By Jeff Alexander, Valspar Corporation
Today, everything seems to claim “innovation” on the label – from the cell phone we choose to the car we drive, and even some of the food we eat. They all tout innovation. But what makes something truly innovative – new, ground-breaking and inventive? In the architectural coating manufacturing industry, it all comes down to the properties of a product and what benefits or services it can provide to the end user.
An example of the paint industry's responsiveness to its customers was the development of harder, abrasion-resistant coatings. These types of coatings ensure that the panels installed on the job look as good as they did the day they were made.
Examining The Market
Every reputable coating manufacturer has a team of people dedicated to researching and identifying the needs of the consumer. Whether the focus is on increased durability, better color retention or more color options, research teams are constantly on the hunt. But the real innovation comes when teams take it a step further. Instead of just responding to the needs of a customer, innovative companies will predict – and solve – a problem before it even arises. Great coating manufacturing companies have R&D teams constantly dedicated to predicting customer pain-points in the hopes that they can thwart a problem.
When customer issues are raised, however, innovative thinking is needed. One example of eliminating an industry pain-point is the development of abrasion-resistant architectural metal building product coatings. Durability is always a high priority for an exterior coating, so certain teams began to look at everything surrounding a coating’s durability. One of the steps during the life of a coated metal panel is transportation. At this point, most panels undergo heavy amounts of shipment and handling, which can easily lead to scratching or marring of the surface before ever arriving on site. To combat this, an innovative coating technology was developed to prevent typical wear-and-tear of a panel and its coating and ensure a panel is in tiptop shape for installation. Abrasion-resistant coatings soon became a must-have in the industry with installers immediately responding with appreciation for addressing and remedying a common frustration.
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Efforts to improve the weatherability of coatings never end. Testing is an ongoing process for coatings manufacturers, ensures coatings can withstand the rigors of Mother Nature for the amount of time promised.
Examining The Product
Another must-do in our industry is testing coatings to ensure they will accomplish everything they’re supposed to. However, to become truly innovative, companies must push these tests to the extreme. At Valspar, every coating we produce must make it through our test fence, located at our facility in Florida. At this site, we make sure metal panels coated in our latest and greatest products can withstand brutal conditions, ranging from scorching sun rays and salt corrosion to tropical storms and hurricanes.
There are external partners that test for and set standards surrounding innovation, as well. The University of Florida helped Valspar with testing some newer products using different assessment methods, like tribology. This helped our company go even further and take our coatings to the absolute extreme in testing.
Programs like the U.S. Green Building Council, IFLI Living Building Challenge and Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) set standards in the industry that they hope new products will achieve when it comes to certain aspects of sustainability. The innovative minds at each company then look internally to find ways in which they can meet or exceed these industry benchmarks.
Requests for new colors and special formulations drive the paint industry's innovative direction. Above and below are recent projects involving custom coatings. Click the images to learn more about the projects.
Examining The End-Use
Color experts spend their careers assessing the way color makes us feel and the impact it has on a neighborhood or city. They, in combination with coating manufacturers, attempt to predict what new trends will come into the market – what does the consumer want and how can we create it? By identifying consumer needs and emerging trends, these specialists help shape the entire industry and the ultimate visual impact a building or set of buildings can have on a setting. This forward thinking is key to innovation and ultimately spurs new products and industry developments.
For 2017, we’ve identified some new trends that will impact coating colors, like the blending of luxury and utility, technology and its importance in our world, and reflecting on the simple things in life. Now it’s up to us as coating manufacturers to use our innovative thinking to determine how those trends will influence our products.