Paint and coating innovations continue to drive industry value. It has been said that a disruptive technology or “disruptive” innovation “is an innovation that helps create a new market and a new value network, eventually going on to disrupt an existing market and value network.” This can occur over a few years or take decades to displace older technology. The term ‘disruptive’ is used in business to describe innovations that improve a product or service in ways that the market does not expect. This happens first with design for a different set of customers in a new market, and with the lowering of prices in an existing market.
“Sustaining” innovation, on the other hand, does not create new markets or value networks but rather grows existing markets with better value, allowing the firms within the market to compete against each other’s sustainable product improvements. Both types of innovation have occurred and continue to occur in the coatings industry at a rapid pace. Fierce competitive forces drive some of those innovations. Others are driven by customer demand for better functionality. Some evolve due to government regulation.
When manufacturers enter new markets via consolidation or grow organically it usually means they come with stronger balance sheets and are willing to invest in R&D for new or complementary products. This is true of Canadian-owned companies, both large and small, as well as for multinational companies with a strong base in Canada. As a result of acquisition these companies often enter new markets in need of further R&D investment to take the business and products to the next level. There has been ample evidence of this over the past ten years with very large billion dollar consolidations in the case of PPG’s acquisition of Akzo Nobel’s decorative paint division in North American, Sherwin Williams’ acquisition of General Paint and more recently Valspar, Axalta’s acquisition of DuPont Performance Coatings, and others. All of these major companies have since invested heavily in R&D and have proven they can and will always seek out innovation for their products to increase functionality, enhance sustainability and grow market share within Canada. This is positive for Canadian investment in manufacturing and foreign investment in Canada.
The rapid increase in innovation is also largely in direct response to environmental issues and associated public policy pressures. This new innovation is evident throughout the entire supply chain from raw material suppliers to coatings manufacturers to application equipment vendors. Such an approach to innovation in the coatings sector is now part of the DNA of coatings companies. All companies now view innovation and the focus on functional, sustainable products as part of their value proposition. In effect, it has become part of their social license to operate, which is the goal of all companies whether chemical or otherwise.
Over the past ten years, the shift to waterborne products, which began with decorative paints, has resulted in a 75 percent reduction in VOC emissions in Canada, and now almost 100 percent of decorative latex paint is water-based. Today there are also many high performing automotive and industrial coating systems on the market that are water-based. There are also low- or zero-VOC coatings that surpass the durability and function of the solvent-based alkyd paints they replaced. Without investment in R&D and a commitment to innovation, this would not have occurred and the industry would not be where it is today, nor would the environmental benefits delivered directly and or those of their customers indirectly. Restraints placed on investment or a hostile investment climate will see R&D erode rapidly as well as the commitment to new, more sustainable products. There is a direct correlation between investment in R&D and more sustainable products, which no country can afford to ignore.
Environmental regulations heavily influence how manufacturers formulate paint and coatings. Manufacturers and their suppliers must comply with existing environmental standards while also keeping an eye on where regulations may go in future. It’s imperative that raw material suppliers have a strong understanding of what’s required to meet environmental standards in various places around the world, as many CPCA supplier and distributor members do. This enables them to partner with formulators to help them meet their innovation and compliance goals, regardless of the application.
There are several facets that encompass sustainability with respect to socio-ecological trends, including renewable raw materials, new environmentally friendly technologies, and responsible manufacturing. There are a number of issues specifically related to paint and coatings such as the development of new resins capable of improving performance with little or no added VOC. It also includes the increasing use of renewable bio-based materials in place of petrochemicals to reduce the environmental footprint. The desire for higher functionality, better durability, ease of application, and faster curing times, all impact the future of coatings and these are the primary features driving new innovation in Canada.
Environmental awareness, the nonstop drive toward sustainability, the quest for lower VOC products, and tougher ingredient use restrictions continue to affect the paint and coatings industry. The increasing price of raw materials will be another important factor, as paint manufacturers seek alternative products and technologies that allow them to control the formulated cost of a can of paint or coating without compromising performance.
There are countless innovations of market significance in the coatings industry across the entire coatings spectrum. These are regularly reported on in various media and show coatings companies winning national and international awards. Many of these innovations are often profiled in the sustainability reports published annually by CPCA member companies. The drive for sustainability is indeed part of the DNA of coatings companies of every stripe, whether architectural, automotive or industrial. All must recognize, however, that the definition of sustainability as first defined by Brundtland includes ‘three’ important pillars: economic, environmental and social. There is a direct correlation between all three of these pillars as well, which cannot be ignored if Canada wants a strong economic base from which companies can invest in R&D for more sustainable products.