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Industrial Coatings Market Sees Strong Recovery

Industrial Coatings Market Sees Strong Recovery

The Industrial Coatings segment is an interesting one to define. Depending on the company, it can include everything from construction to energy and even wood coatings. One thing that major paint and coatings manufacturers can agree on is that the sector has grown in the past two years.

Axalta’s Industrial Coatings business covers a wide range of applications, including heavy duty equipment, coils, construction and building products, electric motors, battery solutions and protective infrastructure. Shelley Bausch, senior vice president of Axalta’s global Industrial Coatings business, noted that 2021 was a great year for the Industrial Coatings segment because of the focus on the right strategic end-markets, with sales surpassing pre-pandemic levels.

“We surpassed our 2019 levels early in 2021,” Bausch said. “Obviously we have been affected by the chip shortage and its impact on automotive production, but overall, we have strong opportunities in other end segments.

One industry that is hot right now is oil and gas.

“We often shy away from oil and gas because of its cyclicality, but think about the interest in energy independence,” Bausch said.

“There are high levels of investment in oil and gas transfer right now. We reintroduced our FBE (fusion bonded epoxy powders) lines in this segment.”

Daniela Vlad, managing director, AkzoNobel Industrial Coatings, reported that the global industrial coatings segment saw high demand due to an initial post-COVID-19 surge.

“A major feature of the past year was the rise in the cost of raw materials and shortage of supply,” Vlad added. “A massive – and successful – task across our global markets was ensuring our customers’ production lines kept running while resolving huge challenges with raw materials, freight and shipping. Product, service and technology breakthroughs continued at pace, as did our investment in supply and manufacturing infrastructure.”

Kevin Braun, vice president, global industrial coatings at PPG, said that PPG is seeing strong demand for markets related to agriculture and construction in 2022.

“For agriculture, higher levels of farm income resulting from high crop prices are driving demand as farmers look to replace aging equipment,” Braun pointed out. “For the construction market, increased infrastructure demands and new builds as the economy has rebounded are driving an uptick. In consumer-related markets, we are seeing a moderation in demand after an uptick for COVID-related at home activities over the last two years. We have anticipated many of these changing market dynamics and continue to watch a lot of important leading indicators in the industrial coatings space.”

Hempel focuses on the energy and infrastructure segments within the global protective coatings market. Monica Li Aviram, infrastructure solution management director for Hempel A/S, said that overall for the Infrastructure segment, the market has recovered well with growth during 2021 and at the start of 2022.

“In recent months, there has been a slowdown in construction projects due to the higher cost of construction materials, energy price increases, scarcity of raw materials and for China, ongoing COVID-19 lockdowns,” added Aviram.

Aviram observed that there is no doubt that the Infrastructure segment represents high growth potential.

“Many of the projects initiated to support economic recovery are being fully or partly backed by governments,” Aviram noted.

David Heal, director of solution management, energy & performance OEM at Hempel A/S, said he is seeing a mixed picture resulting in overall single-digit growth exhibited in 2021 versus 2020 in the energy segment, adding that 2022 demand to date has been stable versus 2021.

“The raw materials situation has put pressure on supply chains and it has therefore been difficult for the industry to meet market demand,” added Heal. “The increase in energy prices has the effect of positive impact on investments for Oil & Gas companies because profits are high, but huge pressure on the supply chain for projects to be completed and delays, due to the price of steel and escalating energy prices.”

Heal observed that the wind energy segment has been flat and slightly declining globally for the last two years with the trend continuing this year.

“This is driven by the removal of government subsidy schemes in the U.S. and China for onshore wind energy, slowing investments,” added Heal. “Recent developments with the energy crisis have put further focus back onto wind energy, so the market is expected to see further growth as we move forwards.”

“From an Energy perspective, offshore wind and being present in all segments of the wind energy market is a crucial growth market for us,” Heal added. “Looking at Oil & Gas, we see continued opportunities in fire protection and emerging renewable energy markets, such a hydrogen.”

Global Concerns Continue to Have an Impact

The good news is that as the COVID-19 crisis for the most part recedes, the industrial coatings market has seen a strong recovery, in some cases surpassing 2019 sales. However, not everything is going smoothly. China is in lockdown from COVID-19. The supply chain remains a serious concern. The war in Ukraine is creating tremendous uncertainty, as companies look to leave Russia.

Vlad noted that the outlook for 2022 continues to be influenced by current global events.

“Like so many, we are deeply saddened and worried by the conflict in Ukraine,” said Vlad. “Now, as always, the highest priority for us is the safety and well-being of our employees. The conflict in Ukraine, the COVID-19 lockdown in China, and rising inflation and interest rates are all having an impact on growth predictions. Despite these challenges there is still a solid demand in the segments we operate in.

