Waterborne Paint: The Beginner’s Guide – Part 2

#2: Do I have to buy new equipment?

So you’re pondering making the switch to waterborne, are you? Maybe, but why should I? you ask.
Well, for a start, if you don’t do it voluntarily the government is likely to force it upon you, and if that’s the way it happens you could well end up without full training if the deadline is tight. You’ll just be part of the crowd being jammed through in the limited time available.
Got you thinking, have we? Yeah, but is it going to cost me money? you respond. Do I have to spend a lot of money on new equipment?
The answer is, surprisingly little if you want, but if you want to do it well, with a lot of throughput, it could be a bit more. The choice is yours and will depend upon your circumstances.
Your existing spray booth may be suitable as it is, advises Ian Johnson, the Technical Sales Support Manager for Glasurit paints, it will depend on the age and condition of the booth. Some equipment may need to be upgraded.
“One of the issues with waterborne paint is that the surface tends to naturally stay wet for a little longer, so it’s more prone to picking up dust and dirt between coats,” he said. “If there isn’t the air flow there to encourage a rapid flash-off of the paint then it’s going to be difficult to get a good job. For the shops, who regularly update their equipment and have a good maintenance regime in their booths that isn’t likely to be an issue.”
Even with good existing air flow through a booth drying will be greatly enhanced by the use of a specifically designed drying system, such as the Junair QADS. They speed up the process of flash-off and drying waterborne paint – as well as solventborne – but they aren’t an absolute necessity unless you want the same efficiencies as you get from solventborne paints.
You are going to need some sort of small air supply or one of the hand-held units at a minimum.
Your booth filters are going to be okay, but because waterborne paint has a higher pigment level to give you coverage, you might find your filters will clog more quickly, so keep an eye on cabin pressures and increase your maintenance schedules, especially for the floor filters on a downdraft booth.
You will need to switch away from your conventional paint strainers, which are traditionally a cardboard funnel held together with water soluble glue. Obviously, if you put a waterborne paint through one of these it will fall apart, so you will need to go to a plastic-based filter, such as those made by Colad.
The 3M PPS cup system or similar for your spray gun is also recommended. This will greatly simplify the cleaning of your spray gun. Waterborne paints tend to dry to very hard residues which are difficult to remove from a gun, and while there is then a (relatively minor) cost for the cups, the simplicity of being able to dispose of the cup with its left-over catalysed paint saves a lot of time and effort. The rest of the gun is then put through your gunwash machine.
“You will need a dedicated gunwash machine for waterborne,” said Johnson, “At Glasurit we recommend having two separate machines, one for solventborne and one dedicated for waterborne paints. Solventborne systems are still required as the primer and clearcoats will still be solvent-based.”
Johnson explained that having two separate machines prevents accidental mix-ups of the wrong gun with the wrong wash system, resulting in contamination of cleaning products.
Most paint companies will have a coagulating powder which you mix with the wash water which separates the solid waste from the water in your gunwasher, which can then be recycled. The solid waste is then simply bagged and disposed of in the normal shop waste.
You will find that while there are some add-on costs in all this, there will be substantial saving on gunwash, with one Glasurit shop in Newcastle, NSW going from 60 litres per month to just 20 litres.
You will be able to use the same spray guns that you have been using for your solvent-based painting (subject to any regulations for HVLP which may be brought in), but it is strongly recommended that you have separate guns for your solventborne paints and separate guns for your waterborne, to avoid cross-contamination.
“If cross-contamination does occur it will result in curdling of  your basecoat as water and solvent do no mix,” Johnson stated. “If you want to run a one-gun strategy expect to have to do a lot of thorough cleaning. Other than that there’s no need to have to change anything on your guns.”
You may find that you will have to at least reassess your air supply system. There is no tolerance for oil or water in a waterborne paint system, so make sure your air system is top notch. If there’s any doubt install one of the trap systems, such as a Walkom TD3, to remove it.
Also, the amount of air you have available may prove to be insufficient. The demand for greater air flow and the advised use of at least hand-held driers may require you to increase the volume of your system. While you’re at it, check all the joints in your hoses. Air leaks in the booth can result in any dust being blown about, and because of the wetter nature of the surface you could find yourself with surface blemishes, eliminating air leaks will pay for itself in energy savings.
Cleaning will become a two-step process, with the normal wax and grease remover followed by the waterborne cleaner to ensure no cross-contamination between solvent and water – a small added cost.
For use of waterborne paints it is recommended that you use disposable wipes – not old pieces of material, which may be contaminated with grease or have inks or dyes in them from their days as a curtain or shirt or whatever.
Your personal protection equipment (PPE) does not change. “There is a belief that because waterborne does not have any solvents in it that you can dispense with the usual PPE,” says Johnson, “but it’s still paint, and a foreign substance to the body and you should still continue to use the same PPE as you have with your solvent based paints.”
About the only other expense you might have to consider is with the paint storage. Waterborne paint will cause rust if stored in ordinary steel cans, so you should have access to plastic containers or lacquer-lined tins, and any water-based paints (not Glasurit, which require a mixing process with a binder and then a viscosity reducer before it becomes a true water product) can suffer from freezing in cold environments, and if you’re in that type of environment you may need to consider temperature control in your paint storage area.

Paint Regulation Gathers Momentum

The move towards low VOC and/or waterborne paint is continuing to gather momentum with regulatory agencies if recent meetings in Sydney are any indication.
The NSW Government has appointed Rare Consulting to conduct a study and prepare recommendations for possible legislation.
A recent meeting of stakeholders drew response from just three paint companies, as well as several agencies and local Sydney councils. It’s believed the councils have an interest as they are likely to be responsible for enforcing any regulations.
The initial concern is for the environmental wellbeing of the Sydney basin, and special regulations will be put in place for that area.

These are likely to include:

•    paint restrictions (low VOC/waterborne) similar to those operating in the USA, Canada and/or Europe with a mandated level of VOCs:
•    an accreditation scheme for all painters, involving an education programme and the introduction of “Greencard” type licences;
•    equipment upgrades including compulsory HVLP spray guns and enclosed gunwash systems.
•    audit and inspection programmes to ensure compliance with accreditation, HVLP gun use, approved gunwash facilities, low-VOC coasting use, spray booth and paint mixing facilities to Australian standards and solvent management and disposal using a licensed contractor.
The indicated deadline for this is likely to be 2012. Given that it is expected that state-wide regulation will run parallel with this, and national regulation to also be very similar, the paint companies present at the meeting tried to explain the difficulty of meeting such tight compliance deadlines in terms of adequately training everyone, to avoid the difficulties which were met in Canada and Europe.
The suggested introduction of regulations on HVLP spray guns would be over 12 months from the start of the programme, and over 24 months for the introduction of enclosed gunwash machines, with a $200 rebate made available for all purchases in the first year and $100 in the second year.
Whatever regulations are settled upon in NSW are likely to set a standard for other states and national application.