Waterborne Paint: The Big Conversion – Part 1

Like it or not, a low VOC refinish world is coming. How will you deal with it, what are the issues and what’s the best way forward? BodyShop News examines the sometimes difficult aspects of making the switch to waterborne.

Waterborne paint. It’s one of the most spoken about and written about topics in the collision repair industry at the moment, and also one of the least understood, and that’s why there’s a degree of caution and/or suspicion about its use. And if it’s to be adopted by a body shop it means a complete change of approach and mindset by a painter or painters who have been deeply ingrained with the regimes of solvent-based paints.
So, why would you even be talking about changing everything you know, and starting pretty much from scratch again?
Well, probably the simplest answer to that is that if you don’t choose to swap over at some time, it’s inevitable that you will be forced to make the change, sooner or later. It’s better to be in the door earlier, when there’s room in the system to properly train you and your staff, than to be stuck with minimal training opportunities when there’s a deadline to convert everyone.
Many countries have already made the change, compulsorily, and many more are looking at it. Even China is considering mandating a change away from the current crop of high VOC (volatile organic compound)-based paints. And if China makes such a move we will be seen to be a long way behind, and the Australian government will not want to be seen to be behind China on a significant environmental issue.
So what are VOCs?
Wikipedia defines it as: “organic chemical compounds that have high enough vapour pressures under normal conditions to significantly vaporise and enter the atmosphere. A wide range of carbon-based molecules . . . are VOCs. The term often is used in a legal or regulatory context and in such cases the precise definition is a matter of law.”
While VOCs accidentally released into the environment can damage soil and groundwater it is the vapours of VOCs escaping into the ambient air which are deemed to be the significant risk from the application and drying of paint.
VOCs are an important outdoor air pollutant. In this field they are often divided into the separate categories of methane (CH4) and non-methane (NMVOCs). Methane is an extremely efficient greenhouse gas which contributes to enhanced global warming. Other hydrocarbon VOCs are also significant greenhouse gases via their role in creating ozone and in prolonging the life of methane in the atmosphere. Within the NMVOCs, the aromatic compounds benzene, a carcinogen, and suspected carcinogens toluene and xylene, may lead to leukaemia through prolonged exposure.
Some VOCs also react with nitrogen oxides in the air in the presence of sunlight to form ozone. Although ozone is beneficial in the upper atmosphere because it absorbs UV and thus protecting humans, plants and animals from exposure to dangerous forms of solar radiation, it poses a health threat in the lower atmosphere by causing respiratory problems. In addition high concentrations of low level ozone can damage crops and buildings.
In other words, these are substances which these days are deemed to be unhealthy to an environmentally stressed planet. Regulatory agencies are looking at all of these compounds to determine methods of reducing the degree of release of these substances into our environment, and, you guessed it, the refinish automotive industry is seen as one of the significant targets since paint manufacturers make up 46 per cent of organic solvent users, the largest single sector.
The obvious solution is to use paint that does not depend on high levels of VOCs as solvents. BASF introduced waterborne paint in the early 1970s and this has been growing as a preferred option for many countries, while others have accepted low VOC paints as a better alternative.
Many see an enforced conversion to waterborne as completely unacceptable. “Why fix it if it aint broke” is the attitude, except that those who are responsible for preserving our health and our environment will tell you that it is well on its way to being “broke”, and unless we do something about it the consequences will be disastrous. And since these are the people who write the rules we don’t get a choice.
This won’t be the first time this industry has had to change its technology involved with painting. First it was a switch from nitrocellulose lacquer to acrylic lacquer, then it was a change to acrylic enamel, then to acrylic enamel with isocyanate catalysts, and on to acrylic urethane enamel and the current basecoat/clearcoat systems. In each case doomsayers predicted the end of the world as we knew it. We adapted each time in the past and we will adapt again.
There are financial costs and necessary changes to the way you do things. Despite what some might say, waterborne isn’t a straight forward step that will answer all your problems. It will solve some issues for you, and give you an edge in other areas, but it will also create some problems and require the introduction of management issues that you don’t deal with now.
The point is that a switch of paint technology is going to become compulsory at some time. It’s better to be at the front of the queue, having made the decision when there is time to train your guys and resolve the problems, than to be stuck with inadequate training and insoluble issues down the line when all the other tardy shops which didn’t want to make the switch are all competing for the paint companies’ time for training.
This is the reason why all the paint companies are promoting waterborne or low VOC. They want you to change now, not when they are hit with a tsunami of shops all clamouring for attention.
Training appears to be the significant issue. Imparting the right techniques and regimes is the linchpin to success with waterborne. While each paint company has a slightly different approach and timeline, the general idea is the same. Waterborne paints handle, tint and spray differently to solventborne paints. Manufacturers build their specific training programmes to teach their shop customers what to do and what not to do with the new colour systems.
And it can be something more basic but completely unexpected. For example, a shop in Perth which converted to Glasurit waterborne last year found that the dry, low humidity air in WA resulted in the paint drying too quickly and prevented its proper application. BASF had to re-engineer their paint for this ,market to suit this totally unexpected circumstance, slowing the drying process so that the painter could control the drying rate.
There will be a cost factor to be overcome in terms of equipment changes, but you simply don’t get a choice in this matter. You either meet these cost hurdles now or at some point in the future.
Yes, this will definitely come into force. Both Federal and State governments are accumulating data now on the amounts of paint being sold, the amount of solvent used, the number of vehicles painted and so on. They are well aware of the legislation introduced in various overseas markets and the impacts of the VOCs and the options available in both low VOC and waterborne technologies. There is no indication of time frames or the nature of possible regulations, but don’t expect it to be too far away. The examples overseas are all along the lines of an 18 month to two years change-over period after which the use of normal solventborne paint is simply prohibited.
It’s not as bad as you might suppose, as you still get to use solvent-based primers and for the moment at least solventborne clearcoats as the waterborne clearcoats are basically too slow in drying.
Over the coming months ABN will be looking at all the issues of converting to waterborne paints, warts and all, so that you get to understand what you are dealing with. With the assistance of BASF Paints and Glasurit we’ll look at the pros and the cons, the good and the bad, to enable you to make an educated decision of how you can go about the conversion with the least possible grief.

