Thermosetting Powder Coatings
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Published: July 2008
Powder coatings are applied to metal substrates to form highly durable and attractive finishes. They are manufactured and applied without the use of organic solvents; thus, they are highly desirable from an ecological standpoint. Most of the current interest in industrial powder coating technology (and the focus of this report) is on formulations based on thermosetting resin binders, predominantly epoxies and polyesters (saturated types with carboxyl or hydroxyl functional groups). Epoxies are preferred for their overall physical properties, while polyesters exhibit better outdoor weathering properties.
There has been some consolidation in the industry in recent years, mainly because powder coatings production has grown more rapidly in areas outside of North America, Western Europe and Japan, where these regions' manufacturers have much less of a presence. In China, powder coatings production roughly doubled from 2004 to 2007, with most production being by very small enterprises using unsophisticated equipment. China is now the leading powder coatings producer by far.
Since early 2004, the Western European and North American industries have faced rising raw material costs, especially with epoxy resins. A number of producers announced price increases, but stiff competition has not allowed them to have much effect in the marketplace. It is believed that most producers are operating at near break-even conditions. Gross margins have continually dropped during the past twenty years. Users have become more educated and consider many powder coatings to be commodity-like. Demand has stagnated since many larger users have moved to lower-cost regions. Use in Japan will stagnate as automotive, appliance and other manufacturers continue to establish production facilities in other countries.
Intense research efforts are ongoing to provide powder coatings that can be used in more markets, including wood, plastics and other nonmetallic substrates. UV-curable powders are being developed for medium-density fiberboard (MDF), which is used in interior kitchen construction, office furniture, roofing and wall panels, but to date, its use is limited.