In early November I attended an event in southern California called “The Science of Paint,” hosted by Behr Paint Co. and The Home Depot. The event offered the first in-depth, behind-the-scenes tour of Behr’s brand new R&D lab, as well as access to The Home Depot and Behr leadership, and the opportunity to work with both companies and Habitat for Humanity on a service project for a local veteran family.
Earlier this year, Behr consolidated the majority of its Santa Ana-based employees from four locations into a single, 225,000-square-foot, beautifully decorated location just a few short miles away. The building currently has 655 Behr employees, but has space to house more than 800.
The building’s interior design pays homage to Behr’s roots. The second floor design reflects the company’s California origins, with a carpeted Pacific Coast Highway spanning the length of the building, and conference rooms named after well-known California landmarks, golf courses, national parks and more. The first floor design is inspired by Masterchem and the KILZ® brand, which originated in St. Louis, Missouri, and moved west along Route 66 when Behr Paint Co. acquired it.
A total of 184 colors of BEHR®, KILZ and Magnolia Home by Joanna Gaines™ paint were used in the interior of the building. Also, Behr Premium Transparent Waterproofing Wood Finish was applied to the exposed wooden beams in the second floor ceiling, enhancing the natural look and adding another dimension to the interior design.
Day 1 – Behr Facilities
The first day of the event was spent at several Behr facilities in Santa Ana. We began at the new building with breakfast and a presentation on the Behr Pro Product & Service Program by Scott Richards, General Manager of Behr responsible for The Home Depot business. Launched in 2008, this program is dedicated to serving the needs of professional painters, contractors, remodelers and property managers. And in the past year, the company has introduced national programs for architects, owners/managers and residential painters - each designed to meet the specific needs of these industries.
Behr products are distributed in every Home Depot - nearly 2,000 locations nationwide. As part of the program, dedicated contractor services desks provide exclusive professional services and support. Services include loyalty programs, a pro bid room to handle large customer orders with tiered discounts, direct delivery, credit programs and other specialty sales initiatives.
Research and Development
After the presentation, Sid Maxey, Technical Director, Behr, gave us a tour of the 30,000-square-foot R&D facility. Here, 110 chemists focus strictly on architectural coatings. Behr believes this to be the largest group of people in the United States dedicated specifically to research in this coatings field. Although these scientists are purely focused on developing architectural coatings, they regularly work with raw material suppliers to learn about new developments in the industrial sector to see how new products might work in architectural paint.
In addition to formulating coatings, the chemists here perform tests on viscosity, scrub resistance, stain resistance, cleanability and accelerated weathering. In addition to the weathering chambers in the lab, Behr has several long-term outdoor exposure sites throughout the United States, and participates in field tests continuously with pros and consumers. An analytical laboratory performs new product development, competitive testing and troubleshooting. Maxey is especially proud of the company’s Zeiss scanning electron microscope, which is capable of 500,000 X magnification. This has proven helpful in many areas – including helping contractors analyze what is beneath a current coat of paint. A tiny paint chip can reveal a lot about a structure's paint history. Maxey displayed a cross-section of a competitive paint sample. This sample contained a layer of old lead paint and was used as an illustration of the capabilities of Behr's analytical team. Such discoveries can help builders and contractors determine if an abatement project is necessary.
Other machinery includes mass spectrometers for VOC analysis. Behr provides both the paint and the colorants to The Home Depot for on-site tinting, and formulators work to ensure that both are low in VOCs.
Maxey also discussed the roughly 30 different ingredients that go into every gallon of paint, including titanium dioxide (TiO2), resins, biocides, etc. Behr uses the highest quality TiO2 to ensure excellent hiding properties and the purest or cleanest tinted colors.
After visiting the R&D facility, we headed to the West Coast Distribution Center just a few miles away. Brad Garcia, Director of Distribution, West Region, and Dave Hobson, Director of Operations, gave us a tour of this 220,000-square-foot Supercenter. One of 12 distribution centers across the country, this particular facility ships and receives paint 24 hours a day, Monday-Friday. In addition to processing regular orders, the distribution center offers next-day and same-day delivery, as well as will-call pick up services.
This high volume and quick turnaround capability are due to a high-speed automated tinting machine. Bryan Lerille, Fulfillment Center Manager, explained that the distribution center offers contractors and job sites the same colors that are available at any Home Depot store. Lerille stated that the automated tinting machine has been a game changer for them, allowing for large batches, speed to market and extreme color accuracy. Every gallon is checked regardless of the order size.