Glasurit 90 Line Waterborne

Glasurit 90 Line waterborne technology has been in the refinish market for more than 17 years and this same technology is chosen by prestige OEMs such as Rolls Royce and Maybach so users can rest assure that 90 Line will not only give a quality finish, but also has a proven track record.
Glasurit 90 Line is waterborne technology, is not water base, which means frost sensitivity is not an issue and no special heated storage is required. The product also offers a five year shelf life so back up stock is not an issue.
Although the mind set of the entire staff in a body shop would need to change when switching from solvent to waterborne technology, Glasurit 90 Line makes the transition easy. With its extremely good hiding power, fast flash off and ease of use, any spray painter who is comfortable with spraying solvent basecoat will find the switch easy.
BASF Coatings conducts Waterborne VIP days which explains and validates the advantages and efficiencies of using 90 Line. There is also a 90 Line demonstration which allows the VIP to touch and feel the product, providing all the necessary information to help the decision process of when to change.

Colad 100% Synthetic Paint Strainers

The innovative Colad synthetic paint strainers are manufactured from 100 per cent synthetic material without adhesive application.
The synthetic composition ensures they are suitable for straining all kinds of conventional paints and water-based paints in particular. The nylon element and strainer are carefully welded together and are fibre free.
As no adhesives are used no separation can occur when in contact with solvents or water. A large, rounded filter area ensures quick straining and time saving.
In contrast to conventional paper paint strainers, the 100 per cent synthetic material ensures that no pigments or water in water-based paints are absorbed. Colad paint strainers are light, easy to handle and compactly packed in plastic bags or specially designed dispenser boxes.
The strainers are colour coded, for easy mesh choice:
•    90 microns (transparent);
•    130 microns (blue);
•    190 microns (green); and
•    280 microns (red).
Colad synthetic paint strainers are marketed with the following accessories:
•    Ring with funnel to hold the strainer (no. 103505);
•    Strong spray gun holder (no. 103511); and
•    Separate dispenser box for efficient storage (no. 103506).
For more information contact the sole Australian Colad agent, Grech Sales & Marketing, on Tel: 0401 918 501 or email [email protected]