Volume 9, Issue 2 - February 2008

Value-Added Opportunity
Adding Water-Based Coatings to Your Mix 
by Michael Braeuel

The coated vinyl market is estimated to have more than doubled since 2005. Coupling that explosive growth with the current state of the housing market, adding coatings to your offerings is a way to explore new niches in this tight competitive market. 

Continued consumer demand has helped establish the coating process as an attractive value-added opportunity. Early adopter fabricators have, in most cases, established new sales opportunities since they are able to deliver a broader range of colors in both new construction and replacement applications. Initial uncertainty with respect to consumer and dealer interest normally gives rise to fabricators coating as many as 5 percent of units in the first year, growing to up to 40 percent in the third year. In general the demand is underestimated especially when marketing materials emphasize the new option.

Low-Maintenance and Environmentally Friendly Properties
Initial vinyl windows marketing was centered on the low-maintenance white product. Modern high-performance water-based coatings have proven to be low-maintenance, in addition to addressing the increased demand for color. In the long run this will contribute to vinyl continuing to take market share from substrates like wood and aluminum, which have offered more color choices in the past. Despite gaining acceptance, it is estimated that no more than 3 percent of current units are coated, with the future market potential being 20 to 25 percent. 

Global trends in the coating industry have focused on addressing environmental concerns. Trends and legislation have tended toward lowering volatile organic compounds (VOCs), eliminating isocyanates, heavy metals and known carcinogens. Europe still leads North America in this regard, while California is a leader in North America. Rather than restrict, this trend has benefited the door and window industry in several ways. 

From a technical perspective low-VOC coatings outperform the more traditional solvent-based products, in particular on vinyl substrates. A well-designed water-based coating can provide a chemical bond without altering the impact resistance and flexibility of the substrate. Other coatings such as ultraviolet (UV)-curable ones, which have excessive hardness or lack flexibility, can contribute to differential forces, which can constrain one of the vinyl surfaces from moving relative to another. 

A well-designed water-based product will overcome this concern and also guarantee that the coating itself will not alter the properties of the vinyl itself. Solvents are known to create embrittlement over time and extruders normally discourage their use. Since hardness and flexibility are inversely related, the ideal coating has no more hardness than is required to provide for scratch-free processing and installation. A well-designed water-based coating (less than 5 percent VOCs), including UV blockers, scavengers and metal oxide pigments will have significantly lower delta E fade as compared to virgin UPVC. It turns out that the inherent stability of the pigments themselves provides the coating with a high degree of UV-resistance. Consequently, water-based coatings are more than an aesthetic add-on; they can be viewed as a UV shield for the vinyl substrate. 

The two technical aspects cited above (flexibility and UV stability) both contribute to the superior long-term performance of water-based products with respect to older technologies such as solvent-based products or powder coatings. 

In-House Option 
The environmental friendliness of water-based coatings has made the entire process of in-house coating viable for fabricators of all sizes. The limited investment (as compared to that in solvent-based installations) and relative ease of environmental compliance have made the process possible. Improved worker health and safety, ease of clean-up and reduced disposal costs also have helped with acceptance. 

In turn, this has allowed fabricators to treat the coating process in a just-in-time fashion and has made even custom colors practical. Furthermore, the inventory reduction and reduced delivery time are a major operational benefit associated with an in-house process or even a certified local applicator/refinisher. The final element in this chain of resulting benefits is that extruders themselves have been liberated from having to provide coated products–an activity whose production and logistical headaches include: small runs, controlling color consistency, managing custom colors and long lead times. 

Remodeling Market Potential 
The environmental friendliness of waterborne coatings also has created an opportunity for paint contractors to refinish previously installed doors and windows in the field as well as providing fabricators with the possibility to repair damaged surfaces.

From an operational perspective, increased volumes have increased the coating of lineals as compared to welded units. It is estimated that as few as 10 percent of total coated units are sprayed in “squares” or as boxes. Even when considering the fact that corners need to be touched up (with the same coating to maintain consistent weathering), research gained from our 140 fabricators who paint both squares and lineals shows us that decreased masking time and superior presentation are associated with rolling masking racks. This results in productivities three and four times greater than coating boxes. 

As an example: a single person could coat one rack per hour representing a possible 320 feet of lineals; in contrast, the maximum efficiency obtainable painting boxes is around 1.5 units per man hour. Including overhead, the respective cost would be approximately $0.35/ft for lineal coating and up to $30 per unit for boxes. For fabricators not interested in coating, a local applicator typically will charge between 7 cents and $1 per lineal foot, and approximately $55 per unit (one frame and two sashes).

Within the above cost structure, the retail premiums of 20 to 40 percent ensure that the process represents an excellent value-added opportunity.

Small runs and custom colors are handled best in the square form, therefore this capability should always be maintained. 

In the future, specialty finishes, such as metallic and coated wood grains, will become available. These will expand opportunities into the domain of light-commercial applications. 

The existing challenging market conditions demand that fabricators seek out ways to increase value and to explore new niches. Water-based coating technology is just one way of doing so. 

Michael Braeuel serves as vice president of sales for AquaSurTech OEM in Laval, Quebec. He may be reached at mbraeuel@videotron.ca.


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