Waterborne Paint FAQs - BodyShop Business

Waterborne Paint FAQs

We asked the paint manufacturers six questions about low-VOC/waterborne paint with the goal of dispelling the myths and fears about this new technology. Their answers may surprise you.

Whichever part of the country I’m speaking in these days, body shops are really interested in talking about compliant basecoat systems. Clearly, there’s lots of curiosity, even for shops that are located in an unregulated area, an area about to be regulated or one that no government agency anywhere is threatening to regulate. These products were designed to help clean up air quality, but as a side effect, they may also offer exceptional color match and even faster production speeds than conventional basecoat systems.

How It Started

Who’s regulating who and what are their concerns? This whole thing started in Southern California when the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) amended their original rule from 1987. In 1987, the SCAQMD, home to some of the worst air pollution in the country, passed Rule 1151 that mandated that body shops within their jurisdiction use spray guns with 65 percent transfer efficiency (High Volume, Low Pressure met that requirement), and that a “sandwich” of basecoat color and clear topcoat not exceed 3.5 lbs. of volatile organic compounds (VOC). In 2008, the SCAQMD amended Rule 1151 to say that clearcoats must be less than 2.1 lbs. of VOC and basecoats must emit less than 3.5 lbs. of VOC. To comply with these new rules, paint companies created basecoat products that met these VOC limits.

Clearcoats with only 2.1 lbs. of VOC have been for sale in Southern California for years, that was how the shops met the 3.5-lb. sandwich rule. Regular solvent-based basecoats typically emit 5 to 7 lbs.; by covering them with 2.1-lb. clear, they could meet the old rule. To meet the new rule, base-coats must emit less than 3.5 lbs. of VOC. To do this, they were reformulated using water as a carrier or using the “exempt” (doesn’t cause ground-level ozone in the presence of sunlight) solvents identified by the SCAQMD. The common exempt solvents include: acetone, ethyl acetate, tertiary butyl acetate (TBAc), isopropanol and P-chlorobenzotriflouride (BCBTF). In either case, the basecoat doesn’t emit more than 3.5 lbs. of smog-causing vapors.

Upcoming areas likely to be regulated include: the Lake Michigan Air Directors Consortium (LADCO), which includes the states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio, and the Ozone Transport Commission (OTC), which includes Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington, D.C. Areas in Texas may also potentially be on the verge of regulation due to air quality. Most of California and all of Canada are currently under laws that proscribe the 3.5-lb. limit.

Six Questions

I asked the paint companies to answer six questions about their compliant, low-VOC basecoat systems. The designated spokespeople who answered the questions are:

• Mark Perlejewski, No Mix product manager, Transtar
• Tom Gardner, director of business development, Pro-Spray Automotive Finishes
• William Chant, technical manager, ChemSpec USA Inc.
• Jeff Potter, marketing director, Valspar Automotive
• James A. Jeziorski, NA refinish product manager, DuPont Performance Coatings
• Ken Papich, director of sales, Matrix System Automotive Finishes
• John Parran, director of marketing, PPG Automotive Refinish U.S. and Canada
• Dave Brez, strategic initiatives manager, BASF Automotive Refinish North America
• Keith Rickerman, global product manager, AkzoNobel
• Rebecca Rizzo, product manager – global products, Sherwin-Williams

1. Some body shop painters have commented that all waterborne basecoat products are the same. Do you agree or disagree?

Transtar: Disagree. While they all share water in their formulations, they also contain other ingredients (solvent, alcohol, etc.) that affect sprayability and performance.

Pro-Spray: Disagree. In the early 1980s, basecoat clearcoat systems made their mark in the industry – each paint manufacturer had a distinctive system. The same holds true with waterborne technology today. Each paint manufacturer’s waterborne offering has its own chemical composition and performance characteristics. Application methods, dehydration, value, coverage, shipping and storage requirements vary. Some waterborne basecoats require agitation, some a simple shake and pour. Some offer a concentrated solvent toner with waterborne binders and additives, some are true “waterborne” through and through. Some require a heavy first coat or light first coat, some require dehydration between coats and yet some are sprayed wet-on-wet.

