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Young Talent Finds a Home in Powder Coating

Posted on Wednesday, September 26, 2018

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The PCI Scholarship Program was designed to assist students studying in areas that advance powder coating technologies and includes the PCI General Scholarship, as well as corporate member-sponsored scholarships. Over the past four years, 19 scholarships totaling more than $60,000 have been awarded.

Powder Coated Tough caught up with three past winners to see what drew them to the powder coating industry, what they are up to today, and how they are impacting the future of the industry.

Atman Fozdar -

2015 PCI General Scholarship Winner

Project Leader, Chemical Dynamics, Plymouth, MI

In his home country of India, Atman earned a Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering. After graduation he worked for a coatings manufacturer, Fozdar Products of Ahmedabad, India, and was responsible for production. The company had a history with liquid coatings and was ready to enter the world of powder. It was a growing technology, and while VOC regulations were not a primary issue in India at the time, there was an awareness of the low-VOC benefits powder coating presented. However, the primary drivers to entering the powder market were the technology’s high transfer efficiency, performance capabilities, one-step finishing process, and the fact that raw material costs and application equipment were no longer more than that of liquid coating equipment

With the previous barriers to implementing powder coating removed, at just 24 years old, Atman was tasked with overseeing the installation of the company’s first powder coating line. With no background in the chemical makeup of powder, he was provided with the standard and low temperature powder formulations developed for coating particle board and laminated sheets. Atman followed the formulation but also improved the application process by combining aspects of engineering and physics. It wasn’t long before Atman realized he wanted to learn more about the chemistry of powder coatings.

In 2014, Atman took his intrigue to Eastern Michigan University (EMU), where he studied polymers and coatings. While at EMU, Atman accepted an internship at Chemical Dynamics. Upon completion of his master’s degree in 2016, the firm hired him to the position of development chemist. Two years and several promotions later, Atman now serves as project leader, managing a team of four chemists and overseeing 15 to 20 projects at a time.

The bulk of Atman’s powder-related work currently focuses on sustainable and low temp/UV curable coatings, as well as application technology of powder coatings. Included amongst his many projects is the patent pending Conductive Adhesion Promoter (CAP), as he calls it, which enables the application of powder coatings on non-conductive substrates without any pretreatment. In addition, he and his team have just embarked on a project to develop a new generation matting agent for epoxy and hybrid coatings in collaboration with Fozdar Products. Based on an entirely new concept for architectural and matte applications, the project uses all sustainable materials which have both EPA and REACH approvals. Atman notes that beyond the environmental benefits, the concept eliminates recent concerns relating to Chinese chemical providers and market volatility

Development of next generation super-hydrophobic powder coatings with superior corrosion resistance for offshore applications is also on his list of endeavors. And, he has his sights on developing functional/smart-enabling technologies such as self-healing and self-stratifying powder coatings

Atman considers PCI to have been a partner of sorts in his powder coating journey. He has attended and presented at multiple powder coating events including PCI’s Powder Coating Technical Conference. He is an avid reader of Powder Coated Tough and has submitted questions to “Ask Joe Powder.” Atman notes that his involvement with PCI motivated him to work on new generation application technology for non-conductive, non-traditional substrates which incidentally, was the basis of his thesis and something he continues to work on at Chemical Dynamics.

Atman is still involved with EMU and has collaborated with multiple PCI members on projects, including Parker Ionics, IGP, and Keyland Polymers. “I feel a strong connection with many in the powder coating industry. It’s a super fun, great community,” shares Atman. Without a doubt, Atman Fozdar is in the powder coating industry to stay.

