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Wednesday, 26 February 2020

A thought for the New Year - Technology delivers sustainability.

Friday, 20 January 2012 | Posted by: Peter A. Rieck, Marcmoor Ltd.

Technology once again opens new possibilities and commercial forces create a dividend of greater sustainably.  The industry’s sustainability profile takes a step forward thanks to technology that will preserve the UK and Scotland’s famous Forth Bridge for 25 years.

"Painting the Forth Bridge" is an English colloquial expression for a never-ending task, coined on the erroneous belief that at one time in the history of this bridge no sooner had the painters finished painting the bridge than they had to go back to the beginning and start painting it all over again.

The Forth Bridge was built in steel alone, between 1883 and 1890 was the first bridge in Britain to use that material.   It was the first major structure in Britain to be constructed of steel; its contemporary, the Eiffel Tower was built of wrought iron.  Large amounts of steel had become available only after the invention of the Bessemer process in 1855. Until 1877 the British Board of Trade had limited the use of steel in structural engineering because the process produced steel of unpredictable strength. Only the Siemens-Martin open-hearth process developed by 1875 yielded steel of consistent quality.

As with building the bridge in the first place, technology made it possible.   The basis of the coatings used resulted from research and development originally carried out for coating oil rigs.   The glass flake epoxy coating resulted from collaboration between a Bolton based paint company and a research and technology development group.

The real lesson to be learnt is that the use of new technology in building the bridge and the resulting publicity that surrounded the success of the project radically changed the steel industry, opening up commercial growth that would otherwise have taken decades to achieve.

In our present period of flat or even negative levels of GDP, there is tremendous commercial benefit for those who invest in R&D and generate new technology.   Today’s really successful companies that are bucking the trend are the companies that have been able to clearly identify and exploit opportunities to grow by answering real customer needs with technical solutions.

Commercial success through this approach to business is the result of intense co-operation between marketing and research with the complete support of senior management.   Once the domain of smaller and medium sized companies with visionaries at the helm, as the cost of development rises and the solutions need higher and higher levels science to achieve breakthroughs we are seeing two distinct camps emerging, larger companies with the resources in house and an increasing number of smaller companies working in collaboration with research centres, universities and institutes.   Even governments are becoming interested, vying for public attention, wanting to be seen to put funding into research that will boost the economy.

In the present economic climate, there is a great opportunity for paint companies.   Customers are hungry for processes and materials that will strengthen their financial performance, improve quality, create unique selling points and cut fuel bills and running costs.   Paint is one of those materials that can produce extraordinary results for customers and do it more quickly than most other materials than perhaps composites.   What is more it is instantly visible – self healing, thermally responsive, RF transparent, touch sensitive, longer lasting, energy efficient and so on all areas that are high on the customers’ agendas.

The success story of coating the Forth Bridge is a powerful reminder of what paint can do; a promotion for the industry and its products.   It is also a perfect example to the world at large, governments in general and customers in particular of just how important paint and its technology are to the modern world and how sustainability is a natural bye-product of research in the industry.

When we develop successful technology we should not only capitalise as companies but we should also blow the industry’s trumpet.

Peter Rieck,

Marcmoor Limited& Peter Rieck Consulting                                     Blog 8 – 12.01.2012

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