ChemSpec USA: Disagree. All waterborne systems vary from each paint manufacturing company. A huge factor is the shelf life and the stability of the product. Blendability and tape times? How will the temperature affect the product, from sub-zero to 100°F and above? We believe our product has a greater shelf life and can go through multiple freeze cycles without affecting the product’s performance than other waterborne systems out there. All waterborne systems are made up of acrylic and polyester resins, with each paint manufacturer using different proportions and different combinations of the two. The end result of all basecoats may appear similar but aren’t.

Valspar: Disagree. There are always some differences between any refinish paint products concerning color matching, covering, quality, etc. While there may be some application techniques that are the same, waterborne basecoat product performance depends upon the technology and quality that’s implemented. For example, our De Beer 900 series product line goes through extensive testing and benchmarking to ensure that the quality and performance meets or exceeds the body shop painter’s expectations.

DuPont: While all refinish waterborne basecoats contain some level of water, that’s where the similarity ends. DuPont Performance Coatings waterborne is truly a “worldwide” technology that takes the best elements from our refinish and OEM coatings from both the U.S. and Germany. Our unique resins and DuPont proprietary coatings formulations across our DuPont Refinish, Spies Hecker and Standox brands are specifically designed and tailored for the critical needs of the refinish market. Waterborne coatings themselves have been around for a long time, but it takes the fundamental application of science and proprietary chemistry to deliver a waterborne basecoat that meets all of the needs of a refinish body shop for color, appearance, durability and productivity. DuPont Performance Coatings waterborne basecoats feature unique wet-on-wet application with industry leading productivity.

Matrix: Disagree. That’s like stating all solvent basecoats are the same. Each manufacturer often selects unique technology that results in different characteristics. Some are shake and pour, while others require agitation. Some are good after being frozen, others become gelled. In addition, viscosities are all over the board, requiring different spray techniques and equipment recommendations.

PPG: Disagree. All waterborne basecoats are not the same, as each manufacturer has taken a different approach to the type of coating technology used. PPG’s Envirobase High Performance and Aquabase Plus systems are comprised of third generation latex polymer technology; others are either made from one-component polyurethane or a polyurethane that’s reduced at the mixing station to become primarily water-based. PPG’s offering can also be differentiated by its patented micro-gel anti-settle technology that eliminates the need for a mechanical mixing station. Toners are simply stored on a conventional storage cabinet with an unequalled shelf life of four years. Mixers simply have to give the toner a few shakes and it’s ready to pour. As a result, painters don’t have to worry about improper consistency due to a lack of mechanical agitation. The anti-settling nature of the toners contributes to repeatable color consistency, application after application.

BASF: Disagree. First, not all basecoat chemistry is alike. Glasurit 90 Line and R-M Onyx HD both use toners that do not contain water until mixed with the appropriate binder in the formula. This means that BASF mixing bases are not susceptible to freezing, and they have a shelf life equal to solvent bases. This chemistry also gives Glasurit and R-M customers the advantage of using two different binders when mixing basecoats that help compensate for warmer and cooler climate conditions.

Second, all automotive refinish waterborne basecoats have different characteristics. Each paint manufacturer has different recommended application methods and procedures that work best with its own systems. Each paint manufacturer spends a great deal of time and effort to recommend the best application methods for its products. BASF application techniques differ from other companies; and other paint manufacturers’ recommendations differ from those of BASF.

Third, it’s not just what’s in the can that counts. BASF has over 20 years of waterborne experience, more than any other automotive refinish paint manufacturer. It’s that experience and BASF’s expertise that makes the difference. BASF also knows waterborne is more than just a conversion at a collision center, it’s more than just a basecoat; it’s also about helping shops market themselves and creating differentiated value in their marketplace. It’s about helping shops manage their performance so they can stand out in the crowd. It’s not necessarily what’s in the can; it’s what’s behind it.

