Powder Coating - An Annual Trends Forecast

Posted on Tuesday, February 3, 2015

By Kevin Biller

The powder coating industry had been asleep for nearly a decade. Two recessions, off-shoring, over-capacity and slim profit margins cast this outstanding coating technology into a funk. R&D budgets were decimated and far too many experts either retired or got out of the business.

Fortunately, in the last four to five years the industry has experienced a resurgence in innovation. Technologists are finally heeding the call to develop new materials and processes to meet the emerging needs of the manufacturing sector.

The following is a summary of some of the latest trends in the manufacturing sector and the innovations powder coating technologists are developing to meet these transformations.


Powder on Plastic

Manufacturing processes are evolving and not surprisingly, methods and materials to coat manufactured goods are evolving as well. The use of lighter weight materials in fabrication continues to displace traditional substrates like steel and aluminum and hence coating technology must advance to meet the finish required for these new materials.

Plastic substrates encompass a wide spectrum of materials and processes. Each product has its own unique characteristics that strongly influence which coating technology is most suitable for protection and aesthetics.

How does powder coating fit into these trends? Some conventional powder technology is suitable for high temperature plastics. The only requirements are making the plastic surface conductive and achieving adhesion. These requirements are rather easily accomplished.

Low Temperature Cure

LTC powders have been touted as energy savers however their real value is in delivering a coating for heat sensitive substrates. For years these types of powder coatings have been applied to medium density fiberboard. There are basically two schools of thought. One uses LTC thermoset powder and the other uses UV curable powder products.

There are advantages and disadvantages with both. Thermoset types require higher temperatures and longer process time but can be used on complex part geometries with ease. UV curable types can be processed at relatively low temperatures (e.g. ~220ºF) and very short time cycles (30 to 90 seconds) however require line-of-sight curing with high intensity UV light. This is a compact but more complex process requiring a high level of control.

Bio-Based Polymer Systems

Formulating powder resins with renewable chemical feedstocks is a laudable goal and many researchers have attempted this. Derivatives of soybean oil, corn, sugar cane and cellulose have been incorporated into polyester resin backbones with limited success. The state-of-the-art is deficient in providing a cost/performance balance that is acceptable to the coatings industry. These lab synthesized products are more costly than petroleum based counterparts and provide less durable coatings. Regardless research continues in this area with the hope of developing more viable products.


High Density Low Velocity Application

One of the most gratifying developments in powder coating application technology is the new feed systems that deliver more powder with less air. This accomplishes a few very beneficial properties. The powder feed to the gun is more consistent with virtually no surging and spitting. In addition the lower air velocity makes penetration into tight corners and Faraday cages significantly easier. This development which is available from all the major equipment suppliers gives a more even and consistent film thickness range which translates into better economics and higher finish quality.


Robotic application of powder coatings has been around for decades however recent advances in design and software have made this once cost prohibitive technique affordable to a wider market. Robot manufacturers have developed high quality units that sell for under $50,000 making them accessible to mid-range finishers. In addition the software to operate this equipment has been made much more user friendly. Hence the high capital cost and need to employ a full-time robotic engineer have vanished which will help introduce this technology beyond the high end OEM finishing shops and into the custom coater mainstream.

Substrate Conductivity

Powder application to non-conductive substrates has been a bit of a mystery for the novice coater. For years a few shops relied on in-house proprietary techniques to electrostatically apply powder to their plastic substrate of choice. Recently chemical companies have developed new conductivity solutions that allow for excellent transfer efficiency of powder coatings. These products are now available to the coating industry.

With the availability of conductive preps powder coating technologists can explore novel approaches to finish a wide variety of plastic substrates.

Curing Technology

Infrared curing equipment technology is seeing a renaissance in development. A broad array of techniques are being refined and promoted to cure powder coatings. The finisher now has medium, long and short wave electric IR options to heat and cure their powder coating. In addition gas catalytic IR technology has been dusted off and is being specifically designed to cure powder coatings.


Significant changes are swirling in the markets traditionally served by powder coatings. The Powder Coating Institute reports that the agricultural-construction equipment (ACE), architectural, appliance and automotive industries account for approximately 40% of the powder coating volume in North America. The following will analyze some of the major trends in these industries and how powder coatings are affected.


Powder coatings have been well ensconced in the European architectural market since the early 1990s. Powder performance meets all the major European specifications and has an excellent track record of durability in European climates. Architectural market penetration in North America has been significantly less successful than that in Europe.

There are two drivers responsible for this. First the durability requirements in southern regions of the United States are far more stringent than most of Europe. This dictates the use of polymer types beyond the traditional polyester and superdurable polyester materials commonly used to meet European durability requirements. Consequently novel resin chemistry is needed to meet commercial quality specifications.

