Coatings formulation chemists generally differ in their approaches to paint formulation, since, as individuals, personalities and problem-solving skills come in to play. In addition, if you are at one company for long enough, you may see that there is a preference for a certain supplier which may be the result of relationships formed long before your arrival. These are my suggestions in formulating coatings. There are really three main scenarios:
- Creating a brand new formula for a new application
- Modifying an existing formula to improve performance, etc.
- Using a new raw material
This isn’t too unlike Igor Ansoff’s Product/Market Expansion grid:
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First steps for formulating paints
Coatings is a material science discipline and no different than any other science. You start with a literature search to understand the landscape. Use Prospector for starting point formulations (SPF), and search patents, applications and non-patent literature to review what exists to provide you a basis for your work. Your company may have an overall IP strategy that drives how and what you formulate, or/and you may want to stick with a trade secret approach. Regardless, it is important to understand the existing landscape including the competition.
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Creating a brand new formula for a new application
I suggest you rely on raw material suppliers’ SPFs to get an idea when creating new formulas. If this is really novel or you are inexperienced, that may be difficult. Talk with your mentor or an experienced colleague who can provide some insights and guidance. Generally, you work backwards to understand the performance requirements and substrates and formulate using materials that provide the performance within the required cost point. This usually dictates the resin/binder used as well as some of the prime pigments. Your company may be more open to the use of raw materials currently not in use, but you will have to defend their use as compared to what is purchased and in use.
In addition, it is rare that new technologies develop simultaneously globally. It is very likely if your geography isn’t leading the way, that there may be some published work on the emergent body of work you are contemplating.
Modifying an existing formula
In the second scenario, you need to have a thorough understanding of the raw materials available to you. As with a new application, unless it is a large-volume item, it is unlikely you will be able to get approval for a new material.
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If an exterior paint has marginally-acceptable mildew resistance, you may need a blend of mildewcides, an additional additive, or zinc oxide. The addition of the reactive pigment may necessitate the use of a different dispersant to ensure shelf and heat stability.
Generally, you are looking to improve a property while preserving cost, or may be asked to reduce formula cost while maintaining overall performance. Formulation software is very helpful in this regard, once the libraries have been populated with the material data such as typical properties and price. Without it, generation of formulations is highly tedious and prone to accidental errors in calculations.
Using a new raw material
In the third situation, a supplier may discontinue a current raw material or your company may decide to consolidate raw materials. Look at the properties of the material to find an alternate. You will have to evaluate alternates as chemical offsets (equivalents), or functional matches for performance.
Some paint companies evaluate new raw materials of a certain type monthly. January may be the month to compare all new defoamers to incumbent defoamers, in some specific screening formulas.
As a final word of caution, always ensure that you fully understand your working parameters, related to performance, cost and process. It is a variance on the theme of cost, quality and speed. Product development hardly ever takes a short amount of time, so periodically checking with the product owner, your champion and others to ensure you are still properly aligned to the final goal is critical. And remember that failures are not only a learning experience, but sometimes result in the basis for a future innovation.
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