Wednesday, 02 May 2012 20:11

A Decade of Innovation Turns Paint Industry Literally Upside Down

Written by staff
Rate this item
(0 votes)

by 3M Collision Staff

At 3M, scientists and engineers are encouraged to look at things differently to develop new product solutions, new technologies and in some cases, new industries. For one such scientist, the ability to look from a different perspective at a major challenge faced by automotive professionals revolutionized the industry. It literally turned the way that vehicles, airplanes, boats and other equipment are painted, upside down.

“We spent a lot of time in the shop environment, working with painters to understand their challenges, pain points and everyday working processes,” said Dr. Stephen Joseph, Division Scientist, 3M Automotive Aftermarket. “As part of observing the repetitive process of mixing paint in separate containers, pouring this paint through a paper strainer into the spray gun reservoir and then cleaning up the spray gun afterwards, it struck me that there had to be a better approach.

“For example, why not take the container of mixed paint and place that directly on the spray gun, thereby eliminating the transfer step? If this new cup that doubled as a spray gun reservoir could then be disposed of, we could also eliminate much of the solvent associated with gun cleaning.”

Dr. Joseph spent many hours building prototypes and developing concepts around the idea of using just one cup for both mixing and spraying. Inspiration came from a variety of sources.

“Things in everyday life take on a totally different perspective when you are trying to solve a particular problem,” said Dr. Joseph. “Closing the container of mixed paint off with a lid and inverting the spray gun to facilitate connection was the Eureka moment. It enabled us to develop a product design that could be attached to just about any spray gun and essentially eliminate the traditional mixing cups and spray gun reservoirs that customers were currently using. After the relevant patent applications were filed, we spent a lot of time field testing a variety of prototypes to understand what was important to our customer.”

One challenge they faced was developing the cup for the system. While 3M invented both a liner-and-cup system and a linerless system, they decided to pursue the liner technology because this offered a variety of enhanced benefits to the customer, for example the ability to spray upside down. The linered system is a closed system, during spraying it creates a vacuum, which effectively pulls the paint out of the liner, thus collapsing the liner. Being a closed system there is no air vent for paint to leak out during spraying. You also have the ability to stay 90 degrees to the panel from any angle, even upside down, which optimizes material transfer, and helps to reduce material waste. In order to move the project forward, 3M developed and invested in much of the equipment to manufacture the parts internally, which ultimately enabled the product to be launched.

“After evaluating numerous different iterations of cups, lids, adapter designs and filters, we finally determined the optimum combination,” added Dr. Joseph. “It took a number of years to progress from the original concept to the launch, but the PPS™ System quickly gained customer acceptance throughout Europe and the US.”

Industry at Point of Change
What set the stage for the development and rapid growth of the PPS™ System technology were several critical issues in the body shop. The industry was transitioning from siphon to gravity fed spray guns, which was being driven primarily by the improved transfer efficiency of these guns with top-mounted cups. Shop owners were looking for more efficiency and less material waste and concerns over solvent use and disposal were growing.

Painters were still pouring paint into separate containers, straining it through filters and transferring it into a spray gun. Following spraying, they had to clean the spray gun with solvent and either clean or discard the used mixing cups and filters. These conventional systems were time-consuming, contributed to volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions and continually wasted expensive paint.

Although 3M’s Automotive Aftermarket Division sold a number of different products to the vehicle repair industry such as abrasives, masking products and polishing glazes and compounds, prior to the PPS™ System, 3M had essentially no sales in the paint mixing area of the shop.

Technology = Performance
In its basic definition, the 3M PPS™ System is a disposable mixing and filtering system designed for use with primarily gravity fed paint spray guns. The PPS™ System eliminated the need for separate mixing cups and filters, and only the spray gun channel and adapter need cleaning since paint never comes into contact with the pot and collar.
A range of threaded adapters for different spray guns provide painters with the ability to attach the 3M system to just about any spray gun.

3M™ PPS™ System product attributes include:
• Uses the same cup for mixing and spraying
• Disposable liners save cleaning solvent and time
• Integral paint filter means fewer defects
• System allows gun to be used at any angle
• Unused paint can be temporarily saved in a capped liner
• Slashes solvent usage for gun cleaning

The Impact of an Innovation
Today, some 60,000 shops in more than 90 countries use the 3M PPS™ System. Annually, an estimated 20 million vehicles have some coating applied using the 3M system.

After switching to the 3M PPS™ Paint Preparation System, customers report as much as a 70 percent reduction in the use of cleaning solvents, which translates to a reduction of an estimated 46.2 million gallons of solvents. This reduction in solvent use directly reduces global VOC emissions and promotes a safer and healthier workplace since operators are exposed to smaller amounts of solvent vapors. These 46.2 million gallons of solvent reduction translate to more than $330 million in solvent cost and solvent disposal cost savings over the past decade.

In addition, the PPS™ System minimizes paint transfers, allowing operators to mix smaller quantities of paint or to easily switch colors between repairs without disposing of the paint. This can help reduce the amount of paint required for a job by as much as 2 to 4 ounces per mix, leading to significant cost and waste reductions.

As a result of its success in the automotive market, 3M has expanded the product line into other industries that use spray guns, such as aerospace, marine, woodworking and signage, where customers are looking for solutions to help them manage their VOC emissions, improve efficiency and reduce waste.

A Decade of Awards – New Product
Additions Are on the Horizon

In the last decade, the 3M™ PPS™ Paint Preparation System has collected major awards from industry groups, environmental organizations and design leaders from around the world.

• In the U.K., Awarded 2002 Product of the Year by “Bodyshop Magazine” and “Auto Trade”
• In South Africa, Won the 2002 “Innovation Award” from “Automotive Refinisher”
• In Spain, Named the “Best New Product” for 2001 by Galeria de Innovacion Motortec
• In France, Won the Bronze Trophy in the Garage Equipment section of the auto exhibition Equip Auto
• Selected by the Design Council in 2002 as one of its Innovation Stories
• Won the 2002 Horner’s Award for Plastics
• Received the 2006 SAE International Environmental Excellence in Transportation Award

Read 1679 times