Diana Rodriguez –

2016 PCI General Scholarship Winner

Development Scientist, Autonomic Materials, Inc., Champaign, IL

diana rodriguez

As a high school student in her home country of Colombia, Diana excelled in chemistry and math. When it was time to choose a field of study for university, she thought chemical engineering was a good combination of her two strengths, even though she admits she didn’t know what chemical engineers did at the time. Diana initially focused her studies on the food industry but was unable to find an internship in the field. Instead she received an offer from a polymers company, which she accepted without much enthusiasm. Much to her surprise, she fell in love with polymers and never returned to the food industry

After completing her undergraduate studies, Diana worked for a couple of coatings companies in Colombia before deciding to come to the United States to pursue a master’s degree in polymers and coatings. This decision was fueled by Diana’s desire to learn more about powder coatings and waterborne technologies. Liquid is the dominant coating technology in Colombia and while powder coatings are used, there are no powder producers. As a result, Diana’s first real introduction to powder coating was through some of her studies and internships while at Eastern Michigan University

Graduating from EMU in April 2018 with a master’s degree in polymers and coatings, Diana joined Autonomic Materials, Inc. in June as a development scientist. The company produces self-healing additives for liquid and powder coatings and has extensive experience in the development of self-healing agents, but needed help building out their formulation and application development capabilities. Enter Diana – the young scientist was brought on to use her experience to optimize different coating formulations for the performance of self-healing agents.

diana rodriguez

A relative newbie to the powder coating industry, Diana is full of excitement for her new job and the opportunities it offers to continue to learn about the various chemistries involved in powder coatings. “It’s a brand-new position and project so there is lots to do. This is my first time working with self-healing technologies, so there is a definite learning curve,” remarks Diana.

With her studies complete and a bright future in the industry, Diana would like to get more connected with PCI. Recognizing the vast knowledge pool of the organization, Diana knows she would benefit from PCI’s industry experts. And while she believes that interaction could very likely assist her in her work endeavors, she hopes that members could also find value in her experiences.

Diana considers herself completely passionate about what she does. “I truly believe that I did not choose the coatings industry - it chose me,” claims Diana. With many development opportunities, Diana sees herself in the industry for a very long time.

Raviteja Kommineni –

2017 PCI General Scholarship Winner

Product Development Chemist, Chemical Dynamics, Plymouth, MI

Raviteja Kommineni

After receiving a Bachelor of Science in chemical engineering in his native India, Raviteja entered the job market. It was when he was searching for a career that he learned about the coatings industry. His first job was with Behr Process Paints India Pvt. Ltd, Pune where he worked for two years as an R&D Chemist. Here he developed an interest in coatings and decided to pursue a master’s in polymer coatings in the United States at Eastern Michigan University.

Raviteja’s first real encounter with powder coating was at EMU. It was an entirely new topic for him as his previous exposure to the coatings world was limited to liquid. He got a taste for the technology in his studies and expanded his knowledge through an internship opportunity with Chemical Dynamics, where he worked on a variety of coatings related projects.

Upon completion of his degree in April 2018, Chemical Dynamics hired the one-time intern to a full-time position. Just a few months into his role as product development chemist, Raviteja is responsible for looking over a wide variety of lab projects, including raw material testing, paint manufacturing, evaluation, and more. “Chemical Dynamics is a full-service paints and coatings consulting firm, so I get to work on a variety of projects and technologies at once. As a result, I am constantly learning, researching, and am exposed to every aspect of coating,” notes Raviteja. He considers this to be of great value in his pursuit to gain as much experience as possible.

One of Raviteja’s favorite powder-related projects was one he worked on alongside fellow PCI Scholarship Winner Atman Fozdar during his internship with Chemical Dynamics. The project focused on powder coating non-conductive, low-temperature cure substrates. These materials, such as composites and plastics, have traditionally presented a challenge for conventional powder coating technology. Solving these challenges has the potential to impact the expansion of the powder coating industry which made the project particularly interesting. More recently, Raviteja has embarked on a new project surrounding matting agents in powder and is excited for this new learning adventure.

Raviteja is grateful to PCI for the scholarship that assisted him in his graduate studies. He has continued his interaction with PCI, attending the Powder Coating 2017 Technical Conference and planning to attend future PCI conferences both to present research and to gain in-depth knowledge about the powder industry. He believes PCI offers a variety of valuable resources to learn about recent developments and trends in the powder coating industry which in turn provides an idea of what challenges the powder coating industry is facing, giving some direction on focus for research.

