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Tuesday, 13 April 2010 14:58

Is Waterborne Paint the Only Answer for Low VOC Requirements?

Written by Stefan Gesterkamp

In an Autobody News column last issue, the point was made that Southern Califoria shops can still use a VOC compliant solvent-borne basecoat systems rather than a waterborne basecoat system.  Some of you may have read this and thought, ‘Hey, wait a minute, I thought in California’s Rule 1151 and other similar rules, water was the only game in town?’

Well, the rule asks for a 3.5 VOC basecoat. It does not specify that you have to use waterborne paint. How you get to 3.5 VOC is not the important thing. But there's another question: Why would a shop want to go waterborne if they don’t have to?

From my point of view, the answer is simple; it is the better choice for the vast majority of shops. After more then two years of using waterborne basecoats in Southern California, most painters tell me that they wouldn’t trade their waterborne basecoat back in for their old solvent system. Although color matching in water required a bit of getting used to in the beginning, the overall matches right out of the can have been better in water. This makes a lot of sense because the OEMs are using waterborne basecoats in increasing numbers. I truly feel that waterborne basecoat technology is the right choice for about 80% of shops in our industry. So what about the rest?

The remaining shops are likely in one of the following categories: “mobile” small damage repairer, custom, or restoration business, fleet service provider, RV builder or repairer, or otherwise challenged by environmental circumstances.

For the mobile repair businesses, a solventborne solution like BASF’s Limco Supreme line has many advantages over water. Mobile repairers frequently do their work in the most unconventional areas and are exposed to weather and airborne particulates. Making waterborne basecoats work in these conditions is not impossible, but more challenging than it has to be. The initial flash-off time in water is slower compared to exempt solvent technology and it increases the risk for airborne particulates to get stuck in the paint while spraying in a parking lot. Another advantage to mobile repair specialists is that you have a better chance to get a color match dialed-in on the mixing stick, without having to spray a test panel. Not that I would recommend it, but some have made an art form out of it.

Then there is the ever increasing cost issue. In the mobile repair business, margins are generally thin. With the exception of the rare specialty paint lines like “House of Kolor”, most other solvent based options on the market I am aware of are more accurately categorized as an economy product. In other words, it is likely translating into older technologies and much less R&D investment by the manufacturer for continuous improvements such as color match and other very costly performance attributes. This is precisely why fleet service providers also like this technology. Their end-user is generally less critical than the average collision repair client and warranties are rarely given or very short term.

Custom and restoration shops have other reasons to consider the use of a solvent based basecoat. If the paint job involves intensive graphics and striping work, solvent based basecoats can be easier to use a times. This would also be the case and a driving factor for RV businesses. RVs are all about stripes. Please don’t misinterpret what I am trying to say, many great custom painters and RV shops alike are already using waterborne products very successful every day. It simply takes a new approach and different techniques to be successful. But I am not trying to knock the old school custom guys either; there are reasons, good reasons, why they are the hardest bunch of painters to move into a new paint technology.

Custom shops have worked very hard to build a reputation for the unusual and unexpected. Unique and hard to copy craftsmanship is the name of the game in this specialized segment of our industry. They found unconventional ways to manipulate their paints to get just the right effect their clients are looking for. Giving up all the hard learned lessons, tricks and experiences going with it isn’t easy. There is great comfort in knowing what to expect when you push paint past the envelope a manufacturers designs its product for. Knowledge like that took decades to develop and having to do it all over again is highly time consuming. The other side of the coin is the period correct restoration work. Some shops are really critical in reproducing the old style metallic-flake look of the 50’s or 60’s. Producing that somewhat flat, a bit lusterless look in waterbase takes a lot of effort. Waterbase is by default cleaner more brilliant than solvent-based basecoats.

The last group that would benefit from modified, older solvent based technology is shops that simply don’t have the ability or recourses to get their facility to a suitable condition. A shop that routinely does business in a cold & humid climate and has no ability to control the spraying environment at all may be challenged to make it work. This may not always be driven by money either; some shops are in situations where the local government or other regulation would not allow for a new booth, or booth upgrade permit. For the shops that have to, the technology is here for you to use. For the rest, be aware that there are tradeoffs and a potential price to pay for avoiding the change to modern times.

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