Coatings Formulation 101- Lesson 1: Formulate from the Applicator to the Engineer

Coatings Formulation 101

Lesson 1: Formulate from the Applicator to the Engineer

Formulating coatings, especially for high performance in extreme conditions, can be quite complex. One must consider a multitude of variables, none of which are completely independent of each other. No matter what the performance abilities of a system may be, if the coating is difficult to apply, then it’s likely to disappoint. This is where art and science collide in the formulating world and why we’ve developed the motto: Formulate from the Applicator to the Engineer.

When presented with a new project, formulators are often handed specifications from the engineers that generally address physical, environmental, and performance properties. These specifications rarely specify or even address application methods, requirements, limitations or desires. This hit me early on in my formulating career while on a trip to an aerospace facility. I was to demonstrate a new and exciting coating technology. I met with engineers, designers and production managers. On Day 1 I explained, in a very technical manner, how this new technology was going to make production easier and performance better. Everyone was excited about the upcoming demo. On Day 2 I met with the painters. I delivered, without a doubt, the smoothest technical presentation of my young career. I went through the ins and outs of the development, the benefits of this new technology, the art of formulating; but when it came time for the Q&A portion of the demonstration, there was only one question from the painters, “How fast does it dry?”. I didn’t have that exact answer, which was a key component of the application process. I was put in my place that day and I learned from then on I had to take a different approach to my craft.

What I learned from that humbling experience is that the applicators, not the engineers or spec writers, are the first line of defense when introducing new products or formula modifications. You can check all the boxes and meet all the specs, but if you can’t supply the applicators with a user friendly product, then you are setting your coating up for failure.

It’s easier said than done! Formulating coatings from the applicator to the engineer adds another layer of complexity to the already complex art of formulating, just check out this chart that shows how various formulating factors counteract each other, it can turn into a wicked web! For example, balancing a long wet edge with a fast dry time, or a low viscosity with high film build takes art and science. Technology is wonderful and we are fortunate that the materials we have available today are quite advanced and help us target formulations for specific applications. I’ve found that taking the applicator first approach ultimately ensures the overall success of a coating, so long as you can deliver the performance requirements in the same package.

Win over the applicators with the art, win over the engineers with science….Just make sure it dries fast!