French Company Brings Opportunity to U.S. Powder Coaters

Posted on Monday, May 9, 2022

By Perrick Godefroy

AV Composites, a French company, has developed a patented process for powder coating preassembled insulated sandwich panels. Used in the manufacture of shutters, gates, doors, and fences, 1.4 million square feet of the composite panels are coated each year. Now the company and technology are coming to the United States.

In my imagination, the South of France rhymes with vacations by the water on the French Riviera but also lavender fields as far as the eye can see. Nestled in Provence, in the heart of the Alpilles mountains, Saint-Rémy is one of those villages with a bucolic charm. Its warm climate, its open-air market every Wednesday morning, its bakeries, and its traditional houses make this small town the perfect place to discover the most authentic culture France has to offer.

Beyond its postcard appearance, the city is a cultural stronghold. The history of Saint-Rémy is intimately linked to the history of painting. Vincent Van Gogh, the famous Dutch painter, stayed there for a year. He even painted his most famous pieces there. “The Irises,” exhibited at the Getty Center in Los Angeles, “Starry Night,” which you can see at MoMA in New York, or his most famous self-portrait, all came to life in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.

The village has a common past with masterpieces exhibited in the most beautiful galleries in the world, and more recently, it is in the world of industrial painting (and especially powder coating) that Saint-Rémy has distinguished itself.

A Revolutionary Idea
In 2005, AV Composites settled in this picturesque environment to set up its industrial activity. This family business specializes in the manufacture of insulating sandwich panels for patio and carport roofs. The principle: to bond aluminum sheets on insulating plastic foam. Sandwich panels are made of three layers: a low-density core and thin layers bonded to each side and intended for use in applications where a combination of high structural rigidity and low weight is required. The process seems simple in theory but requires a deep knowledge of the material and know-how that is difficult to replicate.

Moreover, in the field of innovation, the company has a formidable history. AV Composites typically files at least one patent per year and we see ourselves as a locomotive for the entire market. By basing our approach on the combination of technology, innovation, and customer service, we believe the company is poised to continue international growth and be a technical leader in Europe.

This constant quest for innovation led AV Composites to the world of powder coating. Vincent Aprin, CEO and co-founder of the company, remembers, “An insulation manufacturer approached us. His product had multiple interests. When I heard that this plastic, made from 100% recycled bottles, could withstand temperatures up to 357 degrees Fahrenheit, I immediately thought of powder coating. The first powder coated insulating composite panel was born soon after.”

How does one powder coat a plastic foam core and aluminum sandwich panel?

The panels come in four foot wide and 12- to 23-foot- long boards. Composed of two 0.030-inch thick aluminum sheets bonded to a thermoplastic insulating core, these long panels are easy to drill and can be hung for powder coating application and curing.

The technical achievement does not stop at simply being able to powder coat panels containing a plastic material.

A former engineer in the aeronautics industry, Vincent Aprin took advantage of his past experiences to imagine a product that can be painted in a few minutes. “We borrowed a technique used to paint the fuselage of military helicopters so our panels are ‘ready to coat.’ The aluminum is degreased, passivated, and primed with a liquid epoxy primer. Finally, a vinyl film protects the surface. Drill two holes, remove the protective film, hang, spray, cure the panels, and it’s a wrap!”

By design, AV Composites’ powder coated product cuts chemical consumption and finishing time in half. “I don’t know of many products where you can coat 90 square feet in less than 45 minutes including curing,” says Aurélien Delestre, sales manager at Surfatech. “It is a good way to paint large volumes without mobilizing many resources.” Each year, this industrial subcontractor paints nearly 450,000 square feet of AV Composites panels.

The only constraint is temperature management. Plastic foam tends to swell when the oven temperature exceeds 365 degrees Fahrenheit. To be safe, only powders that cure at 356 degrees Fahrenheit and below are used. However, the material has good resistance to prolonged exposure. These characteristics make the technology compatible with a wide variety of powders.

A Virtuous Circle
In Europe, success was immediate. Every year, a surface of 2.8 million square feet is coated. The shutter industry was an early adopter of the technology, but manufacturers of gates, doors, and fences were also quick to embrace
it. “It’s a product that has quickly found its market,” says Fabrice Gravier, chief sales officer, and co-founder at AV Composites. “The benefits for our customers are multiple. First, they can offer an unparalleled level of customization for the end consumer. Secondly, the panels and profiles have the exact same color. The simplicity and speed of assembly saves them a lot of money. Above all, they can do all this with a single stock of panels.”

The appeal is such that the company generates 40% of its revenue from this technology. This makes it a highly strategic product.

“We are the specialists for sunrooms and carport roofing with our powder coated panels, and we have been able to diversify our customer base. We have also created a virtuous circle for the entire industry. Our panels alone represent a little more than three million dollars in sales for powder coaters in France,” adds Fabrice Gravier.

A Foot on American Soil
Strengthened by their commercial success, the AV Composites team decided to distribute their panels in the U.S. In 2019, the company began its quest and invested in offices and a warehouse in Florida’s Dade County, Hollywood to be precise.

Selecting Florida to start their American journey was an obvious choice. The technology AV Composites is developing is perfectly adapted to the American market. The company sees a real attraction for quality materials that are easy to use. In addition, the ecological argument is starting to have more and more impact on purchasing decisions. Finally, the multiple uses make it a real asset, a gate or a nice fence in aluminum is very attractive. Beyond that, it is a product well adapted to the protection of buildings against storms.

The plastic foam used to manufacture the panels is dense and highly resistant to impact. We have also identified a place in the hurricane shutter industry for these products. Our positioning is based on shutters that are very light but extremely strong; easy to assemble while respecting the traditional architecture of Southeastern homes.

Thanks to an investment in a state-of-the-art tenoning machine, the company can offer panels for shutter manufacturers in the board and batten style (siding and paneling uses narrow strips of wood placed over the joints of wide boards for a geometric, layered effect), as well as imitating louvers to perfection. With their solution, the intention is to steal the show from 100% extruded aluminum shutters, which can be costly and more difficult to spray for powder coaters.

While the impact of the pandemic slowed down the corporation’s momentum, the family business is now ready to finalize its establishment on American soil. It is currently expanding its network and actively working on the renewal of its anti-hurricane approvals. To achieve their quest for Florida Building Code and Texas Department of Insurance certifications, the French firm has connected with one of the most renowned engineering companies in Florida. For more than two months, the research and development team at AV Composites and the American engineers worked together to design a configuration that serves both the practicality and the effectiveness of the systems.

To be approved, shutters made with AV Composites technology must resist the impact of a 9-pound timber flying at a speed of 50 feet per second. This essential administrative work and testing is the final hurdle before launching the panels in the U.S.

The objective, among others, is to help the American powder coating industry benefit from all this technology has to offer.

Perrick Godefroy is export manager for the North American market for AV Composites.