Tough Talk - Forty Years In and I’m Still Learning
Posted on Monday, March 26, 2018
This month I mark 40 years of fun and adventure in the powder coating industry. Yes, I began my career in March 1978 as a technician in the powder coating product development lab for the long gone Glidden Coatings Company. I was merely a kid, hadn’t yet completed my Chemistry degree, and was supporting my young bride and growing family.
It was an exhilarating time as our nascent industry allowed all comers to make a contribution to this emerging technology. There were no old guys in our lab. Our elderly section leader was the most ancient, clocking in at around 30 years of age. The rest of us were a rambunctious pack of overly energetic twenty-somethings. An atmosphere of controlled chaos pervaded the Strongsville, Ohio, lab. Glidden’s technical director, Bruce Euchner, wisely positioned the group outside of the mainstream, more mature liquid paint labs, probably to keep the hallways somewhat cleaner but also to foster a spirit of entrepreneurship for this fledgling industrial endeavor.
Back then there were about a dozen companies commercially involved with plying the most environmentally sound of industrial paint technologies. Interestingly, nearly all came from enterprises unrelated to the coatings industry. I think Glidden and Fuller O’Brien were the only companies that also had a paint pedigree. Of course, Europe had almost a decade head start on the United States, but this didn’t dampen our enthusiasm to forge a path of new technology.
When I started in 1978, the powder coating industry was ensconced somewhere between a laboratory curiosity and a specialty coating serving a limited sector of niche applications. The pipeline industry had embraced powder in the 1960s, but those powders didn’t ride the Wild West frontier of diverse industries clamoring for the next generation of industrial coating technology. First adopters included applications as varied as hot water heaters, air conditioners, appliance dryer drums and voting machines. Lab rats would scramble to match colors and exceed the performance of old school solventborne paint. Concurrently, tireless sales people would besiege prospective customers to enlighten them of this revolution called powder coatings.
I have been most fortunate to have had a career of looking under stones to discover why something does or doesn’t work. We powder coating technologists are relentlessly challenged to create something that didn’t exist or to determine why something is not working as originally planned. Surprisingly, these challenges often take us beyond the walls of our comfortable laboratories. We are regularly compelled to climb into the trenches of our customers’ finishing lines to investigate the how and why something failed. We get the opportunity to join forces with technologists representing allied fields such as pretreatment chemicals, application equipment and oven thermodynamics to unravel mysteries in coating performance. Who would have thunk a degree in chemistry would provide such a wide range of experiences.
Throughout this intrepid odyssey, I learned that a person never knows everything there is to know. A wise person once reminded me that the longer you engage in a technology, the more you realize how much you don’t know. That maxim has never left me. It astounds me nearly every day what interesting facet of technology will cascade into my path toward resolving a problem. Now as I am near the twilight of my career, I relish the chance to teach and inspire incoming generations of technologists. Their curiosity, creativity, and ambition ensure a solid future of innovation and growth in the powder coating industry. So, as I gaze ahead as to how to my career will continue to unfold, I implore those eager and hardworking entrants to never stop learning.