Environmentally friendly paints have been marketed by Para Paints Inc., a mid-sized Canadian manufacturer, for many years. The Brampton, Ontario-based company has built a reputation for innovation based on its research. President David Smith notes that while major paint manufacturers have extensive in-house research labs, mid-sized and smaller manufacturers usually outsource most research. Para Paints bucks that trend. Nine of the company’s 80 employees in corporate headquarters operate an aggressive R&D laboratory.
“The ability to be innovative and move fast is one way to stay in the game,” Smith says. “Over the years Para Paints has become recognized for being either first to market or among the first to market. For example, we quickly realized the potential of the color computer and effectively introduced it at a very early stage. Today, our color system offers 2,411 colors — the world’s largest collection of colors in one display.”
Para Paint’s reputation for innovation is recognized by suppliers, Smith says, and the company is often included in requests to test new materials.
Speed to MarketWhat makes the company’s research unusually effective is the ability to quickly decide to change and improve formulations. Doug Wright, director of R&D, says a mid-sized company can bring new formulations to market much faster than major manufacturers, and speed to market provides a marketing advantage.
“With regards to lower VOC and lower odor architectural paints, Para has always been a leader. We are continually evaluating new raw materials that will further lower our VOCs and odor while maintaining or improving the performance qualities of our formulations. Velate 368® coalescent was one such material,” Wright says. “Para was the first Canadian company to utilize this unique coalescent in their formulations. From the start of research to shipment of the first product to dealers was less than four months. That’s an important market advantage and one our dealers have come to expect.”
Wright says the company works to further reduce VOC and odor in their products. It began using Velate 368 coalescent in September 1999 when the company received a direct mail piece announcing the new product. Brian Loyst, senior development chemist, called his distributor to order a sample for testing the same day he read the sales piece.
“When anything new comes out I get on the phone to make inquiries,” Loyst says. “I’ve been in the paint industry for more than 30 years, and have a lot of contacts with distributors and manufacturers. We have at least 50 samples under testing right now. They have learned that I will give them a fast, unbiased answer on whether a new material is something we can use.”
When Loyst called about Velate 368 he learned the product was so new that the distributor did not have detailed information on hand. The manufacturer, Velsicol Chemical Corp., based in a suburb of Chicago, was set to introduce coalescent at the then-upcoming 1999 ICE show. The direct mail piece was sent to announce the formal introduction.
Loyst prodded his distributor for a sample. A one-liter sample arrived on September 27 and he immediately began testing it. Tests showed that from a performance standpoint the coalescent was a viable replacement for the coalescing agent the company has been using for more than 25 years.
“The product did everything the flyer claimed it would and more,” Loyst says. “We were primarily interested in the lower VOC levels that might be possible and reducing the amount of coalescent required in our formulations. What we found was that in a number of our latex formulations, Velate 368 was very effective, lowered VOC, required less material, cut our costs and reduced odor.”
Based upon those advantages, Para Paints began changing the formulations of several latex paint product lines.
Basic Testing ProtocolPara Paints typically uses coalescent in its latex paints at a level of 5–10% on resin solids, says Loyst. An interior flat latex coating using a Rohm and Haas polymer from Para Paint’s professional product line was selected for initial testing with Velate 368. The product had a pigment volume concentration (PVC) of 75% and required one gallon of the standard coalescent agent per 100 gallons of paint.
Loyst prepared four test formulations: 0% coalescent; 100% of the standard coalescent level; Velate 368 at 100% of the standard coalescent rate; and Velate 368 at 50% of the standard coalescent rate, with water used to make up the missing volume.
Scrub panels were painted with each test formulation and allowed to cure for one week at room temperature (77°F). After curing, both panels prepared using the maximum coalescent rates were subjected to 1,000 cycles with a Gardner Straight-Line Scrub machine using a non-abrasive medium. The formulation using Velate 368 at half the rate of the standard coalescent was subjected to 500 cycles with the scrub machine.
The scrub test showed that Velate 368 could replace the standard coalescent at a lower rate, somewhere between 50% and 100%. Loyst repeated the procedure using an ascending ladder from the 50% rate and found 70% to be the optimum.
“The tests proved that we could eliminate 30% of the standard coalescent in this paint and get the same scrubbability factor,” he says.
Loyst next tested the new coalescent in a premium latex flat having a PVC of 62. In this case it was possible to replace the standard coalescent with Velate 368 at 50% of the amount formerly required. He duplicated the test at a curing temperature of 40°F — to simulate painting in an unheated new or vacant home — and it provided equal results in scrub testing.
Finally, Loyst tested Velate 368 in the company’s new Ultra Suede line, formulated with a Rohm and Haas acrylic polymer in a product having a lower PVC level than the other latex paints tested. Tests were conducted at 50% and 70% of the standard coalescent rate using Velate 368, and found that the 70% rate would provide all of the performance attributes required of this premium product — scrubbability, stain removal and wet and dry adhesion over an acrylic paint base.
Added Marketing AdvantagesBased on the research, Para Paints shifted to Velate 368 as the coalescent for all of its latex paint lines. With more than one year of field use the reports of performance are all positive, says Wright.
“Paint companies tend to be reluctant to change something when it works,” Wright says. “But we sell through an independent network of 500 dealers that is more than 60% shared. To serve them we are constantly looking for formulation improvements. Since more than 60% of our paints are water-based, and used in the residential and architectural markets, low VOC, low-odor paints are important to meet both government regulations and customer expectations.”
The new coalescent was also selected in the formulation for Ultra Suede, a low VOC, high scrub, pure acrylic paint introduced in 1999.
“Our Ultra Suede line is a high performance latex and is perhaps the most successful new product roll-out the company has ever had,” Smith says. “Ultra Suede is a fabulous product and proves that when you get the right thing in the can it sells. Dealers and clients love it. We formulated Ultra Suede based on the attributes of Velate 368 identified by our laboratory.”
Cost savings with Velate 368 coalescent are a plus, he adds, but savings do not drive the decision to change a formulation.
“We believe that money follows good products, so cost savings is not at the top of our list. Our market position is for premium products, so we are always looking for ways to enhance their performance. At the same time we won’t market new formulations or products until we are completely comfortable with them. We have too much at stake. The laboratory’s role is to find innovation and protect our reputation. It’s a challenging mission.”
It’s a task that never ends, adds Loyst. The research and development lab is now working on dozens of formulation innovations, including tests with a totally new anti-foam technology and a fungicide that is pending federal regulatory approval. If any of the new chemistries pan out in the laboratory, Loyst says Para Paints will be one of the first companies to introduce them.
VOC Reduction in CanadaTo help reduce VOCs that contribute to ground-level ozone and smog, the Canadian Paint & Coatings Association signed a voluntary agreement with Environment Canada to reduce VOCs by 45% from 1985 to 2015. In fact, Canadian paint manufacturers were able to reduce VOCs by 45% in 1995 and have likely already met the 2015 goal, says Don Warren, manager of Health, Safety & Environment at Para Paints Inc.
“I have no doubt that the Canadian paint industry has met the program goal, but we are continuing efforts to reduce VOCs as much as is technically feasible,” Warren says. “To accomplish that, Para Paints has shifted to the use of higher solid resins and from solvent-based products to emulsion-based products. As a new coalescent in latex paints, Velate 368 gives us another option to further reduce VOC levels. It is an important part of our total program and also offers additional product benefits.”