AkzoNobel: Disagree. Of course there are differences in waterborne basecoats! Each toner assembly includes different pigments that may have better color matching in certain color areas than others. Some colors will have more opacity than others. Blending for an invisible repair may require different surface preparation than other paint systems. In some cases, the metallics are solvent-based materials and some are not. The similarity between them all is that they all meet the 3.5 lb./gal. legislation for basecoats in the regulated markets.

2. Is it possible to comply with the Rule 1151 amendments with exempt solvents? If so, how does that product differ from compliant waterborne basecoats?

Transtar: Yes, it is possible. The products that are compliant using exempt solvents require little to no change in equipment or process/technique. It’s business as usual for the technician.

Pro-Spray: Yes. It is possible to comply with Rule 1151 amendments using exempt solvents, but not without sacrificing performance. There’s a limited selection of exempt solvents approved for use in our industry. These solvents are blended with conventional resins to create a 3.5 binder system that works with existing toners. When you use these exempt solvents to achieve lower VOC requirements, you sacrifice sprayability, especially over large areas and in warmer temperatures. And metallic control may be more difficult with 3.5 exempt basecoats. The optimal way to meet compliance is by spraying waterborne. Waterborne basecoats are easier to apply and offer better color match and coverage.

ChemSpec USA: Yes. However, reports from the field indicate that it’s difficult to apply and not user-friendly and that the compliant solvent affects the color match. This is due to the combination of exempt solvents used to make the product compliant. It differs from compliant waterborne, as it applies like the traditional solvent but is compliant. But it affects application and color match.

Valspar: Yes. In fact, at Valspar, we recently launched a low-VOC solvent-based system that meets these requirements and provides a good quality solution for our customers. We also offer our existing De Beer 900 series water base system, which provides an alternate premium choice versus the solvent-based Valspar system. The difference between the two is simply customer preference towards either a solvent-based solution or a water-based system.

DuPont: Yes. In fact, our Nason Ful-Base 3.5 B/C delivers this capability within the marketplace today.  In a 3.5 VOC solventborne basecoat, solvent choice is limited and constricted by the few exempt solvent choices available. While certainly an option for some shops, limitations may exist in some color space that would prevent the ability to achieve a perfect match for flake appearance.

Matrix: Absolutely! Our company has opted to provide our customers with a choice of compliant basecoats, water and solvents. Low-VOC solvent basecoat doesn’t require shops to purchase any new equipment or change the methods in which they spray. Often, low-VOC solvents utilize the shop’s existing toners and formulas.

PPG: Yes. The major difference between waterborne and exempt solvents lies in their ability to match OEM finishes. Today, nearly 75 percent of OEM assembly plants now use waterborne basecoat technology for their original finishes. PPG’s refinish waterborne offerings incorporate the same basic technology it supplies to the automakers, so its pigmentation provides better alignment to OEM colors.

Compared to solvent, there’s less color shift with PPG waterborne, and the metallics don’t sink or orientate incorrectly. With a film build approximately half that of solvent, the greater opacity of the finely dispersed pigments allow hiding in thinner films, resulting in less color shift and fewer coats required. The result is a smoother, cleaner finish without the “flip-flop” mismatches associated with solvent. Blends are also less visible with PPG’s waterborne since painters don’t experience the halo effects on the blend edge that are associated with solvent.

Overall, PPG’s waterborne products surpass any National Rule solvent system in the market today. A compliant solvent basecoat system has limitations in the solvent choices that can be offered; subsequently, this will affect overall system performance. Therefore, we at PPG firmly believe that waterborne represents the wave of the future, capable of offering the “best of both worlds”: the most environmentally sound solution for a healthier work environment and the ideal technology for aligning with OEM color trends with best-in-class performance.

BASF: Yes. However, there are issues with doing this. Older high-VOC basecoats had the ability to adjust drying speed by using different solvents and solvent blends. This allowed metallic particles to properly orient themselves in the paint film. Using Rule 1151-exempt solvents in basecoats changes that evaporation rate. These exempt solvents are either very fast or very slow, which causes improper metallic orientation, resulting in poorer color match. Waterborne basecoats allow for excellent metal control and are low in VOC content.

