Uncompromising Performance and Aesthetics

Posted on Tuesday, April 25, 2023

By Jorrit van Rijn

In a world that strives to be sustainable and brings beauty and color into our lives, it is not always easy to ensure the two desires are aligned. Historically, designers and manufacturers have had to make compromises, sacrificing one for the other. Today, however, things are different.

New innovations are such that choosing a more environmentally beneficial alternative to an existing product or process does not have to be at the expense of quality, finish, and/or style. This is especially true in the world of powder coatings. Powder coatings already have an edge over liquid and other forms of coatings when it comes to sustainability. Being essentially free of VOCs, and generating virtually zero waste, they have been a favorite in industrial finishing for many years. Further advances in color, finish, and performance have also steadily won their respect amongst some of the world’s best-known designers.

Now those very same designers are able to imagine and create products that mimic other finishes, that can make aluminum surfaces look like wood, stone, or brickwork, with all of the aesthetic benefits but none of the downsides of using the real thing. Other advances are enabling unsustainable practices such as enameling or chrome plating to be replaced by powder coatings that contribute significantly not only to improving environmental performance and cost reduction, but also maintaining brand reputation and customer integrity.

Switching to Powder from Enamel
A good example of this is ESSE, one of the most prestigious names in British manufacturing. Its premium- crafted cookers and stoves are icons of design and performance on the world stage and have a renowned reputation for color and style. When the business decided to further extend its portfolio to include a new range of electric- powered cookers, it also wanted to make the switch from an enamel coating to a powder coating. As ESSE’s Production Manager Andy Pilkington explains, “An enamel coating gives our cookers the gloss and shine that our customers expect in a premium-priced product.” He adds, “Not only is enameling a complicated process, but it can also ultimately be more costly for the consumer. Enamel chips can be very expensive to repair, and since powder coatings are less susceptible to chips and scratches, and are more sustainable, we decided to explore alternatives.”

Finding an alternative, however, was not as simple as it seems. The powder coating still had to perform and protect the cooker at high temperatures. It also had to deliver the same quality ‘feel’ that reflected the company’s brand ethos. In ESSE’s case, that meant not simply looking good in the most popular cream and black, but also matching custom colors, including a midnight blue and vibrant orange.

“Enamel has a reflective quality,” Andy continues, “and it was important in switching to a powder coating that it retained the aesthetic appearance. It was also important that our partner could replicate existing colors in our range since they prove extremely popular in our showrooms and have the standout appeal people are looking for.”

Making the switch to a powder coating has not meant compromising on having the exceptional levels of style and performance that Andy and his team were looking for. It did mean consulting on how the metal needs to be pretreated prior to powder coating application to ensure the powder properly adheres to the surface. It also meant choosing powder coatings resistant to high temperatures, in this case an Interpon HT PEPA powder, where excellent overbake stability and resistance to yellowing are essential to maintaining quality performance and appearance.

ESSE had very stringent requirements. “Color is very important,” says Mark Blewitt, sales director at ESSE. “Our products are high value items and are an important part of kitchen and interior design. The colors, therefore, have to be on-trend to meet our customers’ expectations. Sustainability is also key,” he continues. “The move away from vitreous enameling has helped ESSE to reduce energy consumption and move towards its lower carbon target.”

Switching to Powder from Chrome Plating
ESSE is keeping one step ahead of its competitors and ensuring a world-renowned brand continues to excel on the global stage. Another business with similar ambitions, and which initially wanted to make the switch from liquid to powder, was BiSAN, the first and one of the biggest bicycle manufacturers in Turkey.

BiSAN recognized an opportunity to become one of the few bike brands in Europe to have its own frame-making capability. It knew that bringing the manufacture of bicycle frames in-house and local would not expose it to challenges in the supply chain. It also knew it would give it a competitive advantage and attract new business from OEMs.

BiSAN’s General Manager Rabeno Sagman explains, “Previously the frames would arrive at the BiSAN plant prepainted. While the colors were popular, I recognized that the liquid paints they used came at a cost to the environment and the finish was not durable enough to meet our high quality standards. We made the switch to powder coatings, which are not only better for the environment, but also offer much greater protection, being highly resistant to UV, chipping, and scratches.”

“Best of all,” he continues, “is the range of colors and finishes available to us and a quality and consistency second to none. Custom colors support new model launches, and we can match existing color schemes that gave the look and feel of a fluorescent liquid paint, but without causing harm to the environment.”

Most recently, BiSAN began making the switch from chrome plating to an Interpon Cr chrome effect powder coating, which is more cost-effective, energy-efficient, less labor-intensive, and more sustainable. It enables BiSAN to provide customers and consumers with bicycle frames and associated products that have all of the fabulous appearance and corrosion resistance of chrome plating, but with none of the environmental downsides.

They also consume significantly less energy in production. BiSAN estimates it has cut energy consumption and cost by more than 40% since making the switch—a reduction that is not only better for the planet, but also supports the company’s profitability and future success.

Rabeno explains how the savings are realized. “Coating our bicycle frames with chrome plating is a four-part process requiring significant amounts of heat, with each step as energy intensive as the last. Using a chrome effect powder coating, however, requires only two processes to create the same stunning metallic finish that is even more durable. Making the switch was a simple choice.”

Crucially, BiSAN required a solution which provided the same level of durability for which chrome is renowned without compromising on the beautiful finish it can offer. In a 1,000-hour natural salt spray test, surfaces coated with a chrome effect powder coating evidenced minimal corrosion, cracking, or rust, surpassing the BiSAN team’s high expectations.

Rabeno concludes, “We have a customer base that spans the globe, so it’s imperative that our bicycle frames can handle any environment, from the rain of western Europe to the intense heat of the Arab desert. The proven durability and corrosion protection that comes with this particular chrome effect powder coating means the needs of our international customers are guaranteed.”

BiSAN and ESSE are just two examples of how innovations in powder coatings are helping to transform the way designers and manufacturers see and experience powder coatings. This positive trend looks set to continue, as businesses realize not just the aesthetic quality and performance now possible with powder coatings, but also the significant economic and environmental advantages of switching to a more sustainable option.

Jorrit van Rijn is global segment manager at AkzoNobel Powder Coatings.