In the coatings industry, as well as other industries, everyday operations can sometimes lead to humorous situations. These may not be funny at the time, and are sometimes embarrassing and even costly. However, they do occur and valuable lessons can be gleaned from these situations.

Listed below are several anecdotes that this author has had personal experience or known of them through reliable sources.

One O'clock Surprise

The Dexter Corporation, Windsor Locks, CT, was one of the largest producers of paper used in the teabag business. One of their subsidiaries, the Midland Division, has a facility on the western shore of Lake Michigan in Waukegan, Illinois. Midland is noted for its high-performance coatings used for power plant stacks, high heat applications and unique silicone-bearing materials for the coatings industry.

On the second floor of this facility there is a large conference room overlooking the lake. This is where many company meetings are held, with the fringe benefit being the great view.

One day a Technical Representative called on the Research Director and asked him if he could arrange a meeting with the higher ups to present their line of products. He insisted that the meeting be attended by the Division President and as many important people as possible. Accordingly, a meeting was set up for 1:00 p.m. on a given day. After the Research Director phoned the Technical Rep to confirm the date and time, the Technical Rep said, “Have I got a surprise for you.”

On the appointed day the Research Director alerted the important people and moved up to the conference room. By 12:30 the Technical Rep had not yet arrived and the Research Director became a bit concerned. Soon the important people began to show signs of uneasiness as they stared out over the lake.

Suddenly, a seaplane swooped down and landed in the lake in full view. It was the salesman! This was his big surprise! As the plane began to taxi toward the conference room it hit a floating log and began to sink. They quickly called the Coast Guard to rescue the surprise.

I don’t know if he ever got to give his presentation that day.

The Lunatics

One of the major milestones in the coatings industry was the development of electrocoating. Credit for this great discovery must be assigned to Dr. George E.F. Brewer, a Staff Scientist at the Ford Motor Company. The preferred priming method for industrial processes was flow coating. In this process the paint is pumped and sprayed over the car body. The excess paint was recirculated. Following this, the parts were moved into a solvent chamber to level the film. This was a very hazardous process as demonstrated at a General Motors transmission plant at Wixom, MI, that was leveled by fire when a welder’s torch near the vapor chamber sparked the fire.

Another disadvantage of flow coating was that in closed structures, such as the interior of door panels or rocker panels, the vapor washed the deposited paint away. This explains why so many corrosion problems occurred in automobiles.

Dr. Brewer was searching for a better process and turned to the latex industry and borrowed a process of electrophoresis to solve his problem. To make latex gloves and condoms, latex dispersions are electrophoretically deposited on molds. George felt that this technology could be used to replace flow coating and being water dispersible, a much safer process.

His early attempts to produce an effective coating were not successful until he got a boost from Alan Gilchrist of the Glidden Company who prepared maleic anhydride-modified linseed oil adducts that were water dispersible from which adequate primers could be formulated.

Dr. Brewer’s manager was Gilbert Burnside who was a tough, hard-driving engineer and together they forged ahead on the project. To gain support from Ford’s upper management, George arranged a meeting with a Ford executive to discuss his plan. He and Burnside explained to the executive how they proposed to build a 50,000-gallon tank, fill it with paint,  dip the whole car into the tank, apply 500 volts d.c. to the car body and “plate” the car with primer. The executive listened politely, and then as this impressive duo left his office, he turned to his secretary and said, “Not one dime for those two lunatics.”

Today, electrocoating is applied all over the world.


One of the banes of resin production is the formation of foam. For example, when preparing alkyds, varnishes or urea – or melamine-formaldehyde resins, there is a tendency to develop foam. This is especially true near the end of a reaction, when the viscosity increases. Runaway foam can carry the contents of the reactor right up the condenser and spew it over the plant area.

To stop rising foam, a number of antifoam additives have been used with varying success. For example, pine oil and triphenyl phosphate are effective antifoam agents.

A major breakthrough occurred in the foam problem when silicone technology was developed. Low-molecular-weight silicones were found to be very effective in breaking foams. However, a little went a long way and too much could lead to cratering or fisheyes in finished films.

The O’Brien Corporation supplied automotive finishes to the Studebaker Corporation in the 1950s. One day the production line was shut down due to cratering on the topcoats of Studebaker automobiles. This caused much concern and launched a campaign of finger pointing up and down the process chain. Eventually, this was traced to a melamine-formaldehyde product made by American Cyanamid. Apparently, AntiFoam A® had just been introduced to their manufacturing process and operators were more interested in controlling foam than in the consequences of on-line performance of the finished product.

More Fisheyes

The St. Joseph, MI, plant of the Whirlpool Corporation produced washing machines. These units were flow coat primed and top coated with an acrylic finish. The suppliers were reliable and had good track records of finish performance on production lines.

As with all well-run operations, there are some anomalies that occur from time to time, and this plant was no exception. One day, out of the blue, washer cabinets began to form fisheyes. This caused great concern for all, and immediate action was taken to identify the source of the contamination.

