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Friday, 08 February 2008 15:16

Reign of Water Begins in California

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At last November’s NACE, new paint technology got significant presentation time because waterborne paint is a hot-button environmental issue, especially in California. The perception that what happens in California is the ‘thin edge of the wedge’ for the rest of the country and California’s regulatory activism give disproportionate influence to the state’s already powerful market trends. Regulations in progress are designed to reduce volatile organics, mainly formaldehyde, chloroform, and MTBE by 75% —but there is speculation that by the time the rest of the country adapts, the target reductions will be more like 90%.

While regulations in the two early adopting California air quality districts, San Joaquin Valley and South Coast, are to reduce volatile organics, not to require water-based paint per se, the natural chemistry of solvent vapor pressure means that waterborne basecoat is the only paint that qualifies.     For a six-month period after July 1, 2008, a distributor can only sell a solvent-borne paint that was manufactured before that date to the shop. By January 1, 2009 the only basecoat to get to the required 3.5 level is water-based.

Of course, the regulations apply to more than body shops. Even the bowling industry had to change their lane coatings to water based varnishes to reduce their emissions. Other industries such as printers, dry cleaners, and multiple manufacturing processes are affected by the new VOC standards. In fact, the tightening regulations include nitrous oxide, PM10— particles of 10 micrometers or less in ‘aerodynamic diameter’—and ammonia emissions from catalytic processes, engines, and even domestic water heaters. Many of these industries are significantly more impacted than body shops.
At NACE, Jonathan Purifoy, of DuPont Performance Coatings, addressed two fundamentals for shop owners: How does this affect my business, and how does it affect my customers?
Said Purifoy, “Waterborne is just changing basecoat but we have to be aware of how it affects the customer. Customers don’t ask about waterborne, they just want to know when they can get their cars back. Of course, they also think of weekends as workdays of the week. They want their cars to be like new, never mind the orange peel on the paint when it came in. Or, “I know I got smacked on the right, but can you take out the dent on the left as well?”
“However, surveys say that 81% of US consumers are more likely to switch brands to support a cause, when cost and quality are equal, and 70% are positively influenced at the point of purchase by a cause-related marketing program. Environmental issues are driving decisions. People will pay more for a Prius than a comparable conventional car, even though they’ll never make the difference back in gas savings. This means that waterborne, even if not (yet) mandated in your state or district has proven to be a viable marketing vehicle for shops to get the attention of customers.
William Jay Johnston, BASF Refinish Manager, in a presentation titled Advantages of Waterborne, characterized the transition as similar to an operating system migration such as moving from early versions of Windows to Vista: a gradual series of changes where you need to learn the idiosyncracies of the new system, without abandoning what you already know and do. He pointed out that in Europe (Germany 80%, Austria 86%, Spain 77%) the majority of shops adopted waterborne before they had to.
Purifoy described the situation in Western Europe largely in the past tense: “For ten years, 30,000 shops have been on waterborne across all paint brands. They all had to be as of January 1 of 2007. So 40,000 trained painters are now spraying waterborne in Europe. Some shops closed, but most made the change. A year ago in the UK, a postcard was mailed to shops which showed a guy behind bars, saying ‘are you ready? Because if not we’re coming after you!’ Compliance there involves distributors, manufacturers, everybody.”
Canada is typically more low key, preferring carrot over stick. Just this week a New Brunswick collision center received their local mayor’s award for converting to waterborne. The mayor’s announcement included Akzo’s brand name: “Sikkens Autowave refinishing system, a water-borne refinish technology that’s widely used in Europe and California. The cutting-edge technology that Dana’s Collision is using will help reduce the amount of harmful chemicals being emitted into the environment, and will help to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions in the community. If more businesses were as diligent as this, we would certainly reach our Kyoto reduction targets,” the mayor said. Environment Canada has prescribed that all of Canada will be using waterborne by 2009. It probably will be enforced January 1, 2010.
Purifoy addressed a few misconceptions about waterborne and disposal procedures: “Just because it’s water based doesn’t mean you can pour it down the sink. Your distributor should know the regulations, but also check with the municipality. Your waste hauler can take a certain amount of water waste in your solvent. Some will take a small percentage. Separate waste streams need to be followed. You’ve got to deal with this on a local basis. You may hear about waterborne coagulant, which will separate out pigment garbage to start the process of recycling and cleaning the water.”
Johnston also noted the need to check local regulations. “The water stream is different from the solvent stream and it needs to be separated. In the Midwest when I was painting, you could add up to 10% of water waste to your solvent waste and you were okay. Out in California they have two separate streams and they dispose of it appropriately. Check with your local area.”
Purifoy continued with cleanup and maintenance: “Gun cleaners for waterborne are optional. Based on your location, and local regulations, you may need a gun washer. Mixing sticks need to be accurate and strainers vary based on the waterborne brand you’re using. Typically you see a little more goop in waterborne than in solvent. It’s got to be strained due to the higher pigment load. Some people panic. Work with your manufacturer and your distributor. Tape and paper typically will not work well because they’re set up for solvent not waterborne.
“Making the transition is not as hazardous as it’s sometimes made out to be. Your distributor will have a technician who knows this stuff.”
Johnston contrasted customer satisfaction with the shop’s productivity concerns, citing the old Henry Ford quote: “You can have any color you want, as long as it’s black—because Henry knew he could produce six cars in an hour using black but only two with multiple colors.”
Said Johnston about waterborne productivity: “The reality of it is very simple. The application process stays the same and drying time is similar but the blendability, because of the way the water dries, is much easier from an application standpoint.  
“One of the other advantages of water is that you can let down water color much easier then you can let down solvent. That is, you can add a lot less water to that product to get it to its viscosity level and this means you get much better color coverage.
“Water lays on the surface without attacking the surface like a solvent would, thus there is a huge advantage of spraying over any type of solvent sensitive film that might be down there. Waterborne still has some solvent in it, however it doesn’t attack like we’re typically used to. Collision shops like waterborne because the same application will give you the same results but because of the color coverage you’ll achieve it a little quicker. It’s great for the technician and great for the shop because it’s all about cycle time reduction.
Doug Courtney, National Sales Manager at Global Finishing Solutions, in his presentation Finishing in the Money with Waterborne Paints, stressed the increased need for cleanliness when spraying waterborne. “Make sure that you have easy to clean prep station, and develop a schedule for regular cleaning of the prep area to minimize dust and dirt and avoid reintroducing dirt.”
“Probably the biggest challenge we have is keeping the filters changed on a regular basis. Dispose of used rags and waste materials immediately. We advocate separating the paint area from the metal area. We recommend about 60% of the shop be dedicated to paint, 40% to the metal area, and we try to separate those two so that we can keep dust and dirt from getting into the paint area.”
Dust and dirt that may have been more tolerable with solvent is harder to control with waterborne. Adds Courtney: “Rather than putting two or three layers of basecoat on, painters are finding that sometimes they can cover in one coat, therefore the final finish will be thinner and the prepared surface is not hidden by the additional layers of paint.
“This means we need to pay more attention to being cleaner and more particular about the finish service in the vehicle since there is less paint to hide the surface imperfections.  Dust control is essential—the vehicle must be extremely clean. Waterborne coatings are more sensitive to contaminants. If you put oil down in the water-based paint and you’ve got a more devastating effect than you do with solvent-based products. Dust and dirt will be much more visible in the final finish.”

