A Colorful Proposition for Aluminum Wheel Coatings

Posted on Tuesday, April 30, 2024

By Gustavo Carvalho

 Times are changing and new trends emerging, like the trend we’ve observed in how vehicle OEMs need to guarantee that the product they deliver in one country is identical to the product they deliver in another. It’s a trend that has evolved from a ‘nice to have’ and ‘close enough is good enough,’ to one where only precise replication and consistency will do.

Changing trends are evident in every element of the manufacturing process, including the design, manufacture, and supply of wheels. Vehicle OEMs want their wheel suppliers to be close to where they build the cars. Wheel manufacturers demand the same of their suppliers, and this trend of nearshoring not only supports greater supply chain security, but also reduces costs and supports a more sustainable business operation.

Nearshoring is only possible, of course, by working with suppliers that have a global footprint. Being global, with global systems and technology platforms and global manufacturing, brings consistency and certainty wherever you happen to be in the world. Such certainty in delivery and supply is essential, as is another trend we’ve identified, which is the need to have the technical teams close at hand—locally—to optimize your processes and performance.

Most wheel manufacturers are global businesses with operations in multiple countries. The cars made in China are the same cars manufactured in Mexico, and they need the wheels to match. This is not an easy task. But understanding the requirement enables businesses like ours to engineer a solution. In this case, having a global infrastructure enables powder suppliers to map their global need with local manufacture and delivery. It means delivering consistency in color and performance through manufacturing excellence. It means giving customers the assurance that our coatings have been rigorously tested in accordance not just with global industry standards, but also the specific standards demanded by each OEM. This brings peace of mind and a guarantee of quality. It also means giving customers products that are more sustainable.

Doing More with Less
Manufacturers are increasingly looking to measure and reduce carbon emissions throughout their business and the supply chain as part of their environmental, social, and governance (ESG) responsibilities. Coatings manufacturers are themselves, therefore, seeking to develop products such as primers that cure at lower temperatures. If a coating cures at only 150 degrees Celsius, for example, then it requires considerably less energy than a coating that cures at a higher temperature. As such, it reduces an OEM’s carbon footprint by being more energy efficient.

Coatings manufacturers are similarly constantly seeking to do more with less. To that end they are developing layering systems with much higher efficiency. This means that less material (i.e., less of the coating) is required to achieve the results desired, without any detriment to performance.

By layering a combination of powder coatings and liquid coatings, such as our ‘OneWheel’ solution, for example, OEMs can create a ‘system’ to match every need comprising a choice of primers, basecoats, and clearcoats.

The principal purpose of the powder coating primers, is to prepare the substrate to receive color and offer degassing properties to create a smooth surface for applying the basecoat. They are important because they not only contribute to the final appearance of the coating system, but also deliver the most efficient protection against corrosion that can be caused when surfaces are damaged by road debris and stone chips.

Basecoats play a crucial role in bringing the color to life; they are also available in various different special effects, from metallic to mica shades, conforming to OEM specifications.

The main advantage of the clearcoat is as a further layer of protection for the basecoat, to retain color, gloss, and integrity. With outstanding application consistency and film performance, the clearcoat combines Class A elegance and OEM-specified durability in a super smooth finish with crystal clear transparency.

Certain clearcoats comprise an advanced, high-clarity formulation that is specifically developed to enhance filiform corrosion resistance on diamond cut aluminum wheels. This provides long lasting protection from chipping, scratching, wheel cleaners, and corrosive road environments.

Shaping the Marketing with Purpose
Another important trend to consider: Today, manufacturers want their supply partners not only to keep up with the latest design styles, but also to predict—and play a part—in what comes next.

The capital outlay in buying a car is significant. Customers have become more demanding. Cars reflect our outward personality and individuality and how we like to be seen by our peers. OEMs know this; it’s why the aesthetic design of every part of a vehicle is now important. Wheels, brake callipers, and trim which were previously ‘functional’ are now integral to the vehicle’s design—a way to accentuate its power and style, and say things about the owner, especially for higher performance models.

We witness this with all our OEM partners, exemplified by the trend toward copper and blues. There is also a clear trend towards more idiosyncratic hues of yellow and green, as well as mixed colors, gloss finishes, and etched designs.

Wheel designs help make a statement that reflect the unique brand personality, and as such, manufacturers want colors that are their own, unique to their model and brand. This is where the ability to replicate locally a color that the customer wants to use globally—and to do so consistently— is essential in supporting manufacturers as they increasingly seek to differentiate their products from their competitors.

But it is also about working in partnerships with customers to design and develop new colors and identify and determine new trends to keep customers out in front. Then it is not about replication, but rather creating something that is fundamentally new, and innovating not just new colors, but also coatings with enhanced performance, with greater resistance to chipping and scratching, and the damage caused by UV light.

Performance of the coating really matters. It mustn’t only protect against chips and general wear and tear as already highlighted. It must also be able to protect the wheel and its parts from the risks posed by corrosion, chemicals (e.g. gasoline, brake fluid, etc.), and brake dust, to make them easier to clean and looking better for longer.

The automotive industry is renowned for its innovation. It is constantly re-inventing itself. Open wheel designs are now an established trend, especially for high-end sports cars.

Closed wheel designs are also a trend, notably for electric vehicles, helping to further improve aerodynamic efficiency. In both cases, they are creating a demand for more color, more style, and even greater performance. They are also confirming the need for global partners with an established global footprint.

Gustavo Carvalho is automotive KAM and segment director at AkzoNobel Powder Coatings.