Markets & Companies

Transforming Coatings Through Innovation

With Technology as a Strategic Driver Axalta Aspires to Deliver Innovative, Sustainable Coating Systems

23.03.2015 -

In February 2013, the Carlyle Group completed its acquisition of DuPont's Performance Coatings business for US$4.9 billion. Upon becoming an independent company, the business was renamed 'Axalta Coating Systems'. Headquartered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, Axalta is a leading global coatings manufacturer with over 145 years of experience in the automotive paint business, a workforce of more than 12,000 people, 35 manufacturing plants around the world and 2014 revenues of $4.4 billion. In January 2015, Dr Barry Snyder joined the company as its chief technology officer. In this role, he oversees all of Axalta's research and development operations. Dr Snyder shares with CHEManager International how innovation will drive Axalta's growth and contribute to the quality and sustainability requirements of the company's customers.

CHEManager International: Dr Snyder, customer needs and desires are constantly evolving. This is particularly true for the coatings business. Which requirements of your customers are driving Axalta's R&D efforts?

B. Snyder: Customers in the different businesses we serve set high standards. Our goal is to bring together very different attributes into a single container of coating. We can deliver a high-performance and protective coating that holds up to challenging and different environmental extremes in different geographies all while providing a beautiful finish. We can match and deliver millions of colors. We can deliver products that withstand snow and ice, as well as scratching and chipping from sand and rocks, and from heat below ground.

Customers constantly raise the bar on performance, applications and appearance. Some of our innovations have helped to contribute to a reduced environmental footprint of our products - and for our customers who use them - by shifting to waterborne systems. Our formulations are designed to decrease application time, to diminish waste in the application process, and to reduce energy consumption. Simpler to use, more robust and superior appearance are perennial themes in our developments.

Many of these features can be characterized by the term 'sustainability', which is a major driver of the chemical industry's R&D activities. From a coatings manufacturer's view, how would you break this buzz word down into concrete areas for innovation?

B. Snyder: Sustainability can mean a lot of things as we look across the entire chain of producing and using a coating. Given that the job of a coating is to protect and to beautify, sustainability can mean that an electrocoat, which is designed to prevent corrosion, can extend the life of the products to which it is applied and sustain the product's lifespan. Sustainability can mean reducing the total amount of energy required to dry and to cure a paint film at an OEM by eliminating curing steps in the application process. In a body shop, it can mean improving productivity with faster and more accurate color matching. In the oil and gas arena, it can mean coating pipes to help them withstand higher temperatures that enable wells to go deeper and to run more efficiently. Finally, sustainability can mean sourcing raw materials with a lower environmental footprint, or selecting pigments that are mined in a socially and environmentally sensitive manner.

New raw materials for coating substrates, products that are less harmful to health and environment, more energy efficient application systems or other challenges: Where do you see the biggest potential for innovation?

B. Snyder: Today we deliver a combination of beauty and protection. As our customers innovate, we are driven to expand our range of solutions. Some of the toughest challenges come from the need to offer a consistent appearance across a single vehicle assembled from a combination of steel, aluminum, carbon fiber, polypropylene and various other materials. I can envision that we will continue to strive for more functionality in coatings beyond appearance and protection. Light-weighting, for example, drives a broadening range of substrates today. Continuing to reduce weight not only introduces new substrates but also moves in the direction of asking the coating to play a structural role. New challenges will come from the need to integrate coatings more into vehicles, machines or devices. Our customers will be looking for us to help them incorporate functionality that doesn't exist today. Conductive coatings, for example, may participate in the solar collection array that is integrated into a vehicle.

How do the innovation areas mentioned trigger investments in projects or assets?

B. Snyder: We continue to be very active in developing waterborne products that meet our customers' needs. We just opened an expanded waterborne production facility in China and we are also expanding waterborne production capacity in Germany. We have taken steps to reduce the volume of paint it takes to do the same job and to reduce the amount of energy required to dry and to cure our products. And our continuous drive to improve corrosion protection with our electrocoat products means longer life for the products we coat.

According to Axalta's CEO, Charlie Shaver, developing new products based on leading-edge coating technology will be a key engine for Axalta's growth. What is the vision for the company?

B. Snyder: Axalta's vision is to be the leading supplier of coating products for automotive and industrial customers. We focus on understanding our customers' needs and delivering products and services that help them make their businesses better. We are one of the technology leaders in this space and will continue to invest in technology to maintain that leading position.

Axalta is positioned for growth. Our worldwide technology footprint starts with seven principal R&D centers that are complemented by another dozen regional technical facilities and a network of 45 customer training centers. Our R&D center in Wuppertal, Germany, is close to a number of our important customers in the Europe. Our strong position in China and other fast-growth emerging economies gives us ground floor access as our customers expand their businesses. We have leading market positions in key applications that we believe can be platforms for further growth. Beyond share gains in automotive OEM and refinish segments, we have opportunities to globalize our positions with manufacturers of commercial vehicles, such as buses, trains and agricultural and construction equipment, to expand our scope in electrical insulation systems and to build on new and existing technologies for many other challenging applications like architectural applications, oil and gas pipelines, rebar, and different automotive components, such as wheels and springs.

How much does Axalta invest in R&D and how will innovation support the future growth of the company?

B. Snyder: In 2013, we allocated over $165 million to combined R&D and technology projects to keep us at the leading edge of the coatings industry. Axalta's technology organization spans the globe with technology centers in each of our key markets. We have seven major centers in the US, Mexico, Germany, France, Belgium and China. Additional labs enable us to deliver technology and local support to customers in the Americas, Europe and across Asia Pacific. We have a technical staff of over 1,300 highly trained individuals.

Before joining Axalta you served as chief innovation officer at Orion Engineered Carbons, chief technology officer at HB Fuller, global technology director for Celanese and you held a number of positions at Rohm and Haas. What led you to choose Axalta as your new professional challenge?

B. Snyder: Several factors make Axalta a great workplace and career choice for many people. Axalta is a truly global company and one of the leaders in technology-intensive markets, such as automotive, commercial vehicle and industrial coatings. The company has a long tradition of being a technology leader with a track record of transforming coatings through innovation. Since becoming an independent company, Axalta has been on a growth path and is investing to achieve this growth. Most exciting for me is that technology is a key strategic driver. I feel honored to have the opportunity to lead this function for the company.


Axalta Coating Systems