Interview: Developments and challenges in wood coatings
The last Wood Coating Congress in 2020 unfortunately had to be cancelled due to the pandemic. How important is it for our industry that we can meet again this year in the presence of others?
Rössler: From my point of view, it is very important to meet face to face again. It creates completely different contacts; you get to know other participants better and can network much better. Of course, web events also have their justification, but networking is not as possible there as in presence. I think it is very important that the wood coatings industry meets in this special format because the requirements are significantly different to other substrates that are coated. I always have good memories of this format in Amsterdam.
There are participants from the raw material industry, users, and coatings producers, also participants from the scientific field and research. This exciting mixture makes for many interesting discussions and questions and that is why I think it is important that this event takes place again. The topic of wood coatings is sufficiently large and special and needs its industry meeting place.
Event tip: The Wood Coatings Congress will take place on November 8 and 9 in Amsterdam in the Netherlands. The congress offers a comprehensive program on the latest developments in wood coatings.
What has happened in the industry in the last four years since the last event?
Rössler: An enormous amount has happened in the last few years that was not expected. It has challenged everyone in the industry to find answers to the many questions that have come up. One very important topic is of course the entire raw material supply issue, which has hit all sectors equally hard in terms of the search for alternatives. In addition, prices have risen enormously, and the cost of goods has become an existential issue, also because it is not easy to pass on the increased prices to the customer.
In the last few years, situations have arisen that we did not have in the industry before. I know of difficulties in the supply of acrylate binders, the one or other photo initiator or with a pigment, but always one at a time. But at this time, the supply problem has a breadth that I have never experienced before. This has been and is an enormous show of strength in addition to all the challenges of the pandemic and in addition to the challenge that the market in Russia and Belarus has effectively collapsed. These many changes have brought an overall unrest into the industry and are a cause for concern. In addition, the dependence on Asia has become even more obvious, way more than some may have realised, in the entire raw materials chain. In Europe, far too much has shifted in the last decades as far as the raw materials industry is concerned, and this is now the price we are paying for it.
What has happened in the wood coatings sector regarding sustainability?
Rössler: The topic of sustainability, especially the topic of Green Deal up to climate relevance, has gained enormous importance. Of course, it has always been present because people paid attention to environmental protection for decades. But the pressure from outside is great with this wave of legislation that has rolled in from the EU, with the chemical’s strategy, but also with the circular economy and the eco-design of products, etc. These topics were certainly not present to the same extent at the last event and the industry still has a lot to talk about.
These are challenges for research and development that have to design products sustainably, but it is just as important for the entire raw material chain, because you need renewable raw materials, alternative sources and everyone is talking about how to make the CO2 footprint more transparent. Completely new questions have arisen that certainly challenge the entire value chain, including large-scale industry. This has not happened to the same extent before. Legislation has also developed further in biocides, and many active substances are no longer available in the wood preservation sector and the pot preservation. This is not new, but it has become much more stringent politically. People want to get away from biocides and further reduce pot preservation. During the development, the questions focused more and more on renewable raw materials in addition to the topic of sustainability and awareness of the circular economy, which I will talk about in my lecture at the congress. Additionally, there is a strong move towards UV-curing systems and also the plant technology and the adaptation of coatings to it has developed a lot.
There are many exciting new processes that have come onto the market, such as the intert-process the excimer-process in the furniture industry. Electron beam curing has picked up again, even though this technology has been around for some time, and digital printing has also increased for the application of coatings. In the field of plant technology, application technology and curing, there have been real innovation thrusts that are very central to the industry.
Another issue is, of course, the lack of employees. We have never seen anything like this before. Until now, there was a shortage of skilled workers, but the fact that it is difficult to find someone for every position, from production worker to logistics, is new.
In your opinion, how does the programme of the Wood Coating Congress reflect these changes?
Rössler: Yes, because the large number of lectures on bio-based coatings catches the eye, but also the functional coatings, especially on the topic of anti-virals or fire protection, exist. In addition to new binders and other materials, test methods are always present in Amsterdam and form a basis for objective development. This stays abreast of ongoing normative changes. Simulation and digitalisation are also important topics, because the predictability of durability again creates opportunities for sustainability. What is not yet in the foreground here at the congress is the new system technology.
In your opinion, what is the goal of our event?
Rössler: I would like to get in touch with the industry more again and I am sure that I will succeed at the event. I am also looking forward to taking away new ideas and innovations that I can gain from the lectures and discussions. It’s not about a specific topic that I bring with me, but I want to think outside the box and network to be able to absorb the breadth of innovations. Refreshing thoughts and the view of others on the topics and how they are evaluated can be very helpful.
How necessary is it to tackle the challenges of our time across companies and as a joint team?
Rössler: I am convinced that we can only solve many things together and an event like this helps to stimulate this. But the paint industry tends to be very conservative, which is also noticeable in purchasing, where small quantities are often bought individually. However, it is absolutely necessary for the industry to organise itself, especially when it comes to legal issues, and to bring a scientific and well-founded basis to the political component, which can sometimes be very irrational.
We need to work together, for example we need studies that are very expensive, and we need the cohesion of raw material manufacturers, paint manufacturers and institutes. But this mixture is very well present at the event. Naturally, many companies find it difficult to work together. There are cross-sectoral projects, but there could be more. I am convinced that this is also necessary to tackle this big challenges.