Products such as Limco Supreme 3.5 low-VOC basecoat are compliant under Rule 1151, but color match wouldn’t meet the standards that a modern collision center requires, hence the use of a waterborne basecoat system. Waterborne systems such as Glasurit 90-Line and R-M Onyx HD contain modern pigments and resins designed to produce a basecoat look that has the same appearance and color as OEM basecoats while meeting strict regulatory standards.

AkzoNobel: No. It is not possible to comply with exempt solvents in a basecoat and achieve the color clarity and metallic control in today’s automotive color palate. The exempt solvent basecoat doesn’t provide fast enough drying properties to achieve an invisible repair on today’s vehicles.

3. Do you predict that primers, sealers and clearcoats will soon contain water as well? What are some constrictions those products might face?

Transtar: Waterborne primers have been in the marketplace longer than waterborne basecoats; however, they were mostly considered a specialty product. Waterborne sealers will likely arrive soon, but waterborne clearcoats pose a greater challenge on the refinish end vs. OEM, as they would require specific work conditions that cannot always be met by every auto body repair shop.

Pro-Spray: These products already exist. In fact, some OEMs are spraying waterborne clearcoats. However, I don’t think you’ll see general use and acceptance until legislation mandates change or until the products offer a compelling reason to use.

The biggest constraint with water-based primers and clearcoats lies fundamentally in the thickness of the film. Primer, sealer and clearcoat film thickness is two to six times higher than that of basecoat. Since waterborne must fully dehydrate for proper cross link and curing, this presents an issue.

ChemSpec USA: There are already waterborne primers, clear-coats and sealers available. We have a water-based primer and a waterborne clearcoat available in our line. The constriction we’ll face is that as films get thicker, the more difficult it will be to get the water out of the applied product.

Valspar: The technology is already present in the marketplace, and we estimate that as the quality of these products develop, there will be more choices for these ancillaries to contain water.

DuPont: Our DuPont Refinish, Spies Hecker, Standox and Nason branded 2.1 VOC solventborne primers, sealers and clearcoats deliver the performance and product attributes (including VOC) that’s required across all segments within the collision repair industry today. In fact, they rival the performance achieved by their higher VOC National Rule counterparts and out-perform niche water-containing primers and clearcoats. Environmental conditions in the booth may adversely impact the cure response of high-build waterborne primers. In addition, air dry waterborne clear-coats may not deliver optimal physical properties versus their low-VOC solventborne counterparts.

Matrix: Ready or not, that technology already exists. For decades, waterborne primers have been used in the automotive aftermarket refinish. They work very well, but never became as popular as 2K urethane primers. As for waterborne clears, a few manufacturers offer them, but I don’t believe North America is ready. Offered more in Europe, waterborne clear still hasn’t been as utilized
as hoped.

PPG: Yes. PPG has just recently introduced waterborne clearcoat technology worldwide. As to limitations on future development, let’s just say PPG is committed to providing customers with technology that improves their work environment and allows them to be more productive regardless of the technological route. The good thing is our research and development in waterborne technologies is unsurpassed, so we’re excited about the trends toward water technology. We see no reason why there can’t be a totally waterborne refinish system, including undercoats and clears, in the near future.

BASF: BASF already has waterborne primer surfacers available in Glasurit, R-M and Limco brands. These primers have been available for years and are excellent as primer surfacers. Because they use water as a solvent, waterborne primer surfacers are excellent for use on sensitive substrates where solvent-based primers may cause lifting.

Waterborne sealers are feasible for use in automotive refinish. However, because we have exempt solvents available, solvent-based sealers are still the rule of thumb in the refinish industry. Waterborne clearcoats are possible for use in our industry. However, urethane solvent-based clears using exempt solvents have much better application and durability characteristics. There’s no reason to change to waterborne clearcoats if they’re not superior to solvent clears. In the future, this may change.