“Increased demand for remodeling worldwide has been driving demand for industrial wood finishes (building products, flooring, furniture and cabinets),” Vlad added. “In construction and packaging, the market continues to be strong so recovery should come back to historic levels. “Post COVID-19 growth is notably in commercial construction and home refurbishment. The continued trend towards endlessly recyclable aluminum cans is also driving growth in packaging.”

Heal and Aviram said that in general terms, Hempel has seen markets recovering to pre-COVID levels, but this is a very mixed picture because of the current global situation differing significantly when comparing Asia with Europe.

“For 2022, the general markets seem to be up in value but not in volume due to the impact of the raw materials situation and escalating energy costs,” they added. “At present, it’s difficult to predict what will happen going forwards, as volume and value need to be considered very differently at the moment.”

“I think we are already past 2019 numbers,” said Braun. “In certain end use markets, we have seen considerable growth in the last couple of years that are rivaling or are well above 2019. I believe anything tied to infrastructure will continue to see strong growth, as well as energy segments, as we see a trend in shifting energy markets to more sustainable options driving an uptick in demand.”

Geographic Demand

Asia-Pacific remains the largest area of growth for the Industrial Coatings segment.

“Asia remains the biggest growth opportunity, with both China and India expected to remain above the rest of the world’s average growth figures,” noted Braun. “China does, however, rely quite heavily on export to both North America and Europe. Depending on what happens with inflation and some market adjustments, this could impact a short-term outlook for China.

“I think it is important also not to overlook the resurrection of some key industrial applications and production in North America,” Braun added. “The last two years have taught us a more diversified supply chain is critical, and I believe we will see more investments in the U.S. and Mexico.”

In terms of geography, Bausch noted that more than 60% of the industrial coatings market is in the Asia-Pacific region, and it’s the fastest growing.

“We have prioritized this as a growth area and installed Christine Liu as our new leader for our General Industrial Coatings business in the region,” Bausch said. “Liu is a strong strategic leader and one of the reasons we are doing so well there – creating strong global collaboration and local team spirit.”

Bausch credited Axalta’s Asia-Pacific team with giving exceptional efforts during the latest COVID challenges.

“Shanghai and other areas in China have been shut down for two months because of COVID,” Bausch said. “The engagement and commitment of our team has been outstanding. Some of our employees are even staying at our customers’ sites in China to support them.”

“We have one team, one vison and one goal. With the raw material shortage, our China team worked to get us extra supply,” added Demi Lin, VP, business development and strategic marketing for Axalta’s Industrial Coatings business. “We are so proud of our team.”

“We continue to see coil in Asia Pacific as the fastest-growing region driven by the uptake of construction,” Vlad said. “In packaging, growth is happening globally due to a lasting preference for sustainable and recyclable packaging. An increased demand for remodeling worldwide has been driving demand for industrial wood finishes for building products, flooring, furniture and cabinets. Interestingly, Vietnam passed China as the largest exporter of furniture in 2021 and is investing to grow further by training an additional 150,000 workers to support the industry.”

Heal said that expectations are that the fastest growth would still be seen in Asia, but this is currently significantly affected by the ongoing COVID-19 lockdowns in China.

“We also need to look specifically at sub-segment markets to understand geographical trends,” he pointed out. “For example, offshore wind energy will grow dramatically in Northern Europe, North America and South and East Asia (Korea and Japan).”

Improved Performance From Industrial Coatings

Not surprisingly, performance is critical to end users.

“For infrastructural constructions like bridges, our customers continue to look at the highest performance as such structures are expensive to maintain,” Aviram reported. “So here, solutions with long durability in terms of anticorrosion for primers and high weather resistance for top coats. For general civil constructions, like airports, stations, datacenters and commercial buildings, the requirements are more diverse. In some cases, customers are looking for full systems protection – anticorrosion, fire proofing and topcoats – fitting the needs of the structure (the end use of the structure) and the surrounding environment.

“The trend is similar in the energy segment, where our customers are looking for increasing longevity to reduce operational maintenance costs,” Heal noted. “There is also an increasing awareness of sustainability and environmental impact from our customers.”

“Our customers are looking for a reliable partner – the definition of which has grown to include reliable in our ability to secure supply despite the challenges and interruptions of the market,” Vlad reported. “Once the concerns of security of supply are addressed, then our customers are looking for consistently high-quality products with the ability to innovate with them and will bring value to their business through great (sustainable) products, technical knowledge and service.”