Problems of this type involve a number of steps that finish engineers follow to isolate potential causes. Some of these include metal treatment operations, rinsing, spray equipment and a review of the formulations by the suppliers. After many blind trails, the engineers began to notice that the problem appeared to strike on a Thursday and tapered off as the week went on until cratering stopped.

After another day of futile searching, the supplier and Whirlpool people took a break and went to the cafeteria. As they were sitting there discussing the problem, someone noticed that the fast food vendor was servicing the dispensing machines and was busy spraying the mechanism inside the vending machines. On closer examination it was noted that the spray was loaded with silicone and the air intake of the spray booth was located in the cafeteria. So, all the chemistry, analyses and other efforts were reduced to a matter of keen observation by a competent technical serviceman.

The Electrocoat Tank

During a hot summer day, Joe DeVittorio of Sherwin-Williams was making a call at a customer’s electrocoat facility. Joe was always impeccably dressed. In fact, if you saw him on any business day you would think that he was on his way to have his picture taken.

On this particular day the Sherwin-Williams people had been working on some problems with the customer’s tank and Joe was there to provide expertise and support. Nearing mid afternoon Joe was required to leave to catch a plane back to Chicago and decided to take one last walk around the electrocoat tank. As he walked around the tank, he fell into the tank and was quickly fished out.

Faced with a time constraint and the fact that he had no other clothes, the customer rinsed his suit with water and ran it through the paint oven for a quick dry. (Anodic electrocoating tanks were neutralized with amines that over time can produce some foul odors like that of rotting fish.)  Joe quickly dressed with his suit now shrunk and extremely wrinkled and headed for the airport.

One familiar with amine odor contamination can just imagine what that plane ride home did for Joe and for the unfortunate passengers who had to sit near him.

The Interview

Dr. Marco Wismer is a former vice president of PPG Industries. Marco received his technical training in Switzerland prior to coming to the United States. He, along with Joe Bosso, is credited with the invention of cationic electrocoating, a major leapfrog technology for the coatings industry.

When Dr. Wismer first came to America, he began interviewing for a job. One of his interviews was with the DuPont Company in Wilmington, DE. Marco took a train to Wilmington and checked into the local YMCA for the night. (It is customary in European hotels to place ones shoes in the hallway at night so the floor attendant can polish the guest’s shoes).

Upon retiring for the night, Marco placed his shoes in the hallway. The next morning there were no shoes to be found. So Marco went to his interview at DuPont dressed in a business suit and wearing tennis shoes. (Today that may not be so unusual!)

Pomp and Circumstance

Sometimes, even the most pompous event can lose its esteem with a single word or phrase. Here is an example:

The J. J. Mattiello Lecture Award is the highest award presented to recognize people who have made significant accomplishments. This coveted award was presented annually at the Federation of Societies for Coatings Technology Convention where the Mattiello Lecture is delivered by the honored individual. The lecture is well attended and highly publicized.

In 1973 Dr. George E. F. Brewer was the Mattiello Awardee. The lecture was presented in the Grand Ballroom of the Conrad Hilton Hotel in Chicago and his topic was electrocoating. I was particularly interested in the subject and wanted to hear George, since he and I used to exchange ideas on water-soluble polymers.

The Chairman of the Mattiello Committee introduces the speaker and for some reason, I timed the introductory remarks, which went on for a full seven minutes. One could not be unimpressed with the impeccable background and expertise of this famous scientist and I was quite awestruck.

George began his talk with a description of the corrosion problems inherent in the automobile in general and with the rocker panel in particular. He then began to speak of the rocker panel in his heavy Hungarian accent. He described the rocker panel as a large welded box fourrrteen feet long. “How do you paint the son of a beech?”

The Dryer Drum Problem

Many years ago, Norge built a large dryer plant in Fort Smith, Arkansas. The paint supplier was PPG Industries, which at that time was known as Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company. The operation operated smoothly for some time until the “fisheye” problem emerged. It appeared that at certain times the fisheyes would appear and cause numerous rejects.

The usual problem solution tasks were then brought into play, such as blaming the paint supplier, who in turn blamed the metal treatment people etc. PPG’s industrial products were well supported by field technical service people with backup all the way to their Springdale, PA, R&D facility. The first thing PPG did was to check out the formulation, then modify the coating with alternate anti-cratering agents, test the coating in their laboratories then bring the new formulation to Fort Smith. With each new formulation the performance was acceptable, but the fisheyes would occur, requiring another trip back to the laboratory.

After some time, the cost of servicing this account had grown considerably and PPG management agreed that they could not continue to supply this customer in a cost-effective manner. So, they made a final formulation change and took a high-ranking official along with the technical service group to discuss the problem at Norge. They told Norge management that this was their last try and they planned to pull out if the problem was not resolved that day.