AkzoNobel: It’s inevitable that all related products in time will evolve to waterborne technology. We at AkzoNobel are currently working on projects that will bring waterborne primers, sealers and clears to the market. The most challenging area is in the clearcoats. To meet the VOC requirements of 2.1 lb./gal. with water-based clear remains a challenge.

4. What, in your opinion, is the biggest myth about waterborne?

Transtar: That waterborne is environmentally friendly and is the only solution that meets Rule 1151 and other regulatory requirements.

Pro-Spray: That waterborne is slower to dry and more difficult to spray than “my old solvent basecoat.” That simply isn’t true. With the proper air drying equipment, application times can be similar or improved compared to solvent basecoat.

ChemSpec USA: Another misconception is that a lot of paint companies are telling customers that it’s mandatory to change to water by 2012. The fact is there is no legislation in place to mandate water; there is, however, a rule to mandate VOC-compliant products. The EPA’s objective is to regulate and monitor VOC levels; they are not advising technologies.

Valspar: That the quality, drying time, speed of the system, durability and color matching capabilities do not match up to a solvent-based system.

DuPont: Some believe that converting to waterborne means taking a step back in overall productivity. At DuPont Performance Coatings, we’ve designed our waterborne basecoat platform so that it can be applied in a single visit, wet-on-wet, and in 1.5 coats in most cases. Shops that have converted to our waterborne have commented on the positive improvement they’ve been able to achieve in productivity.

Matrix: That waterborne drys too slow, minimizing production. This is a myth, and when used as recommended, waterborne will outperform solvent.

PPG: Definitely the myth of cost – or how much investment in equipment is necessary for a shop to make the conversion to water. As I recall, many pundits predicted the demise of body shops all over California and Canada as a result of the investment it was believed to require. Yet in reality, it’s quite accurate to say that the thousands of PPG shops in these regions, both large and small, have thrived following the transition – many of which simply employ inexpensive hand-held blowers to increase productivity.

BASF: That shops will need to buy expensive equipment when they change to waterborne. All shops are different. What each shop needs before conversion to waterborne will vary depending on present equipment, procedures and practices. BASF uses its “H2GO Waterborne Readiness Tool” to evaluate a shop before it converts to waterborne. The collision center’s BASF representative uses this tool to examine the many aspects of a shop that affect its production and quality before they convert to waterborne. When completed, it provides the shop with a detailed report outlining recommended equipment and procedures, which begins a smooth transition from solvent to waterborne. Some shops may only need a few small changes in equipment: spray guns, venturi blowers, etc. Some shops that may have been overdue to upgrade things like the compressor or their standard operating procedures will need to make larger investments in both procedures and equipment. The evaluation is the place every shop should start when preparing for conversion to waterborne.

AkzoNobel: That a water-based material will slow down production.

Sherwin-Williams: That waterborne is hard to spray, dry and manage versus solvent-borne paints. Once painters are properly trained and educated on the spraying methods, drying recommendations and shelf-life management, the system implementation should be seamless and/or transparent. We bring in painters and managers to our training centers to get hands-on experience with the product, which usually eliminates these fears. We have color tools that are chromatically arranged to help technicians get to color match faster, and online color formula retrieval that provides accurate and quick information with the capability of managing usage data for managers. We have six nationwide training centers with highly capable training staff to educate painters and managers on the differences between waterborne and solvent, color adjustment and blending, AWX application and equipment needs.

5. What has been repairers’ biggest fear about switching to waterborne coatings?

Transtar: The high cost of conversion. This would include: spraybooth modifications, air compressor upgrades, longer drying cycles, and investment in storage and handling equipment as well as training, all of which cut into the shop’s profit.

Pro-Spray: There isn’t one “biggest fear” but rather several recurring concerns we’ve heard from our shops. Equipment upgrade costs, waste disposal, the conversion process and lengthy learning curves with production downtime are the most common fears. Waterborne can be a real asset to both the business and the community. Our job is to help our shops through this process. We’ve created process and training to help. The end result is success – if we do our job right.

