Production technology: “Growing demand for new and improved systems”
What are the most significant trends in production technology for coatings manufacturing?
Dr Hans-Joachim Jacob: We are currently seeing growing demand for new and improved dispersion systems. Dispersion is the key technology in paint manufacturing, yet the dissolver technology employed, along with all its disadvantages and limitations, dates back to the middle of the last century. Another topic is flexibility. A processing system should be capable of making products in all possible batch sizes and variations.
Related to that is the trend towards better cleanability. Some new paint production systems are starting to resemble the systems employed in the food industry – easy to clean (CIP), completely drainable, internally “hygienically” designed to GMP standards – in the drive to enable product and colour changes in the shortest-possible times and with minimum cleaning effort. A new trend is the modular production system. This involves combining flexible modules to form entire process lines (MOFA).
Another is a changeover in raw materials handling (powders and liquids) from small units (cans, bags) to bulk material. Here, the materials are metered automatically. New systems need to be independent of raw materials suppliers and their delivery format. And finally, one disruptive trend is the shift away from co-grind and towards the slurry concept.
More about dispersion
What impact is “Industry 4.0” having on production technology for coatings manufacturers?
Jacob: The early stages of Industry 4.0 solutions are already in place in the paints and coatings industry. Such systems feature a high level of automation. They arrange the recipes in the optimum sequence to minimise cleaning steps. They are self-teaching and self-reacting to product requests.
Unfortunately, not all raw materials – especially powders – can be unloaded and metered automatically. We are currently working on projects aimed at performing operations on bulk material automatically during the night. Then, during the day, the same system is used for recipes which require operator intervention (e.g. handling of paper bags or changing of big bags). A part-time fully automatic system like this could become a trend in the years ahead.
Of course, it’s much easier to implement Industry 4.0 solutions in a green-field plant. The structure of the plant, the material flow and the entire technology could be easily designed to meet the new demands. But even in existing plants, partial solutions are possible.
Where do you see obstacles and challenges regarding legislation and regulations in this area?
Dr Hans-Joachim Jacob
Jacob: Some of the main issues and constraints concern traditional recipes, conservative production methods and keeping inefficient production systems running. New technologies provide a much wider range of possibilities. To take advantage of them and to save costs, it is best to use new, optimised recipes. Old-style dissolver recipes contain ingredients necessitated by the working principle of the dissolver (surfactant, antifoam, some of the thickener). Yet these ingredients are not required in the end product. New recipes are less viscous and more highly concentrated, and lead to higher quality, lower energy consumption and much shorter processing times.
The traditional production philosophy in paints and coatings industry has been to make a product, measure the quality, adjust the quality, measure again and adjust once more if required. The reason for this is a lack of consistency and uncontrollable dispersion conditions when traditional technology is employed. With new technologies, it is possible to manufacture to constant quality and to obtain reproducible results immediately – without the need for adjustments.
In the future, production will ideally be slurry-based. These are optimally formulated and dispersed. By combining just a few slurries, it is possible to produce a wide range of different end products and qualities. The end paint or coating is created by blending them simply as a liquid-liquid mix. A single system can readily make a product in any quantity or quality in a fully controlled and automatic manner.
Interview by Kirsten Wrede.