The Class of 2018

Perseverance and ingenuity define those being inducted into the Finishing Hall of Fame this year.

George Brewer’s grandfather used to pay him a dime each time he would polish the finish on his 1912 Ford Model T. This was in 1916, and young George noticed that the gloss had already faded away from his grandpa’s proud car, which he eventually inherited a few years later.

“It did not show any rust when I drove it in 1932,” Brewer said in a speech in 1978. “In contrast, rust had eaten some holes into my own 1953 car by 1957, but the rest of the car was as shiny as new. Thus, the 1953 paint itself was more resistant; however, certain areas of the car body failed, a then very puzzling situation. Ultimately, I was able to resolve this puzzle.”

Boy, did he ever. That young boy grew up to become 

Dr. George E.F. Brewer, who pioneered the electrodeposition of water-dispersed organic coatings, which we now call electrocoating.

The reason I bring up Brewer is that he is part of Class of 2018 fn the Finishing Hall of Fame, a program initiated by Products Finishing as a way to remember those who came before us and fostered—and at times saved—the industry we now spend our careers in.

This year’s class also includes Abner Brenner, Daniel Brockman, Richard Crain, Pieter de Lange, Ron Duncan, Dr. Erwin Gemmer, David Marsh and Blair Vandivier. We took nominations from our readers, and an esteemed panel of industry experts reviewed the finalists and helped us pick this year’s inductees.

As a young boy, Brewer was inquisitive and perplexed by an ordinary problem, and he spent his adult life working to fix that problem. He went to work for Ford in the late 1950s and was tasked with developing waterborne paints for coating car bodies. He noticed that the inner surfaces of spray-painted or dip-coated vehicles often displayed an absence of paint in some very critical areas.

“That’s where the rust starts,” Brewer said. “And that’s where it destroys the car from the inside out.”

Brewer saw that wet paint was actually being deposited in all those recesses, but it was eventually washed off during the bake cycle because of condensing vapors. He said that his team at Ford realized what they “needed was an essentially solvent-free paint, capable of permanently coating extremely recessed areas—a seemingly insolvable problem.”

The reason Brewer and many of the other inductees are recognized in the Finishing Hall of Fame is because they refused to give up when something seemed insolvable or was just too damn hard to figure out.

That was also the case with Abner Brenner, who was the electrodeposition section chief at the National Bureau of Standards in Washington, D.C., around World War II and who led some of the discoveries about electroless nickel coatings that helped manufacturers for decades to come. This drive is what also led German scientist Dr. Erwin Gemmer to come up with the idea of a fluidized-bed application for thermoplastic resins on metal as a more efficient alternative to flame spraying, thus inventing powder coatings. The same could be said for Pieter de Lange, who worked for DuPont Teodur in Europe and patented a better powder coating gun that improved efficiencies and made the process such a resource.

And the same could be said for Brockman and Marsh, who founded metal finishing companies and weathered turbulent 1970s and 1980s, when environmental worries tried to wipe the industry off the map in the U.S. They persevered and stuck it out, finding better and cleaner ways of running shops that changed the industry.

And no one can mention finishing without pointing to Crain, Duncan and Vandivier, three suppliers who have volunteered thousands of hours through associations and trade shows to teach and protect this industry.

They all had a passion, drive and stick-to-it-ness. They found better ways to do things or found ways to get the masses to see the greater good in an industry they far too often splintered. They mainly thought differently than others.

“If everybody agrees that a zebra is a white horse with black stripes, it may pay to look at it as a black horse with white stripes,” Brewer said. “I decided that it was not really the paint solvent or carrier fluid per se which were troublesome, but rather the presence of carrier fluid during the bake.”

Seeing the issue that way, Brewer realized the solution was to remove that carrier fluid before the bake and then reuse it rather than vaporizing solvents during the bake. But before the first vehicle was ecoated on an assembly line, Brewer pointed out that 150 man years of research by chemists and engineers at Ford was expended, more than 75,000 panels were tested, and about 10 million wheels were painted on an experimental line.

“Thomas Edison’s attribution of success as 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration was clearly evident in the efforts to commercially develop an electrocoating process for painting automobiles,” Brewer said.

Congrats to the Class of 2018. We are all here today because of people like them.