The final formulation was introduced into the system and ran very well. PPG people remained at the plant long into the night, when shortly after midnight the fisheyes began to appear. PPG people were completely frustrated. One of their technical service men was Erwin Kapalko, who was an accomplished coatings specialist and excellent troubleshooter. He began to walk through the plant to determine if he could spot some causal agent. As he was walking through the far reaches of the plant he heard some women shrieking and laughing. When he reached the spot, he noted that these women were removing dryer drum shells from the conveyer line. Inside some of these drums were condoms thrown in from the front of the line by some smart aleck to get a reaction from the women. The silicone on the condoms was contaminating the product line.

So all the technical effort to resolve this problem was of little value, but the trained eye of a real professional solved a major problem by his keen observation. (I wonder if they fired the guy?)

The Necktie

After World War II many of the technical developments of the Manhattan Project found their way into consumer products. One such product application was to the wringer washing machine. This product was responsible for many home accidents as children would have their limbs caught in the rollers or women would have their loose clothing become entangled in the rollers. There were many safety devices designed to disconnect the rollers, and these features were important in selling wringer washers to the public.

Whirlpool engineers found that torque sensor technology could be applied to this problem and designed a washing machine that could be reversed by simply pulling back on material being fed into the rollers. This was a major breakthrough and one that would have tremendous marketing appeal.

As with most firms there are many ‘dog and pony’ shows to review the latest developments for upper management. So, the Laundry Engineering Group put on a show to demonstrate this latest breakthrough, which was very well received by the hierarchy.

Since Sears Roebuck was a major customer of Whirlpool it was important that their buyers and executives see this ‘dog and pony’ show, and a meeting was scheduled accordingly. Prior to the meeting, the Director of Engineering queried the engineers to assure that nothing would go wrong. To demonstrate the effect of this new safety device, wet Turkish towels were fed into the rollers and upon pulling back, the rollers automatically reversed direction.

The Engineering Director was still skeptical, so an engineer put his necktie into the rollers and had him pull back. Upon pulling back, the rollers reversed much to the amazement of the Engineering Director. Everything was now set for the big day. After wining and dining the Sears executives on the previous evening, the Laundry Engineers were eager to demonstrate their masterpiece.

After a discussion of the engineering aspects of the invention, they adjourned to the laboratory to demonstrate the wringer washer. Many Turkish towels were run in and out of the wringer with great success. Finally, a Whirlpool executive took the tie of a Sears executive and fed it into the wringer and guess what happened? The sensor failed and the washer began to strangle the hapless man until the plug was pulled and his tie cut with a scissors.

So much for dog and pony shows.

The Toilet Seat Affair

In the early 1960s, epoxy resins were making a big splash in the coatings industry. They were being heralded for pipe coatings because of their superior corrosion and abrasion resistance.

Another big event that revolutionized the coatings industry was the introduction into trade sales applications of a two-component epoxy resin system, which had remarkable properties. This system consisted of a component of EPON 1001® and a Versamid® polyamide resin sold by General Mills. This remarkable coating had a high gloss, excellent adhesion, chemical, and water resistance. Coatings made from this system made excellent swimming pool liners, and many pool owners had the coating applied to their pools. Other applications followed.

The O’Brien Corporation marketed a version of this and called it MiraPlate®, and its marketing director began to find as many applications as possible. One application evolved in which it was determined that MiraPlate® was great for refurbishing toilet seats. The procedure was to mix component A, the epoxy fraction, with component B, the polyamide fraction, allow it to sit for one hour then apply. It took about 12 hours for cure.

A certain homeowner bought some MiraPlate® and applied it to the seat in his home. That evening he and his wife attended a function and hired a baby sitter, but forgot to inform the baby sitter of the new breakthrough in the bathroom. Sometime during the evening, after putting the children to bed the baby sitter required a visit to the MiraPlate® coated toilet seat. But, as the babysitter tried to stand up, the excellent adhesive properties of the coating prevented her from rising…she was fixed to the seat.

She was finally able to rouse one of the children, who called the fire department. When they arrived, they too were not up to the adhesive properties of the epoxy coating. They in turn called a physician. When the physician arrived and saw the situation, he burst out laughing so hard he fell into the tub and broke his jaw. The firemen then tried solvents to no avail.

Finally, two burly firemen grabbed the poor girl by the arms and jerked her off the seat along with a layer of epoxy paint.


Recently, a friend of mine retired from Whirlpool after 34 years with the firm. He had done many good things for the welfare of the company and was an excellent contributor in brainstorming sessions.

At his retirement coffee, I thought that this would be a good time for some of the vice presidents of the firm to come over and give him some recognition for his efforts. As it turned out, not one showed up and the Vice President of Research and Engineering didn't attend.     

I thought that this was unusual and wondered about this in view of the imminent retirement that I would be facing a few months hence. As it happened, the Vice Presidents were all away at conferences learning how to improve the morale of their subordinates. They could have saved a lot of money by simply walking across the commons and shaking this man's hand.

When my own retirement party arrived, there were also no vice presidents there either. Then I realized that what really counted were those people who were there. They were the real important people!! 

This is a good lesson for us. We tend to look at people from their station in life rather than deeper into the real person.