Raviteja’s dream is to see the projects on which he and his colleagues at Chemical Dynamics are working used commercially in the powder coating industry. In particular, he hopes that the technology they develop revolutionizes the non-conductive substrate market. “I fully intend to stay in the industry for a long time. I see a lot of potential for research and immense growth. Most importantly, I enjoy working in this field,” he shares.

raviteja

Predictions from the Perspective of Powder’s Young Leaders

All of the profiled PCI Scholarship winners agree that the powder coating industry has a promising future. With VOC regulations and an emphasis on sustainable coatings, powder is well positioned for future growth. However, all concur that in order for the industry to achieve its true potential, technological advancements are needed. “Industry is moving towards using lightweight materials and complex designs in their manufacturing operations. As a result, the powder coating industry must find a way to coat non-traditional, thermally-sensitive substrates such as composites, glass and ceramics, created through injection molding, extrusion processes, and others,” states Raviteja. They also see the development of new technologies, such as conductive additives that allow application on non-conductive substrates and powders that can be cured at low temperatures, as a catalyst to expand the use of powder to other applications.

diana rodriguez

While new to the industry, Diana can already see that further development of technologies, like self-healing agents, will improve the anti-corrosive performance of powder coatings and open the door to new applications for powder. And Atman envisions significant potential in true thin film application, which would reduce the required amount of powder, and depending on chemistry and application, achieve a strong performance level. He notes that powder particle size, distribution and current application technology are some of the key factors to be considered in this area.

All believe the combination of recent advancements and ongoing research in powder application technology has the potential to unlock many exciting, previously-unexplored areas with significant possibilities for the powder coating market

Attracting Young Talent to the Industry

While all three of our young industry leaders earned a master’s degree in polymers and coatings, they also noted the program’s heavy focus on liquid coatings with a lack of attention to powder. Simply stated, the trio feels strongly that in order to get more young people interested in powder, changes need to be made at the university level. “Currently, there just isn’t enough information or classes on powder,” states Diana. “To be frank, people choose careers they are familiar with. If they aren’t familiar with powder, they won’t pursue it. If there were more courses, projects and internships focused on powder, there would be increased interest in the industry,” adds Raviteja.

The group is also quick to point out that the onus of attracting young people to the industry does not rest solely on the shoulders of universities. Employers share in this responsibility. “Many powder coating companies are hiring coating chemists that work in R&D and go into formulations,” notes Atman. “Companies should work with universities to ensure students have the background they need so they can hire them out of school,” he adds.

And what about those generational differences that seem to be a constant struggle for employers? Well, our young trio has some insights to help navigate the mindset and desires of Millennials and Gen Z-ers. “First and foremost, be sure to give students and young professionals challenges and a good competitive environment. Let them be creative and innovative,” suggests Atman. The group also expresses the importance of project variation in keeping the younger generation motivated. “They want to be exposed to all aspects of coating, from formulation to application and everything in between. Young people want and need to be challenged,” adds Raviteja. Illustrating this point with her personal experience, Diana shares, “When I graduated I got multiple job offers – including large corporations. I accepted the position with Autonomic Materials because it was interesting, challenging, and I would have the opportunity to lead projects and make decisions. This was very important to me.”

raviteja working

Flexibility is another area of importance to the younger generations. It seems they simply are not comfortable with the traditional ‘9 to 5’ work life. “Young people prefer to be judged on goal achievement rather than hours spent in the office,” notes Raviteja. “Instead of set clock-in and out times, they prefer freedom when it comes to work hours required to achieve a goal.”

All in all, the group sees the powder coating industry as a growing, exciting industry with lots of potential. They are also keenly aware of the industry’s aging workforce and the responsibility they have as its young leaders. As Diana points out, “The pioneers of many of the technologies are close to retirement, therefore, there are many opportunities for young and passionate professionals like me.”

Sheila LaMothe is managing editor of Powder Coated Tough magazine. She can be reached at editor@ powdercoating.org.

Author: Ryan Poeppel