An Australian scientist has discovered a way to make powder coatings stick to new-generation plastics and composites being used in the automotive, plastics and furniture industries, potentially saving manufacturers millions of dollars.
The technology, developed by Voytek Gutowski, replaces wet paint finishes on heat-sensitive substances such as plastic components, with zero-waste powder coating.
It eliminates waste and volatile solvent emissions.
Gutowski is the chief research scientist at the Melbourne, Australia-based materials science and engineering division of Australian government research agency Commonwealth Scientific & Industrial Research Organization.
He has just been awarded the 2010 Victoria Prize and US$47,200 for his work. The Victoria government-sponsored prize is awarded annually to an individual whose scientific discovery or technological innovation has significantly advanced knowledge.
Gutowski's technology has the potential to allow much greater use of lighter, less-expensive plastic and composite parts by replacing metal parts and could change the future of the automotive, aviation, furniture and building product manufacturing industries.
In Australia alone the automotive industry uses about 2.6 million gallons of liquid paint a year to coat the surfaces of new vehicles, including decorative finishes on plastic components like door trim panels, engine covers, body parts and bumper bars.
Traditional wet paints do not have a high rate of spray transfer onto plastic parts (up to 70 percent is lost as waste) or of containing solvents that release volatile organic chemicals into the atmosphere. The paints also are responsible for about 670,000 gallons of solid waste a year.
Powder coating relies on the powder carrying one type of electrical charge and the material being coated having the other. Opposite charges attract so the powder sticks and is then cured to form a smooth finish.
But plastic resins used to make the components are not conductive.
Gutowski achieved surface conductivity by coating the plastic components with a nanometer-thin layer of specialty multifunctional molecules that provides surface conductivity and promotes the powder coating's ability to stick well to the plastic components.
Paint manufacturer Dulux Powder Coatings, a division of Dulux Group Ltd. of Melbourne, developed new-generation coatings that can be cured at much lower temperatures and for much shorter times than traditional powders.
CSIRO said the technology, now commercialized by Dulux, is being adopted by Cooper-Standard Automotive Inc. of Novi, Mich., and has reached the pre-production trial stage with some other Australian and international companies, including global furniture manufacturers.
Earlier technologies pioneered by Gutowski and his team, constituting the platform for his zero-waste coating technology, have been in commercial use on plastic parts for Holden-brand vehicles since 1997 and, more recently, in Ford and Toyota vehicles.