The variability of important environmental factors such as temperature and humidity in the industrial application of coatings can be challenging for both coatings formulators and applicators. Trial and error is costly, slowing research and development, in addition to incurring lost time and valuable resources. Accounting for these differences during formulation can help ensure that coatings developed in the lab perform properly in the real world.
Eastman Chemical Co., a Kingsport, TN-based supplier of additives and other raw materials for coatings, recently announced the opening of a multimillion dollar, state-of-the-art paint spray facility at its global headquarters that is designed to do just that. The facility uses sophisticated robotics to operate in controlled environmental conditions, enhancing the development and testing of specialty coatings additives. Flexible, automated paint application equipment with temperature and humidity controls further allow the facility to accurately simulate real-world environmental conditions.
“These new capabilities allow us to test our specialty additives, and other developmental materials, in an endless number of industrial settings and environments prior to a product’s release,” says Dave Allen, director of specialty coatings technology, Eastman. “Enhanced controls allow us to meet the environmental and performance needs of our customers in advance and eliminate false starts in the lab, enabling us, and our customers, to bring more effective products to market faster.”
Partnering for SuccessEastman’s ongoing desire to build on its research and technical service capabilities and offer more precise product data for its customers in the automotive OEM market led to efforts to build the high-tech paint spray facility. In 2005, Eastman’s coatings additives team met internally to determine the feasibility and project budget, followed by meetings with its external development partner, Envirometric Process Controls Inc. (EPC), the system integrator of the robotic spray facility.
EPC had already been involved in the development of several well-known automotive paint spray facilities nationwide. The system integrator assisted Eastman with the building of a laboratory and air house, which supplies a conditioned source of air to both paint spray booths. EPC also consulted on a variety of ways to implement precise temperature and humidity controls in the facility. Other essential development partners involved in the project included Air Systems and ABB, a global engineering firm that manufactured the facility’s robotics.
“One of the accomplishments we are most proud of is just how quickly we were able to engage our industry partners and turn the vision we had into a reality,” says Allen. “Within one year we not only came up with the idea, but we were also able to fund and successfully build the facility.”
Investment in the facility is also resulting in greater convenience and improved environmental conditions. For instance, the system’s equipment has a high degree of interchangeability, allowing for improved flexibility in testing paint application. Robotic applications were specifically chosen with this in mind, since they simulate actual end use conditions and ensure a uniform spray pattern.
“The flexibility of the robotics operations and the increased temperature and humidity controls are key to the project’s overall success. We assisted Eastman in the selection of the robotics equipment, enabling them to quickly change from a bell to a spray gun, for example, in record time. We also decreased the system’s total life cycle costs through increased energy efficiency changes to the spray booth,” says Kevin Herbert, vice president of engineering at EPC.
A Closer LookThe facility includes a cleanroom lab, two spray booths consisting of both a robotic and manual application area, an air house, a staging lab, a support area and additional safety features. Of particular note is how accurately the facility can mimic a wide range of temperature and humidity controls - from 60 to 85°F and 60 to 85% RH. Suppliers generally optimize their products for the 70°F and 70% RH environment typically favored for paint application. At Eastman’s facility, however, the wide range of temperature and humidity controls ensures that its products can be applied and evaluated under the widest parameter of climate conditions possible. Additionally, the spray booths are designed with an extensive operating window to meet the needs of both large OEMs and smaller manufacturers.
A major part of the design process included the air house, which is based on a Childek™ system from Munters Corp. The system combines elements used for temperature and humidity control into one simple, integrated system and includes cooling coils, evaporative media and moisture eliminators.
The system’s robotic booth is equally important and is equipped with a pedestal mounted six axis robot and two SAMES™ Multispray applicators from SAMES Technologies. The Multispray unit enables conversion of a single robot-mounted applicator, using a wide range of spray technologies commonly found in the Class “A” finishing market. It permits changing of atomizers within minutes and is linked to an AllenBradley Controllogix™ PLC for sequencing and interlocks from Rockwell Automation, Inc. A PC is linked to the program setup for test reporting purposes, and computer software allows for the selection of different spray guns and spray parameters. The facility can spray one- and two-component waterborne and solventborne coatings.
The Facility Fast ForwardSince opening in early 2007, Eastman’s spray facility has improved the company’s ability to measure the impact of additives on paint application properties. Over the long term, the facility will support additional projects in industrial and architectural applications on substrates ranging from metal and plastic to wood.
Eastman is also now acquiring data from different laboratory experiments that will be used in the future to determine how specific environmental conditions affect a variety of finishes. This data will also help determine the characteristics necessary for a successful end product, including variables such as fluid flow and the atomization of paint. These efforts may eventually enable greater product customization, ultimately leading to new additives that make the application of coatings more efficient and predictable.
While the spray facility is still in the nascent stages of operation, it already holds significant potential for Eastman’s customers and OEMs.
“Investment in the spray facility significantly improves Eastman's capability to design more effective additives for coatings, allowing us to become a better partner and supplier with our customers. This facility should facilitate faster, more efficient material development, leading to new technology that improves overall coatings application processes and efficiency, and ultimately, speeding innovation,” says Allen.
For more information about the new facility, contact Lori Sampson-Bold at 423.224.0538 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. The company’s website is at www.eastman.com.