There is a continuing theme in business that is as true for coatings as it is for any other industry. We are always looking for new technologies and ideas to make us better. A more compliant coating, an easier application method, a way to save energy or a way to improve efficiency are things that everyone wants to learn about. Yet some people will say that nothing has changed since last year or the year before.

When I think about what is new over the past 30 years, the answer that I come up with is that nothing is new and everything is new. Very few things change overnight. Most of the time, a technology or idea evolves and keeps improving in small increments, depending on the demand. For example, look at the cars of 30 years ago. They were very large and heavy, had chrome bumpers, most of them had V-8 engines, most front seats were bench seats, most shift sticks were on the steering console, AM/FM radio was an option, many of them did not have air conditioning, etc. Not much like the vehicles of today with sleek, aerodynamic lines, painted plastic bumpers, four- or six-cylinder engines, and so on. And yet, are the cars of today really different? They still use internal combustion engines, have four wheels, have variations of the same controls (turn signals, wipers, headlamps, etc.) and we use them for similar, private transportation, although it is unlikely that a teenager would get a new Lexus for Christmas 30 years ago.

So how has coating stayed the same, and what has changed? We still spray a coating on the part with a spray gun and put it through an oven to cure the coating. If you watched the evolution of the coatings industry in real time it would be a slow-moving creature. But if you view it in time-lapse photography, it has come a long way. Thirty years ago, my company used paint with a lot more solvent and HAPs than it uses today. Very few people were using powder coating, and no one had heard of lead-free, low-VOC electrocoating. There was more waste and fewer options to choose from.

Look at some of the coatings used now on products like automobiles and motorcycles, and you can see some remarkable finishes that could not have happened 30 years ago. And 30 years ago, cars rusted after a few years on the road. There have been remarkable changes in part preparation techniques to retard corrosion.

A good fried of mine once pointed out how the sum of what is known and the speed with which new ideas are developed have accelerated in the last 200 years and continues to accelerate at an unbelievable rate. The amount of things known in the past 200 years is greater than everything learned in the previous 1,000 years or more. The amount of knowledge gained in the last 20 years may exceed what had been learned in the previous 200.

The point is, if you are doing everything the same way that you did 15 years, 10 years or even five years ago, you are behind! Pretreatment chemistry can be more energy efficient and do a better job. Application equipment can be more efficient and provide much faster color change time. Coatings technology has advanced to provide a higher quality finish while reducing emissions. It pays to invest in upgrades and efficiency improvements. It pays to keep up with the steady evolution of equipment.

When I hear people say there is nothing new this year, I wonder how closely they pay attention. Believe me, there are always new things that need to be checked out. I look for one new idea or technology every week. It helps my business and makes me more valuable to my clients. We never know everything that is known in our industry and we never will. But we should seek information as though our job depended on it. It does.