a balancing act. Some things you lose with one component of the paint, and you compensate with others."
To Tiax's Martin, this is as much art as science. "You have 20 to 25 different ingredients, but there is such a wealth and history behind the development of paints that they are very well known to the people skilled in this area," he says.
Changes in the market ensure plenty of work for formulation chemists. "In the past 10 years, there has been a complete reversal of who buys paint in America," Minchew says. A decade ago, about 60% of paint was purchased by do-it-yourselfers, he explains. Now, contractors buy 60%.
This is thanks to aging baby boomers, Martin says. "People who 20 years ago would have painted their own house are now economically in a position where they can have a contractor do it," he points out.
This has an effect on formulations, says Glenn Renner, vice president of architectural marketing for Sherwin-Williams' paint stores division. "A do-it-yourselfer is not a craftsperson; you have to make the paint more forgiving," he says.
Contractors want paints that allow them to extend the painting season--thus, the push to coatings that can be applied in lower temperatures and that can withstand moisture before they dry.
"A do-it-yourselfer is not going to paint when it's 40 °F," Sherwin-Williams' Stanton says. "A contractor is going to because it is their bread and butter. It's challenging to formulate a paint that can perform in those conditions while maintaining long-term properties."
In fact, in January, Sherwin-Williams launched a paint geared for contractors, A-100, that can be applied at 35 °F. Before, 50 °F was about the limit.
And both do-it-yourselfers and contractors demand paints that require less surface preparation. "The more robustness that we can formulate into our paint to perform over a less than optimal surface, the better," Stanton says.
There are a lot of other trends that affect the contents of a can of paint. Whether for environmental reasons or to reduce odor, paints are being reformulated to remove the solvents that are still added to water-based varieties.
PAINT MAKERS ALSO want to reduce costs, and here they often get help from their raw material suppliers. Benjamin Moore's Minchew points out that chemical companies are usually bigger than paint companies and have more R&D muscle.
As a resins company, Air Products Polymers is in the thick of new paint technology, Alderman notes. "The binder has one of the greatest impacts on a paint. It is the guts of the paint that sticks to the substrate," she says.
With its new Airflex EF811 product line, Air Products Polymers has a vinyl acetate ethylene that addresses the issue of VAE's cost, which is usually higher than that of vinyl acrylics. According to the company, EF811 uses less expensive raw materials and employs a more cost-efficient manufacturing process than typical VAEs.
Graves Clayton, North American architectural coatings binders market manager at Dow Chemical, says new developments usually come from the marketplace, not chemical companies pushing new products out the door. "We're listening to what our customers are asking for and what their customers are asking for," he says. About 25% of Dow's binder product line for architectural paints was developed in the past five years.
Not bad for an evolutionary industry. Sherwin-Williams' Stanton sets the record straight. "People tend to think that automotive paint is more challenging and more demanding than architectural paint," he says. "There is just as much chemistry that goes into a can of latex paint for $10 a gallon as there is in expensive automotive coatings."
Paint companies offer new technologies and new products for both the bold and the cautious of the automotive industry