Traditionally powder coating for wood has had its challenges, so what’s different now?
The launch of IFS PureClad® has propelled this exciting new technology into the limelight, but there are still questions to be asked – and answered – from application to performance. Chris Reding, director of alternate substrates and the guy who heads up the IFS PureClad® team, answers some of them.
First up, in one sentence, what is IFS PureClad®?
Well, the temptation to rave about the incredible benefits of PureClad® powders is huge, but in one sentence, here we go: IFS PureClad® is a range of smooth, durable, low temperature cure powder coatings with exceptional physical performance capabilities and gorgeous aesthetics for non-metal substrates like wood, MDF, and fiberglass.
Interesting. What do you see PureClad® being used on?
Cabinet fronts, residential and office furniture, trim, and moldings are an intuitive fit, but with many conceivable applications that together represent a space that is roughly 10 times the size of the metal coatings market, the possibilities are endless!
Tell me about the problems that PureClad® solves.
PureClad® achieves full cure at only 265°F in only 3-5 minutes, which means that many heat-sensitive substrates can now be powder coated without damage; and because the technology comes with excellent flow, especially our flagship product, PureClad® FFT, we can now cure in that space without compromising aesthetic properties. PureClad® finishes are tough, durable and have sufficient flexibility to accommodate the tendency of wood-based substrates to flex and shrink over time. For consumers, PureClad® finish means that finish on the products they purchase will look and perform exceptionally well over the life of the product. For manufacturers and coaters, PureClad® delivers remarkable throughput advantages and improved product quality; with a process that is safe for both employees and the environment. PureClad®, with virtually zero VOC’s, no hazardous waste, and the lowest carbon footprint of any industrial coating technology, is an environmentally friendly finishing solution – especially when compared to incumbent finishing technologies like liquid paint, laminate, or thermofoil. This is new, and great news, for these new markets.
What technical capabilities do powders in the PureClad® range have?
The product line includes grades designed for excellent physical properties (such as adhesion, crack, chip and mar resistance), outdoor durability, and antimicrobial properties. Unlike many powder coatings designed for low temperature cure, PureClad® powders exhibit excellent storage stability, and can be safely stored at room temperatures. They are also easy to apply, and due to advances in equipment technology, do not require an enormous manufacturing footprint. PureClad® FFT, our flagship product, boasts exceptional flow for a gorgeous finish and incredible flexibility. It’s genuinely exciting stuff.
So tell us a bit about you.
My role at IFS is centered on advancing the use of powder coatings to non-metal substrates like engineered and natural wood, fiberglass and other composites. I began my career in the field of powder coatings with Courtaulds Coatings. My experience in powder coatings includes quality management, manufacturing, and commercial roles in both powder coating and raw material supplier organizations.
What got you interested in coatings for wood?
Before joining IFS at the end of 2018, my role with my previous employer had evolved to market development assignments which focused on launching new technologies. The last of these assignments was to promote the company’s new technology for powder coating heat-sensitive substrates. Seeing what this technology could do, particularly among early adopters in Europe, made it clear to me that the world of finishing was in for another revolution.
Okay, back to the powder. What was the development process like?
As with any powder coating development, it all begins with binder chemistry. In this case, by connecting with the raw materials community for the best solutions. PureClad® FFT (our flagship technology) is based on a binder system that incorporates both polyester (for toughness) and urethane (for flexibility) functionality, catalyzed with a breakthrough curative that allows for very fast, low temperature curing with excellent flow properties. From there, our chemists focused on further development to optimize aesthetic and performance properties. The chemistry was exceptionally challenging, and took a great deal of R&D investment to master; with respect to both formulation and manufacturing process development.
What was the biggest challenge you faced?
The PureClad® solution goes beyond chemistry – meaning that we had to develop collaborative relationships with allied suppliers, specifically application and cure equipment suppliers. This collaboration started with formulary and process development and extends beyond that to connect customers with people and organizations that are equipped with answers that together form a complete finishing solution. Thankfully, we’re working with the best in the business on the application and curing equipment technologies, and together we are fully equipped to help customers from start to finish.
How did you feel when you realized you had a solution?
Super excited! For as long as I’ve been in powder coatings, the industry has made attempt after frustrated attempt to penetrate non-metal finishing markets. Despite those attempts, technical hurdles hindered the success. With PureClad®, we’re finally there with a total solution to offer the market a truly robust, value-added finishing alternative.
Why is PureClad® a first?
I think PureClad® represents the first time that formulary, application, and cure technologies were all successfully aimed in the same direction – to master the process to powder coat non-metal substrates. Breakthroughs in each of these technology dimensions, harnessed in a collaborative development and commercial process has transformed powder coating alternative substrates from the “iffy” proposition that it was in the past, to the robust solution that it is today – that’s what makes PureClad® different.
Is this something that any coater, large or small, can use?
The systems our allied suppliers have developed on the equipment side can be designed for any size operation. In Europe for example, early adopters range from coaters that finish a few dozen cabinet fronts in a day, to one that, on any given day, will powder coat five to ten thousand day beds and bathroom vanities.
What have you learned in the process?
From a commercial perspective, I think the most important lesson I’ve learned is that having custom coaters established, to give OEM’s an outsourcing option for powder coating is essential. After all, the powerful value-proposition that resulted in the growth of powder coating in the metals finishing space was fueled by the custom coaters that made it possible. That aspect doesn’t change when we look at the alternative substrates market space – we need forward thinking custom coaters to make it happen. Building and promoting the PureClad® coating community is super important.
What was most surprising to you?
Because the massive number of transitions to powder coating in metal applications had largely occurred before my work evolved to the commercial side, I didn’t have much of a view of incumbent finishing technologies like industrial liquid paints, laminates or thermofoil. Getting better acquainted with these technologies was a real eye-opener. If you look at consumer reviews of kitchen cabinets for example, the number one complaint – by far – is finish quality. Things like chipping, cracking, peeling, color fading… all problems that powder coating solved long ago! On a very serious side, I’m also surprised that such wasteful and hazardous technologies continue to be used in a time where so much knowledge is out there about the importance of safety and environmental stewardship. That said, I think most people care about these things; and, given a choice, will opt for more responsible finishing solutions. This makes promoting PureClad® more than a job for me – it makes the success of PureClad® a mission to do something meaningful to help people and the environment.
What would you say to someone considering looking into PureClad® powders?
IFS Coatings, together with our allied suppliers, understood from the beginning that the development of PureClad® was going to represent substantial investment with uncertain results. We took the risk, not only because the “upside potential” for our business was enormous, but also because it is our mission to deliver the environmentally responsible finishing choice… beyond metal. Thankfully, that risk paid off and we’ve overcome the hurdles! When coaters commit to bringing powder coating to substrates beyond metal, IFS will commit to working with you to ensure your success.
What do coaters have to do if they’re interested in IFS PureClad®?
Sending an email to PureClad@ifscoatings.com to let us know you’re open to a conversation would be a great first step. You can also learn more by visiting our website.
We look forward to exploring possibilities to work and win together!