I recently had the opportunity to speak at the 2019 CoatingsTech conference about one of my favorite topics – the future of the paints and coatings industry and the role of technology in it.
At AkzoNobel, this is our domain. We’ve been making paints and coatings since 1792 – and we just haven’t stopped pushing the boundaries of what paint can be and what it can do. Our passion for paint and innovation has always been part of our story. That’s why our vision takes the form of one simple word – beyond – which represents both a challenge and a promise.
As a company, and all of us together as an industry, we’re already delivering products and services far beyond expectations. We’re also driving them beyond the imagination of our customers. Now, we all need to play our role beyond generations to come, to safeguard both our own future and that of our planet.
Let’s think back to some of our most famous artists from an era many would say really was the Golden Age of painting. It was then, around the 15th and 16th centuries, that the craftsmanship of mixing colors and the application of paint reached its absolute height. The master painters handed down the past to us in their works of art, but what happened in the world of paint afterwards?
The development of chemistry from the 1700’s brought in a lot of technology to boost paint performance, while industrialization in the 1800’s helped to scale it. Our formulators combined many of the new technologies and brought paint to a higher level. Now paint didn’t just record the events of the past, but it began to preserve reality by protecting wood and steel structures. So already, we see paint going well beyond its initial expectations.
More recently, we also started to use paint to bring functionality to the surface. Making coatings which provide anti-graffiti, anti-fouling, anti-scratch, anti-fog and anti-fingerprint qualities. AkzoNobel even pioneered anti-formaldehyde coatings which absorb unwanted volatile ingredients from the air – cleaning the air inside the home to confront outdoor air pollution. Since the launch of our Dulux Forest Breath paint in China, we continue to lead the market and have raised the level of air quality we can achieve.
Who would have expected any of this from paint?
The next big step forward certainly lies in applications that go beyond our imagination. We are already evolving; the digitization of our industry has dramatically changed almost every aspect of our work and the jobs we do.
I’m very proud that in my long career at AkzoNobel, I participated in digitizing color and bringing color retrieval into the cloud. With the support of innovative digital tools, we have made classic color documentation almost obsolete for color-matching, resulting in a sustainable and better first-time-right color choice. Augmented reality technology is used in the Visualizer mobile app to help our customers with color selection.
Meanwhile, advancing computing power and big data bring us state-of-the-art research in paints including experimental designs, robots and use of High Throughput Experimentation. Color development based on big data and artificial intelligence (AI) has become a reality.
Likewise, AkzoNobel is developing a biocidal-free, anti-fouling solution based on UV light-emitting tiles. True, it’s not a traditional paint – but it is a functional coating beyond imagination. That’s what I call taking our solutions to the next level, and we’re doing it by collaborating with a partner from an entirely different industry.
In my opinion, the future of paints and coatings truly lies in maximizing their service to those who come after us – and thus going beyond generations. Our industry is part of a global ecosystem and we know we all have a role to play in safeguarding our planet. For AkzoNobel, it’s also about leading this.
To make a serious and long-lasting impact, our industry must transition towards a truly circular economical value chain. This means using waste streams from other industries or applying our own waste in other industries to minimize or eliminate landfill. For example, we work with Black Bear, a scale-up company who developed a sustainable process to regain carbon black pigment from used car tires.
Innovations, and unexpected new combinations of them, will bring us a step forward. They will change the way we are able to modify surfaces to bring enhanced performance. They will no doubt change more over the next ten years than they did in the past fifty. Success will depend on working in collaborative ways and building networked ecosystems – reason enough to initiate our industry-new Paint the Future startup challenge.
Coming full circle
The incorporation of new technologies has allowed us to deliver surface appearance and surface performance beyond our customers’ expectation and imagination. And while we will continue to color and protect and make surfaces ‘’work’’ for us in novel ways, we’re also looking to protect our planet beyond generations to come. One thing is for sure – we’ll be painting the future together.