Henry Ford once said, “You can have a Model-T in any color you want. So long as it’s black.” For an industry once focused primarily on manufacturers’ needs, powder coating is transforming the automotive industry with faster production times and lower operating costs, plus irresistible value propositions for consumers.
For years, conventional liquid coatings were the standard for the automotive industry. But these coatings can emit dangerous VOCs at their application stage. Powder coatings do not use solvents; therefore, little or no harmful emissions are released into the atmosphere, eliminating the need for costly waste disposal systems. Oversprayed powder can also be collected and reused, resulting in additional cost savings. And because powder does not run or drip, the result is a uniform, superior-quality finish.
Transforming the IndustryClear Topcoats—Conversion from liquid to powder clearcoats for auto body exteriors is moving rapidly. Powder topcoats resist acid rain, the sun’s ultraviolet rays and road and weather damage, helping cars retain their “showroom look” much longer and improving their resale value.
Body Primers—Powder coating has made substantial inroads as a primer for car, van and pickup truck bodies in the United States. Auto body primers in colors will be next.
OEM and Aftermarket Parts—There is huge market potential for high-heat resistant powder coatings on aftermarket mufflers, which resist corrosion, protect against nicks and prolong the life of the muffler. Some companies are already applying heat-resistant powder to aftermarket mufflers, and the new-car market is thought to be two or three years away.
Powder coating is also applied to wheels, grilles, bumpers, door handles, roof racks and exterior and interior trim. “Under the hood” uses include oil and fuel filters, brake pads, engine block casings, suspension components and radiators.
Accessories—Pickup truck and SUV owners can purchase powder coated side steps, bed rails, luggage racks and toolboxes as dealership add-ons or in aftermarket stores and catalogs.
Performance Enhancers—Performance car owners can find powder coated special suspension units, carburetor parts and valve covers, plus flashy rear-view mirror mounts and other exterior adornments.
Powder Coating and the Future of Plastics
Powder coating plastic surfaces represents a major growth area. In the automotive industry, plastic sheet-molded compounds receive wet finishes that take more time and are not environmentally friendly. The challenge for powder coating is getting it to stick, because the various compositions of a plastic surface make it a moving target. There is also a concern about the potential impact to the plastic from high heat exposure during the cure cycle.
The powder industry is optimistic that these challenges can be met. One custom coater in Michigan who works with the automakers said, “We’re testing the powder process to see if we can get coverage adhesion by using ultra-violet curing for powder on plastic sheet molding compounds, which also keeps the heat levels under control.”
In coating plastics, manufacturers are concentrating on such items as wheel covers, rear-view mirrors, door handles, air conditioning vents and interior clothes-hanger hooks. From top to bottom, from inside to out, powder coating takes first place at the automotive finish line.