Fluoropolymers are the resin chemistry of choice to meet the highest quality U.S. architectural specifications (American Architectural Manufacturers Association 2605). These polymers are expensive and have less of a track record than their polyester counterparts. Second, the liquid coating producers have served the American architectural industry far longer than the powder producers and have lobbied hard against powder’s incursion into their market turf.

In spite of these barriers powder coatings have been developed and qualified to meet the AAMA 2605 specification. Powders capable of meeting this specification and the lesser residential specs (AAMA 2603 and AAMA 2604) are being sold to a few architectural product manufacturers to coat mainly aluminum extrusion window profiles and lintels.

Recently window and door manufacturers have initiated a move from aluminum extrusion profiles to pultruded profiles for construction of their products. Composites Technology magazine (May 2012) notes: “Pultruded fiberglass windows offer greater dimensional stability, impact resistance, strength and color fastness than the vinyl and wood windows that still dominate the residential construction market. But the dramatically improved thermal performance of fiberglass windows is promising gains in once out-of-reach commercial building construction, where fiberglass windows are increasingly seen as an attractive and viable alternative to aluminum windows.” Not only do fiberglass window frames perform better dimensionally, but they offer significantly lower thermal transmission and require 57 times less energy to produce than aluminum profiles.

The use of fiberglass profiles in the architectural industry is forecast to grow at double digit rates at the expense of aluminum extrusions. The impact on powder coating use cannot be understated. The hard-fought acceptance of powder coatings for architectural aluminum extrusions appears to be for an ever-shrinking market. Technologists are now refocussing efforts on developing novel powder solutions for pultruded profiles consisting of fiberglass reinforced polymers. These will have to be applied to this non-conductive substrate with a process temperature limitation. In addition the qualification process is somewhat complicated and lengthy.


Powder coating’s heyday in the automotive market seems to have passed. The spectacular growth in the 1990’s has given way to market decline at the hands of innovations in liquid coating materials and processes. At its pinnacle powder coatings were being applied as body coats at approximately twenty-three automotive finishing lines. This includes twenty-one primer surfacer lines and two clear topcoat lines. Since then eleven powder lines have been discontinued. Some are due to a consolidation of automotive product lines and others have been replaced by liquid paint technology.

New installations are all based on liquid paint technology. This includes assembly plants from North America to Europe and even Asia. The reasons? Liquid paint technology has evolved into a “compact” process by applying wet-on-wet processes that have eliminated one or more curing steps. In addition waterborne paint technology has been developed that meets the VOC (volatile organic compound) targets established by the EPA. Consequently non-powder technology is available that satisfies both economic and environmental requirements of the automotive finishing process.

Powder coatings used as body coats will continue to lose automotive market share. A sliver of good news is that automotive wheels production is growing and continues to use powder as a finish.

In the quest for lighter and more fuel efficient vehicles the overall composition of automotive products is becoming more and more polymer based at the expense of steel and aluminum. For powder coatings to experience any growth in the automotive industry new technologies for plastic substrates will have to be developed and refined.

Agricultural and Construction Equipment (ACE)

Powder coatings have been used to finish ACE components for decades. Most of the coating process is carried out at certified custom coater shops using products approved by the respective OEM’s. As with the automotive industry engineers are transitioning components traditionally built out of sheet metal and metal castings to injection molded and compression molded parts. This again displaces powder coating finishing processes with liquid paint systems. For powder coating technology to grow in the ACE world low temperature cure products for plastic substrates need to be developed and optimized for production.


The appliance industry was one of the first adopters of powder coatings back in the 1980’s when their industry was replacing the inefficient and energy consumptive porcelain enameling process. Powder coatings have enjoyed a solid share of the appliance coating market ever since. Some of this share has been eroded by high quality coil coatings mainly for kitchen and laundry equipment cabinetry.

As the appliance industry replaces components with molded and compressed plastic substrates. In some cases these plastics are high temperature materials and can be made conductive and coated electrostatically with powder. However the lower temperature resistant commodity plastics will require innovative powder technology.


The methods and materials of manufacture are changing. Metal bending, casting and extrusion are being replaced by injection molding, compression molding and pultrusion. Powder coating technology will have to evolve to meet the needs of these new processes and materials. High temperature resistance plastics such as Nylon, PMMA, PEEK and to a lesser extent fiberglass reinforced polymers (FRP) can be powder coated with relatively conventional powders with minimal process modifications. However it will take significant effort to develop novel powder materials to finish commodity type plastics. Material scientists and equipment engineers are diligently working to make this a reality in the not-to-distant future.

Kevin Biller is technical editor of Powder Coated Tough and the president of The Powder Coating Research Group. He can be reached at kevinbiller@yahoo.com.