I have just returned home from our annualCoatings Trends & Technologies(CTT) conference, which was held September 11-12 in Oak Brook, IL. PCI Magazineorganizes and produces this annual event with our events department and Symco/Chicago Society for Coatings Technology. I would like to thank everyone who worked so hard to put this show together. It was a great event!

We saw an overall increase in exhibitor and sponsor participation this year, with 270 attendees (up 10 percent from last year) and 54 exhibitors. Excluding speakers and exhibitors, 54% of our attendees had primary job functions in Research and Development or as Chemists.

A highlight of CTT this year was our keynote speaker, Mark Tomlinson, CEO of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers. He discussed the manufacturing renaissance that is taking place right now. There are many re-shoring efforts underway as companies realize the only way our economy is going to survive is if we make things in the United States. Tomlinson noted that while we continue to see reports in the press regarding job losses and unemployment, what we don’t see is the serious shortage of skilled labor in our country. Many companies can’t fill job openings because there aren’t enough workers with the skills required. There is a serious skills gap right now, and before companies can move full steam ahead on bringing manufacturing back to the United States, we need more trades people to support the manufacturing industry. There are numerous schools across the country that offer two- and four-year degrees in various trades, and Tomlinson noted that for every trade-school graduate right now, there are five job offers.

Tomlinson also discussed the importance of innovation, stating that it is critical to the survival of manufacturing. And critical to innovation is inspiration. Tomlinson offered several interesting examples of “biomimicry” – taking the best ideas from nature – and applying them to coatings, including the extremely hard and durable red abalone shell, the self-cleaning lotus leaf, the anti-bacterial surface of shark skin, and the pigment-free color of some butterfly wings.

Following the keynote address on the first day, technical papers addressing green chemistry, TiO2 optimization, UV technology, additives and resins were presented along two tracks. In addition to the presentations, the exhibit hall was open, with dedicated networking time scheduled throughout the day. The second day consisted of a general session, which continued the TiO2 discussion, and also included presentations on functional pigments. All 26 papers were very helpful and thought-provoking. Based on reviews from both attendees and our moderators, I am happy to announce that our CTT Best Paper Award for 2012 is being presented to Jim Reader, of Air Products and Chemicals, Inc., for his paper titled, “Predicting Defoamer Performance in Coating Formulations.” I hope to publish this paper in a future issue of PCI.

Be on the lookout for our “save the date” announcements for next year’s CTT event, as well as the call for papers. Due to overwhelming interest we had to turn away both presentations and exhibitors this year, so don’t be left out in 2013!