E-coat Trends

I'm often asked, "What's new?" when visiting my E-coat customers. Recently I have given it some serious thought, and I would say that a few things are new. The world of E-coat seems to change more by evolution than revolution. Add up all the little changes over a couple of years, and there's a significant difference in the E-coat market.

Changes in the E-coat world are occurring in the parts that are coated and the companies that are coating them. The list of new parts being E-coated is rapidly expanding. And adding an E-coat line to a shop that applies another type of coating is becoming surprising popular.

Increased competition among companies that apply only one type of coating is reducing costs to manufacturers, but cutting profits for coaters. Coating companies that are supplying only one or two types of coatings may have to add other coatings to grow and expand into new markets. E-coat is turning out to be a good addition. There is a lot of equipment in an E-coat line, but less labor is required to operate it than other coating technologies. In addition, parts can be processed in bulk. This enables the coater to produce more parts per hour in an E-coat system, which comes as a surprise to some coaters.

Manufacturers are making products that require a range of coatings, and they will look for coaters that can supply all of their needs. In years past, parts would sometimes be shipped to one job shop for E-coat and then to another job shop for a powder coating or other topcoat. This is now quite rare because the extra freight costs and time required make the practice uncompetitive. Coaters that can offer multiple coating options for their customers will have the best chance to gain new business.

Corrosion requirements are also pushing some manufacturers to add or change to E-coat. Manufacturers of light- to medium-duty truck frames, for example. While many truck frames have been E-coated for years, there are also a large number that are still getting a wax coating. Due to changes in under-body engineering, wax will not always handle the heat and other elements, and E-coat is growing in this market segment. A number of new tanks have been built over the last couple of years, and more are on the way.

Cathodic epoxy E-coat is well known for excellent corrosion resistance at relatively modest film builds. This can make it more cost effective than cheaper coatings if the part lasts longer in use. Some specifications are changing for this reason.

Another change that benefits E-coat is growth in the complexity of the shape of parts. If one part can be designed to do the job of a small assembly, then labor (and cost) is taken out. This may leave a part that is difficult to paint using powder or liquid spray. E-coat can handle complex parts very effectively and with controlled film build.

There are parts that are being coated with solventborne mono-coats that have moved to E-coat because they can be applied in bulk for less cost and with similar quality. There are also some applications that require improved edge-corrosion performance or lubricity or other feature, combined with other needs that make a specialized E-coat the best choice.

DuPont's response, for example, to the above and other issues has been to offer a market-driven variety of cathodic epoxy E-coat for many applications. These include HAPs-free, edge-protection and reduced-cure products, as well as colors other than black.

Lastly, from the perspective of a paint supplier, the E-coat market is becoming ever more service-driven. New players are continuing to enter the business, and they need strong support from their vendors to compete as they learn the E-coat process. Auto parts coaters in particular are under continued, severe pressure to reduce their costs, and supplier involvement is needed. The various changes that I have mentioned above can also drive new service needs at existing coaters, as they may need to change their operations to meet those needs. These increases in the demand for service have come at a time when E-coat suppliers are reducing their infrastructure to improve costs.