Breakthroughs in the formulation of automotive coatings are helping OEMs to use less energy, increase throughput and reduce emissions.
New coatings are also essential for the successful introduction of autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles, as well as for lithium-ion batteries. A recognized leader in the field of coating development is Pittsburg-based PPG, which provides industrial coatings for automotive parts and accessories such as rigid and flexible exterior trim systems, steel and aluminum wheels, body panels, bumper and break systems, hitches, shocks, axles, coil springs, under hood/body parts, and sway bars.
Automotive Industries (AI) asked David Bem, PPG Vice President, Science and Technology and Chief Technology Officer, how the new paint shop technologies help ‘green’ automotive manufacturing.
Bem: The paint shop is the largest producer of emissions in the automotive manufacturing process. It consumes approximately 70% of the total energy used by a vehicle assembly plant. We have been working with major OEMs to minimize emissions and energy consumption for decades, developing processes and products that have changed the rules in how a paint shop operates.
Our award-winning B1:B2 Compact Paint System cut out an entire step in the coatings process by eliminating the primer layer. The B1 layer meets the primer, chip, filling and durability requirements, while the B2 layer provides color and additional durability. The two layers are applied wet-on-wet, which reduces the time to paint a vehicle by up to 90 minutes. This increases vehicle throughput while simultaneously reducing emissions and energy consumption. Some PPG customers have reported energy savings of up to 30%, a 40% drop in carbon dioxide emissions and a 7% reduction in volatile organic compound emissions.
We have found most emissions savings are made when the entire process is reassessed. In 2018, we introduced a new technology that eliminates the curing step after the polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is applied to a car’s exterior and underbody. This 4-Wet sealer technology allows for the sealer, two coats of paint and clearcoat to be applied wet-on-wet with just one final curing step, reducing production time, emissions and energy use.
We recently introduced a low-energy paint process which was developed through Project LEAPP™, our company’s global initiative to help OEMs reduce paint shop capital requirements and operating costs. The process uses PPG-developed waterborne crosslinking chemistry that cures at 80% degrees Celsius – compared to 140% C for current systems. This significantly lower curing temperature which, combined with faster flash and dehydration times, can help reduce energy consumption by up to 39%. The process is ready for mass production.
AI: How important is sustainability?
Bem: Sustainability is a core focus in the manufacturing industry today. PPG’s customers across all sectors are telling us they need to make significant reductions in their environmental footprint. It is one of the biggest drivers of all businesses globally, and will remain so for the foreseeable future.
We expect that in the next 10 years, coatings will be enabling technological breakthroughs. A good example is our dedicated mobility team, which is developing functional coatings that will help make autonomous, connected, electric and shared (ACES) vehicles a reality on our roads. Autonomous vehicle sensors need to be able to detect all cars on the road and surrounding infrastructure, no matter what color they are. This presents a problem when it comes to dark colors that absorb some of the radio waves transmitted by radar sensors. To solve this, we are developing coatings that enable full reflectivity of LIDAR and radar no matter what color the car.
AI: What are some of your other recently introduced breakthrough technologies?
Bem: We are excited about our easy-clean coating that enables cars to be cleaned simply by rinsing the vehicle with a hose. When used on autonomous vehicles, the easy-to-clean coating can help keep sensors and cameras clear of debris and functioning properly.
For OEMs, there is strong demand for PPG D8175 Rapid Performance Clearcoat. This is the fastest clearcoat on the market, drying in just five minutes at 60°C panel temperature. In the automotive collision repair industry, PPG ENVIROBASE® High Performance waterborne basecoat has broken new ground in refinish technology by allowing improved productivity and unrivalled color-matching capability. This basecoat allows our customers to process more repairs through their bodyshops consistently and profitably, especially when used in combination with our fast-cure primers and clearcoats, our leading-edge color identification software PAINTMANAGER® XI and our latest color matching spectrophotometers RAPIDMATCH® XI and RapidMatch GO.
In the commercial transportation industry our recently launched PPG DELFLEET ONE® UHS solvent-borne topcoat has set a new benchmark for color capability and consistency, final appearance, gloss and ease of use. It is based upon a new patented pigment-dispersion process that reduces process time.
AI: How is this paint technology shaping the future of the automotive industry?
Bem: Over the next 20 years the automotive industry will change beyond recognition. Mobility promises to not only change how PPG delivers its products to customers, but also what our customers will do with those products. Our dedicated mobility team will play a key role in identifying new technologies and opportunities in this growing market, including the reflective coatings, battery coatings and easy-clean coatings.
AI asked Jean-Marie Greindl, President EMEA, PPG, how the company helps OEMs to cut costs while greening their production processes.
Greindl: PPG currently invests nearly US$500 million annually in research and development. We use this money to innovate at the molecular level, as we did with a low-temp cure system for Ferrari, eggplant-like coatings for airplanes, and as we are doing for ACES vehicles.
AI: Tell us a little about PPG’s Supplier Added Value Effort ($AVE) process.
Greindl: The $AVE program provides customers with innovative solutions at all levels. This includes driving value within ongoing business process improvements in areas such as logistics, operations, inventory management and general business administration practices. Technological innovation helps customers to differentiate their products in the marketplace.
AI: What is your presence in China?
Greindl: We have invested heavily in China, resulting in PPG being the leading automotive OEM supplier in China. We are currently building a new R&D/technical facility in Tianjin that will further our positioning and preparedness for taking on the emerging area of new electric vehicles (NEVs), which have heavy emphasis in China.
AI asked Dr. William L. Brunat, Technical Director EMEA, Automotive Coatings, what new processes are in the pipeline.
Brunat: With the switch to electric vehicles (EVs), coatings go beyond providing protection and beauty to also powering the vehicle. Lithium-ion batteries use coatings to store and transfer their electric charges. We have developed a binder and resin system that eliminates N-Methylpyrrolidone (NMP), a toxic solvent currently used in all electrode binders. This new system also provides improved battery electrochemical performance with manufacturing process benefits.
AI: How is PPG’s low-cure system changing the OEM automotive paint processes?
Brunat: We were able to completely reinvent paint technology through an 18-month Project LEAPP-supported partnership with Ferrari to provide the full spectrum of required colors at a 100 o C. This provided Ferrari with significant benefits, such as energy savings, reduced emissions and the ability to coat low temperature substrates like polypropylene or carbon fiber-reinforced plastics (CFRPs). We have always seen this as the next big trend in the industry, so it was a great opportunity to put this innovation into action.
AI: What other trends and technical breakthroughs in automotive is PPG working on?
Brunat: Automotive innovation is being driven by the push for improved sustainability and the development of autonomous and electric vehicles. Smart coatings will be fundamental to the effective and safe functioning of these new vehicles and surrounding infrastructure.
Some of the key technologies will be LiDAR technologies, battery coatings and easy-to-clean coatings. The latter may just seem like a convenient function, but it could become fundamental to the safe running of an autonomous vehicle by keeping the sensors and cameras clear of obstructing dirt that could result in unsafe ineffectiveness.
Paints and coatings are fundamental to the functionality of many automotive products, systems and technologies, so it is PPG’s job to innovate on all fronts so that we can provide the technical breakthroughs our customers require.