Posted in: Industry News

Can Powder Coatings Be Smart

Posted on Monday, September 21, 2015

Industry analyst firm n-tech Research (formerly Nanomarkets) reports that the demand for smart coatings will grow from an estimated $610 million in 2015 to a whopping $5.8 billion in 2020. That’s an impressive compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of nearly 50 percent. This burgeoning market encompasses applications as diverse as automotive, marine, aerospace, military, construction, textiles and electronics.

So what, pray tell, makes a coating “smart”? Most technologists define smart coatings as finishing materials that dynamically adapt their properties to an external stimulus. Conceptually these fit into a number of categories: self-healing, self-cleaning, corrosion sensing, anti-fouling, anti-microbial, thermochromic, electrochromic, photochromic and self-dimming. Most are very specific to the end use and its functionality.

Some of the fastest growing and most dynamic applications probably won’t be able to use powder coating as a finishing option. Obvious areas such as textiles, touch screens and concrete coatings do not easily afford themselves to the use of powder. However, for a number of emerging applications powder coatings could be a good fit. So where does the potential lie?

As a formulator it’s fairly clear to see how the functionality of a smart coating is based more on the additives incorporated rather the inherent base formula. Creating most smart coating behavior is largely dependent on a specialized compound rather than reengineering the base resins that make up a powder coating. Basically, if the advanced material that provides a smart function can be incorporated into the powder formula and can withstand the fundamental powder processes (i.e., extrusion, electrostatic application and curing), then a smart powder coating is possible.

The most prominent example of smart powder is antimicrobial. These materials were introduced about 10 years ago and have gained wide use as a finish capable of protecting an object from degradation due to bacteria, viruses and mold. This is an interesting classification established by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for antimicrobial materials that have yet to be confirmed as a prevention of disease for the general public. A handful of powder coating manufacturers offer this technology to a broad array of manufacturers, including hospital equipment, public transit, food handling, medical equipment and playground structures.

Some powder manufacturers offer an extensive compendium of smart powder coatings. Adapta Color, SL, out of Castellon, Spain, has a diverse product line of smart powder coatings. These include antimicrobial, self-cleaning, retroreflective, photo and thermo-chromic (change with light and heat, respectively). One Adapta product is unique in that it is claimed to have the ability to absorb environmentally damaging nitrogenous oxides.

The nagging question for our industry remains, “are there bona fide markets for these technologies?” or are these just products looking for a home. Certainly there is an obvious need for anti-microbial finishes but what about these other more esoteric applications? In my lab we have encountered coating consumers that have requested thermochromic powders to indicate the temperature of a container. Another query centered on electro-chromic coating technology to demonstrate when live current is present.

So the question remains: Does powder coating technology have a “smart” future? The marketing pundits seem to think the finishing industry is ripe; will the powder industry be up to the challenge? Stay tuned.

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