Cautions Courtney: “I think one of the worst violations I see is the door propped open in the paint mix room so that it’s easy to get in and out, but it’s best to keep the door shut. Don’t store jackets, T-shirts or any other sources of fibers in the mix room. Don’t make it a general storage area.”
Why do converted shops like waterborne? Says Johnston: “There’s lower material consumption because it’s typically about a third more concentrated than solvent-based paints.  Many of the materials are packaged in half liter containers and one of the things that technicians look at is ‘I’m going to be changing these tints over and over again but when you look at the formula 70% of that mix is a water additive so you use very little amounts of base to make the color you need, consequently there’s low material consumption.”
According to Johnston other advantages include: “Fast drying formulas, better hiding, and much, much, easier blending.”
“If you’re familiar with Toyota 4M9—it’s a gold— it’s a very popular car-owner color but it’s difficult to blend.  We teach this class on repairing small areas where your color does not get beyond 18 inches anywhere on a panel. We bring tough colors into the training because we figure if you can do it here you can do it anywhere and especially with that color. When I was instructing I could never make this gold not have a halo on it, so I started using water in my gun but the painters still had solvent in theirs. These guys were struggling and I was saying ‘what’s wrong with you guys, aren’t you any good at this?’ They didn’t know I was cheating, but the point is waterborne has a very distinct advantage when it comes to blending. It doesn’t mean that you don’t have to pay attention to the blend color but it blends out and melds in much easier.
“By its pioneering nature the car industry sets the pace for the collision repair industry. They can do a lot of things differently because they have the technology. For example they use a UV sealer which goes into a cabinet under light that no human could survive in and it cures off in three to seven seconds. It’s a UV ray that would turn a human into dust. Obviously that can’t be done in a collision facility.”
Johnston says that OEMs have been using water technology since the late 90s, and paint companies are working on improved delivery for primers, undercoats, and topcoats. “What they’re working on from a clearcoat perspective is a hybrid of water and UV clear and if they can get that to where it’s marketable and they can get the light technology to meet the demand of the paint film it will completely revolutionize this industry because we start thoroughly curing clear in a matter of minutes sometimes seconds if you have [higher frequency light, such as] UV-C, but it’s dangerous, so you have a closed cabinet.
Courtney addressed color matching in the paint mix room: “We’re told that water-based paints on the standard cardboard test strips tend to wrinkle and therefore strips made out of aluminum or steel are the best thing to use. New strips are needed for each color and color matching using color corrected light is another advantage. Shops are telling us that they’re developing a library of the strips to make it easier for color matching.”
Johnston stressed the need to follow the manufacturer’s specs: If the company tells you in their technical information that you must use a 1:3 gun, you must use a 1:3. If it tells you use a 1:5 kind of gun you, must use a 1:5. those are those idiosyncrasies that I’m talking about. You can’t just say it’s a little warmer here so I’ll go with the 1:5; it’ll be a completely different color than what it’s supposed to be.”
All three presenters, Purifoy, Johnston, and Courtney, stressed the influence of local weather, especially temperature and humidity, as significant factors impacting productivity.
Air movement—cleanliness, volume, and humidity—is such a big factor that we’ll be addressing it in a separate series of articles, starting next month. Part Two of our Paint Primer, coming to you in March, will provide details on humidity, turbulent air, and booth technology.


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