Volume 37, Issue 3, March 2002

Perfect Match

        How Electronic Communication Helps Provide Control When it Comes to Color Coatings

by Sharon Bird

There was a time not long ago when a contractor, architect or specifier requiring 500 gallons of a special paint color would attach a color chip to his documentation. The manufacturer would have to match that chip as best he could, and the customer would have to accept everyone’s best efforts eventually. 

One year later, if anyone needed five gallons of that same color, the manufacturer would look up the mix formula and concoct it all over again, hoping that adjustments for the smaller amount of final product, similar pigment strengths and a bit of good luck would produce a close match. Looking at that system in terms of the precise standards demanded today, color was clearly out of control.

Into the Electronic Age
In those days a color chip was created to be the color standard, and an accompanying mix formula was used to produce samples and the final product. But, today the only way to guarantee absolute color accuracy and consistency is to do the exact opposite. Today, the color standard is the formula—a set of numbers generated by precision color measuring equipment then stored in an electronic database. A color chip is produced to be merely a sample or proof of the formula now safely stored on computer hard drives.
I use the word safely, because unlike color chips, a database is unaffected by age and sunlight, and it can’t be lost in shipping, misplaced or destroyed by fire, flood or theft.

Coating manufacturers using databases have found them to be powerful production tools. The color standards they contain can be communicated across the country instantly to produce a perfect paint match thousands of miles away and without a color chip in sight. PPG Coil and Extrusion Coatings, for example, maintains a growing database of more than 60,000 unique color standards on its Access database. That same database is also available to PPG customers. Many customers have sophisticated spectrophotometers that are field-audited by PPG and maintained to the same exacting parameters. Even the PPG master color standards database, acquired on PPG’s GretagMacBeth CE2145 spectrophotometer, is updated electronically on a weekly basis through a highly secure telephone data link, or as often as customers wish by going to the PPG color database Internet link. There, customer access is password protected.

Some colors may not be measured accurately with today’s technology such as metallic or mica formulations as well as high chroma colors. We call this group of colors, or panels, Visual Masters, which are compared visually to the master standard. The numeric differences delta L, a, b deviations from the master standard are not recorded. These panels will have “Visual Match to PPG Master” printed on the label.

A Proven Example
Bill Laughlin, administrator of the PPG Color Standards program, headquartered at the company’s Springdale, Pa., plant, says there are several advantages of the PPG program.

“Often customers will request colors that match formulas we already have in the database. We know right away we can make that color because we have matched their sample statistically— not by eye … This makes the difference between getting close and making an acceptable match.”

Laughlin added, “We add 30 to 40 new colors to the database every day. Each day at PPG we update the database over our LAN and throw it up to our server for access by our global divisions. Our work cells also have immediate access to all 60,000-plus color standards. Of course all those additional colors are customer driven, but available to all. It’s fascinating. As it grows, it becomes a knowledge base—color trends, for example, show up right away. Even overwriting and re-transmitting the entire database every week produces the additional benefit of erasing typographical errors and continually improving the quality of database content.”

PPG’s color system consists of a GretagMacBeth CE2145 spectrophotometer and color control software.

How it Works
The database is a key element in meeting customers’ needs quickly. When a customer, such as an architect or applicator, is looking for a specific color, the first step is to view the color card, which offers a range of available colors. The customer can choose a color that exists on the color card, request a variation of one of those colors, or, send PPG a sample that represents the color he is looking for. PPG then uses the color database to read that color and, if necessary, create a new color based on the data that already exists in the database. 

Laughlin described several points where electronic communication enters into a typical coating purchase. “When a new color is developed, we upload that new standard to the PPG database. When the customer places his order, the data necessary to manufacture that color must be communicated electronically to the work cell. This is because it was created the night before and it never existed before on the database. They start right away. They shoot a one-gallon sample, draw a panel, measure the color and fine tune if necessary to accommodate the variables like environment and tint strength. No one can avoid the impact of the variables completely. But without master standards, the variables take over. Then, getting to the right color takes valuable time. With electronic communications, we speed-up the process and get the right color fast. With our universal standards, work cells dispense paint into drums using the same database, same software and same measuring equipment wherever they may be in the world.”

As the manufacturing trend to database color management and tight control over standards increases among coatings producers and their customers, it’s likely more and more color data will be shared via modem and Internet link. It’s already easy to see that when it comes to color, a key to control over accuracy, consistency, turnaround and cost is communication. 

SHARONBIRD Sharon Bird oversees all marketing communications for the coil and extrusion coatings division of PPG Industries based in Pittsburgh.


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