Understanding Customer Needs
It is interesting to read about the different approaches to develop high-performance masonry coatings. It has long been stated and demonstrated that all-acrylic-based coatings have high performance. On the other hand, a wider variety of technologies have also been used successfully for many years. They include vinyl acrylics, styrene acrylates, vinyl versatates and silicone resin emulsion paints (SREP). Documented performance exists for each of the polymer types, but it is sometimes difficult to compare because the approaches and methods to measure performance are often not the same, especially when global requirements are considered. In fact, performance is often measured differently among coatings manufacturers, even within the same country. In the end, coatings manufacturers are provided with a wide range of new, unique offerings, but they need to sort through the information and perform a significant amount of testing to identify, select and use the technologies and products that really provide value to them.
Understanding this situation provides the basis for using a slightly different approach. What if one went back to Marketing 101 and focused on understanding the market situation and specific customer needs? This would include identifying influential trends, dividing the industry into specific coating manufacturer application interests, studying their needs (including testing approaches and methods) and then developing offerings independent of the technology base that provide real value to coatings manufacturers and end-users.
What if raw material suppliers really didn't care about selling the type of material in the drum, but focused on providing coating solutions? One should focus on the "what" first, then on the "how." Of course, this would require raw material suppliers to have much more than raw material expertise - they would also need sound marketing knowledge and coatings applications expertise to determine what the desired coatings should look like and evaluate them in the same way a coatings chemist would. Finally, they would need to have the formulation flexibility to use whatever raw materials they wanted to achieve the desired features, advantages and benefits.
This paper provides an example of how this solutions-oriented approach was used to develop a new patent-pending technology for a specific masonry coating application. During development, the new product was quantitatively shown to provide features and advantages that are meaningful to coatings manufacturers. A variety of technical approaches were evaluated with the focus on providing a coating solution.
Construction and Masonry Coating TrendsIn today's fast-paced business environment, it is often difficult to have time to perform analyses and prepare business plans in the depth that one would in business school or when starting a new business. However, with industry knowledge, experience and the use of some good tools, it is quite possible to cover critical aspects and to quickly drill down to a specific application with unmet needs. To this end, Noveon effectively employed a market-oriented, cross-functional team to analyze and describe vertical masonry coatings applications, propose key unmet needs, evaluate the opportunity for providing a new vertical masonry coatings technology, formulate sound customer value and strategy statements, and develop and implement comprehensive action plans.
The team used a set of tools to study the masonry coatings market and to identify key unmet needs. They learned from a wide variety of sources that construction activity, a major driver for masonry coatings use, has been strong and is projected to continue to be strong. For example, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that construction spending for the period of January 2005-October 2005 was 8.8 percent higher than for the same period in 2004.1 Nonresidential construction and residential renovation and home improvements are contributing to the growth. The DIY channel has been growing, but the contractor channel has been growing even faster, likely due to the aging population, growing prosperity and desire to spend available personal time on leisure activities.
As commercial and residential property owners seek to spend less time and money on construction, repair and maintenance, they have increased their use of more cost-effective, durable masonry building materials. Masonry construction growth has been growing rapidly, especially with fiber-cement board and tilt-up concrete products. There is also a trend toward the use of more aesthetically pleasing building materials, from split face block and stamped concrete to stucco, EIFS and faux finishes. While extremely durable, these masonry building materials are often prone to degradation and cracking on weathering requiring the use of coatings. Additionally, it is often more cost effective to use a coating than to incur renovation costs. As such, building owners (and coatings formulators) are looking for more decorative, long-lasting coating solutions.
Non-elastomeric conventional coating performance failures are leading to the development and use of higher-performing masonry coatings. These failures are easy to identify by observing their cracking, blistering and peeling. As such, coatings companies are developing coatings with improved properties resulting in high growth rates for acrylic-based elastomeric masonry coatings. These high-performance coatings protect against heavy rainfall, wind, snowfall and even ponding water. Coating improvements are also directed towards better coating application flexibility and speed as well as clean up. Increasing raw material costs are also a trend requiring technical innovation to provide value, offsetting material increases. As with other coatings applications, environmental regulation changes are driving reformulation to lower-VOC coatings. Green technologies are becoming more and more prevalent. One way to improve contractor ease of use, reduce VOCs and reduce cost is to reduce the number of coats. Key masonry coating trends and developments are targeted toward higher coating performance, greater ease of use, environmental soundness and coating attractiveness.