ChemSpec USA: That waterborne systems will slow down productivity and will be outrageous in price compared to solvent.

Valspar: Overall, it’s the initial equipment cost to switch to the new system and the fact that most sprayers have a lot of solvent experience and don’t want to lose it. However, we’ve found that our customers soon realize the return on investment in switching to waterborne, due to its premium association, cleaner application, high-quality finish. In some cases, it’s a market differentiator. Furthermore, the sprayers who switch to waterborne end up preferring this system versus the solvent-based one.

DuPont: Two concerns we hear about are: (1) disruption to the shop work flow during the conversion process, and (2) total job cost. DuPont Performance Coatings has state-of-the-art training facilities, expert sprayers and a strong and experienced field sales staff, as well as an extremely capable network of distributors. This combination delivers effective and efficient spray gun-in-hand training for our customers as well as strong personal support during the conversion process. Regarding cost, our waterborne can be applied in a single-visit, wet-on-wet, in 1.5 coats with the majority of colors. Many shops have commented that this added productivity results in additional throughput and saves them money.

Matrix: Lost production, loss of technicians, inferior quality, comebacks/redos, cost associated with new equipment and increased material cost.

PPG: Like most of us, technicians naturally can be resistant to change. Flat-rate technicians worry about how the move to waterborne will affect their livelihood. Will it mean redoing more jobs for free? Will the dry times be longer or result in more mismatches, thereby impacting their productivity and paycheck? Our “Convert with Confidence” program was designed specifically to minimize these fears and help ensure a smooth transition. Our experience shows that these fears quickly dissipate once the painter is actually trained and begins using the product. Ask a painter today who has been using PPG water, and the vast majority will say they would never go back to spraying solvent.

BASF: “Waterborne will slow production.” BASF understands that along with correctly fixing a vehicle, a shop’s production is one of its highest priorities. Before BASF begins any conversion, we work together with the collision center to establish a conversion plan which includes the KPIs that are important to the shop. BASF provides the collision center several ways to measure and manage those KPIs as the shop transitions to waterborne. A shop must “measure” if it wants to “manage.” BASF can also assist the shop with standard operating procedures and production management tools to ensure these KPIs are met. BASF wants to help its customers be more successful. We can do this by helping them convert, market and manage performance when converting to BASF Glasurit 90-Line or R-M Onyx HD.

AkzoNobel: There are two primary fears from repairers’ point of view. The first is that it will cost more to use waterborne coatings. The second is the unknown factor of change. The cost of using water-based materials is truly very similar to a solvent system. There may be a need to change or add air-moving equipment to help dry the coating in humid conditions – in much the same way as a technician would do now by adjusting the heat setting on the booth when outside temperatures get cold.

There are also some preparation changes that need to be made for water-based materials. The surface to be coated must be cleaned of all solvent- and water-based contaminants before the application of the water-based material. In general, the surface preparation should be more thorough, as water-based materials have a lower surface tension than the solvent-based materials. Once the “process” has been adjusted for water-based materials, it becomes second nature in the preparation process.

Sherwin-Williams: That waterborne paints can’t be productive. The fear is that switching to waterborne will decrease their productivity and/or quality of the paint job. As stated above, with the right information provided by their paint supplier and proper training, they should be able to manage the differences between solventborne and waterborne paint to minimize the potential change in productivity. The equipment used and proper air flow play a big part in the dehydration process of waterborne paints. Sherwin-Williams conducts a full facility analysis before each installation to address air supply, equipment and potential booth updates to help set a plan of action to meet and exceed the expectations our customers have of the productivity of AWX.

6. What makes your offering the best choice?

Transtar: Transtar’s No Mix low-VOC is the best choice because it doesn’t require any costly conversions for spraybooths, waste and storage equipment, spray equipment changeovers or high investment in technician training. Due to the product’s proprietary chemistry, there’s no need for mixing banks, which represents additional savings in equipment and energy costs. Our No Mix low-VOC system als

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