For example, Vlad observed that building and construction customers want to make sure their installations look great for many years, so they choose coatings that provide long-term durability and weather resistance.

“They also seek functional and aesthetic features that will help differentiate their products,” continued Vlad. “In packaging, our customers have different needs and demands, from trusted epoxy coatings to high-performance BPAni coatings.

“In wood, our customers have three key focus areas: (1) added value to the end consumer, which means improved aesthetics as well as stain and scratch resistance, (2) reduction in their total cost of ownership, which focuses on products that can remove process steps or costly labor steps, as well as increasing their overall production capacity or reducing their costs, and (3) long durability of exterior products to reduce maintenance needs,” Vlad concluded.

“In broad terms, we provide coatings that protect and beautify assets,” said Braun. “Color and appearance is key, along with functional capabilities such as weatherability and corrosion protection. Beyond that, we are seeing more inquiries from customers related to sustainability. ESG has become a key focus area of commitment to our customers and communities as we continue to work with customers all over the world to innovate in ways that are focused on sustainability.”

Bausch observed that the biggest change is around sustainability, and Axalta is supporting its customers to meet their challenges and goals.

“Of course, color and appearance are important, as are durability and protection in our end markets. These are big parts of what our customers care about, and those will remain, but the change is the emphasis on, and requirement for, sustainability,” Bausch added. “I believe that our job is not only to help Axalta hits its ESG goals, but to also help our customers meet their Scope 1, 2 and 3 goals. That conversation is in the forefront now.”

“Our job is to look for raw materials that are made of more sustainable materials,” Bausch noted. “If we can produce powder coatings, as an example, made from more sustainable resins, we can further advance the positive impact for our customers. To do this, we must partner with both suppliers of raw materials and equipment companies for application innovation.”

Environmental Legislation

Industrial coatings manufacturers say they are seeing a move from solvent-based coatings to using more water-based (acrylic and alkyd) coatings.

“We absolutely see more customers opting for waterborne coatings,” said Braun. “Look no further than the rapid conversion in China over the last three years. We expect that trend to continue and accelerate in other parts of the world as well.”

Vlad noted that for decades, sustainability has been an important part of the way AkzoNobel does business, but the company wants to go even further.

“That’s why our People. Planet. Paint. approach extends beyond our own operations,” Vlad said. “It’s about collaborative innovation and pushing boundaries. So, we’ve made a firm commitment and set carbon reduction targets for our whole value chain, validated by SBTi.”

Bausch believes that the use of wood as a primary substrate for building and construction will be a key trend in the coming years.

“Carbon capture and storage is a critical part of the world’s focus on climate change. As trees grow, they absorb CO2 and store it, so you can think about this as being locked into wood products.” Bausch said. “Updated building codes, techniques, and the coatings used to protect the wood will enable more housing on the same land with the use of wood in taller buildings.”

Bausch also said that the energy solutions and electrification coatings industries offer opportunities for Axalta to make a significant difference in the environment. In addition to traditional powder, e-coat, and liquid coatings, Axalta offers wire enamels, impregnating resins and electrical steel coatings to the energy sector.

“Our products are used to make electric motors more efficient in a variety of applications, including appliances, tools, and wind turbines,” Bausch said. “This is critical, particularly to enable electric vehicle development as it allows batteries to either be smaller or to increase their range.

“Whether it’s sustainability or performance needs, we are serving our customers where they are and where they are going,” Bausch concluded.

“One of our key goals is to have a conversation with our customers and learn what they are looking for,” Lin added. “We can then address our innovation resources and focus on them.”

Hempel’s Aviram and Heal both see a move towards more sustainable solutions.

“That can be higher solids solutions with less solvent, waterborne solutions or solutions that last longer and therefore have a minor environmental footprint considering the full lifetime of the solution,” Aviram added. “This change is partly fueled by legislation and partly by our customers’ own requirements. Especially for civil structures, we see a higher degree of building projects with green building schemes and thus a request for documentation of solutions e.g. EPDs (Environmental Product Declarations).

“There is a general assumption that in order to improve sustainability, we must move to water-based solutions,” Aviram continued.

“Whilst there is a good case in some segments, in these segments, due to reduced VOCs (volatile organic compounds), this aspect alone doesn’t tell the whole picture in terms of the sustainability of different coatings technologies and shouldn’t be assumed. For example, water-based technologies in many areas are not mature enough to be able to provide the same performance levels of solvent-based or solvent-free counterparts. Hempel’s mission is to continue to support our customers’ understanding of the sustainability footprints of all of our solutions and to drive change to more sustainable technologies, systems and application methods.”

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