Masonry Coating Applications and NeedsWith notable exception of textured coatings systems, three general kinds of coatings are used widely to top-coat vertical masonry substrates in North America: conventional latex house paints, full elastomeric coatings and what we describe as semi-elastomeric coatings. Figure 1 describes the major differences, advantages and disadvantages between these coatings. Silicone-acrylic-blended breathable coatings, used more widely in Europe, also provide high-performance, durable coatings, but without the ability to span cracks. Semi-elastomeric coatings, when formulated properly, can provide high performance at a lower cost than other high-performance options.
Once an application is selected, it is necessary to drill down to specific end-user needs to develop value-added raw materials and coating solutions. Noveon developed some tools to ensure that real customer needs would be met by new technologies and products. A process called road-mapping is used to quantitatively measure the properties that are important to customers, how well current offerings meet their needs, and where there is a satisfaction gap that can be closed with new, innovative offerings.
Noveon road-mapping work showed that end-users seek clean, long-lasting coatings with consistent appearance and color. Application flexibility and crack-bridging performance are also desired. Clean coatings show up in the desire for reduced dirt pickup and efflorescence in combination with high weathering performance. Long-lasting, durable coating needs show up in the desire for weathering and crack-bridging performance (resulting from polymer properties such as elongation, tensile stress). Application flexibility is reflected in the desire for more alkaline-resistant coatings so applicators can apply the coatings directly to masonry, even at high pH levels shortly after construction.
BenchmarkingOnce these customer needs were understood through road-mapping it was important to learn how well they were being met by current coatings. To that end, Noveon benchmarked existing raw materials and, more importantly, coatings using test methodology commonly used by formulators to understand coatings industry performance levels. Materials from a number of suppliers and manufacturers were evaluated relative to the parameters and performance standards revealed in the masonry coating road-mapping, including 18 commercial masonry coatings from 13 coatings manufacturers (large to small, national to regional). Some commercial masonry coatings performed well relative to particular coating properties, but none of them provided excellent performance against the combination of desired coating properties.
It has been noted that there is some confusion about the definition of an elastomeric coating. This observation became very apparent during our benchmarking exercise where coatings with a wide range of physical and performance properties were found. For example, masonry coatings tested ranged in elongation from 0 percent to >800 percent. It became clear the road-mapping and benchmarking results could more clearly define the desired physical and performance properties for semi-elastomeric coatings. As such, semi-elastomeric coating performance requirements were defined in terms of advantages and features as described in the following section on coating and polymer development objectives.
Coating and Polymer Development ObjectivesBased on the market research, road-mapping and benchmarking conducted, a masonry coating solution objective was identified (Figure 2).
In order to develop this coating solution it was felt that the polymer would have to provide the coating properties shown in Figure 3.
Product DevelopmentBefore development began, chemists from a wide range of chemical and application fields used brainstorming techniques to identify technology approaches that could potentially meet the development objectives. Some approaches were selected and screened. The most promising approaches were pursued to completion.
The new polymers - an all-acrylic and a styrene-acrylic - provide sound performance versus the desired performance properties and performance levels (Figures 4-8). They provide excellent dirt pick-up resistance, efflorescence resistance, alkaline resistance, weathering and crack-bridging performance. Note that all of the testing was performed without the use of primers - the coatings can be applied directly to masonry substrates due to their alkaline resistance and adhesion properties. It is also important to note that the new polymers were tested in coatings using test methods used by North American coatings manufacturers to obtain meaningful data and results.
ConclusionsIn conclusion, it is best to focus on specific customer needs with an open view toward developing the best technologies and products to meet those needs instead of focusing on a type of raw material. Some key tools can be used to better understand masonry coatings applications and performance of existing offerings, and develop new offerings that fulfill unmet needs. In this case, polymers with varying chemistries and properties were found to provide excellent performance against the identified customer needs.
By focusing on coatings solutions instead of coatings raw materials, a greater understanding for real customer needs can be incorporated into product development and testing. Testing coatings in the way that coatings manufacturers test coatings provides more meaningful and useful technical information that can be used to help reduce coatings manufacturer technical resource requirements and time to market. This provides coatings manufacturers with more opportunities to develop high-performance coatings to potentially gain competitive advantage, develop/maintain a high-performance reputation, and achieve higher sales and profits.
For more information, contact Noveon, Inc., 9911 Brecksville Rd., Cleveland, OH 44141; phone 216/447.5000; www.noveoncoatings.com.