One of the most prevailing trends in the coatings industry, and manufacturing in general, is the move toward lower-cost goods emanating mainly from developing nations, particularly China. Discussions about quality in most cases have been set aside as China’s manufacturing practices have improved. But have these issues really gone away?
One of the most prevailing trends in the coatings industry, and manufacturing in general, is the move toward lower-cost goods emanating mainly from developing nations, particularly China. China offers extremely low labor costs, a pro-business environment, an eager and industrious workforce, and a paucity of legal and regulatory hurdles endemic to the West. Discussions about quality in most cases have been set aside as China’s manufacturing practices have improved. But have these issues really gone away?
Over the last few months, shocking revelations about the suspect quality of Chinese manufactured goods have once again besieged the Western public. Toxic melamine as an enhancer in chicken feed? Rat poison in the wheat gluten used in pet food? The latest crisis involves a deliberate substitution of diethylene glycol for pharmaceutical-grade glycerin.* An ambitious Chinese chemical salesman (formerly a tailor) thought that a meager profit of less than $2,000 on 46 barrels of raw material outweighed the dangers that this counterfeiting engendered. The nontoxic glycerin was an intended ingredient for cough syrup destined for third world countries. Ingestion of diethylene glycol (a monomer commonly used in antifreeze, polyester resins and alkyd chemistry) causes gastrointestinal disorders, renal failure, paralysis and death. Experts estimate that hundreds of unsuspecting patients have died in Panama, Haiti and Bangladesh from consumption of this tainted cough medicine.
These developments cause me to ponder: If the lack of industry oversight and cavalier enforcement of regulations in some developing nations can precipitate these calamities with ingestible products, then what quality can be expected of the imported goods affecting the finishing industry? Will the coatings we use based on imported raw materials perform as expected? It’s quite easy to substitute low-cost ethylene glycol for the higher-priced neo-pentyl glycol commonly used in polyester resins for powder coatings. If unchecked, such a substitution would render the powder unstable to outdoor weathering.
And what about our machinery? Are the alloys real, and are the metal hardening techniques actually followed for the manufacturing and application equipment we now buy from overseas? Do we need a reality check with our incessant quest for low-cost manufactured goods? Let me know your thoughts.
On a lighter note, this month’s edition of Finishing Today brings you comprehensive coverage of coil coating technology, touch-up paint techniques, weathering simulation and film thickness measurement. Most important, I want to spotlight a tribute to one of the most productive and prolific powder coating technologists in the history of the finishing industry. Burt Windeknecht is retiring after more than 40 years of quietly formulating powder coatings for every industry touching the technology (see “Finishing Tribute” in this issue). I can’t say that I have ever met a finer gentleman in all my years in the coating industry. Best of luck, Burt, in your retirement.
*“From China to Panama, A Trail of Poisoned Medicine, Walt Bogdanich, NY Times, May 6, 2007.
WHAT DO YOU THINK? E-MAIL KEVIN AT firstname.lastname@example.org.
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