Applications and Color Lab
Our third stop was the Applications and Color Lab. Here, Octave Villar, Apps Lab Manager, showed us how they take the science behind the R&D lab and put it to the test. In addition to scientists, many of the people on staff at this lab are professional painters by trade, highly skilled in various painting techniques and application methods, and perform comparative tests with competitive products to determine properties such as hiding, contrast ratio, dirt pick up resistance and early rain resistance. Tests here also determine color and sheen uniformity.
Hai Nguyen, Senior Scientist R&D, performed a very interesting test on volume solids. Traditional thinking is that the higher the volume of solids in a can of paint, the better the paint. Nguyen’s test proved that this is not necessarily true. He performed a dirt pick-up test comparing a Behr product against three competitive products of the same caliber. The Behr paint came out the clear winner. Nguyen stated, “It is important WHAT you put in the can, not how much.”
Kasey Jenkins, Lead Applications Specialist, performed an airless spray demonstration. Airless sprayers use high pressure to atomize the paint, and are good for architectural coatings and high production rates. He then showed us the back-rolling technique used after spray application.
Craig Anderson, National Trainer, demonstrated the adhesion and flexibility of Behr paint using a balloon test, as well as demonstrated the paint’s cleanability and durability with a scrub test.
Our final stop was Behr’s Santa Ana manufacturing facility. I have visited dozens of raw material manufacturing facilities over the years, but this was my first tour of a coatings facility. Plant Manager Jesse Ramirez took us through the entire process, beginning with the receiving area where all the raw materials and packaging materials are received and stored. It was very interesting to walk up and down the aisles and see the supersacks filled with additives, TiO2 and other raw materials from various suppliers, which are re-stocked every two to three weeks.
The raw materials are mixed together in mixing tanks, and the material is transferred into larger mixing tanks where resin and other ingredients are added. Once the paint is thoroughly mixed, it is sent to the quality control department to make sure it meets all specifications. When approved, the paint is ready to be filled.
Behr’s one-gallon paint cans are made of recycled material, including recycled car battery casings. In the filling area, cans are received, labeled, oriented, filled and lidded. Then the wire handles are added and the cans are placed in boxes, and the pallets are wrapped.
The entire manufacturing process has been automated for about 13 years. Switching to an automated system greatly reduced the number of people required to run the plant; however, Behr did not eliminate any employees when automation took over. The employees that were no longer needed in manufacturing were re-located to other areas within the company.
The day concluded with a Q&A session with Behr and Home Depot executives, including Jud Walford, Paint Merchant, The Home Depot; Tony Drew, Paint Merchant, The Home Depot; John Seidensticker, SVP Outside Sales, Behr; Dr. John Gilbert, Chief Research & Development Officer, Behr; and Stephen Fanuka, Owner and Contractor, Fanuka, Inc. and star of Million Dollar Contractor. Upcoming challenges were discussed, including a skilled labor shortage in the trades, resulting in a bigger need for the development of quality paint that covers in fewer coats to cut down on labor. Regulations also continue to challenge the coatings industry. A current technology challenge that Behr is working on is extending one-coat hide to more vibrant colors.
What is driving development? It fluctuates between customer requests, regulations and pure scientific curiosity in what the chemists can get the technology to do.
We also discussed painting trends. Interior trends include making the ceiling more dominant with a pop of color or different gloss levels. Stephen Fanuka said, “The ceiling is now the fifth wall.” Stephen is also seeing a lot of high gloss and metal on cabinetry. Exterior trends include light colors for the main structure, with accents of darker colors, as well as mixing of unique color palettes not usually seen. These exterior trends vary greatly by region.
Day 2 – Service Project
On the second day of our visit we had the opportunity to work with Habitat for Humanity of Orange County, The Home Depot Foundation and Behr to restore the home of a veteran couple in the Santa Ana area. A team of nearly 50 volunteers was able to paint the exterior of the home, including the black metal fencing around the house and the windows, as well as the living room, dining room and bathroom in under three hours. The home also received a new roof, new concrete pavers and landscaping.
The Home Depot Foundation works to improve the homes and lives of U.S. military veterans and their families, and aid communities affected by natural disasters. Since 2011, the Foundation has invested more than $250 million in veteran causes and impacted approximately 40,000 veteran homes with the help of Team Depot, the company’s associate-led volunteer force.
On the day of our project, The Home Depot Foundation announced an increased commitment of a half billion dollars to veteran causes by 2025. The expanded commitment to veterans comes as company volunteers completed more than 100,000 volunteer hours during the Foundation’s seven-week Celebration of Service campaign. In March of this year, The Home Depot Foundation announced its commitment to trades training, with a $50 million commitment to train 20,000 tradespeople over the next 10 years in order to fill the growing skilled labor gap.
Thank you to all of the team members that were part of this fascinating, educational experience. It was wonderful to meet everyone and get a glimpse behind the science of paint!