Paint market heads for water treatment

Environmental and safety concerns about the use of harmful solvents in paints has led manufacturers to develop a number of water-based solutions. These new products face the ultimate test in the high ambient temperatures of the UAE.

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By  Colin Foreman Published  April 17, 2004

Paint market heads for water treatment|~|paintBody.jpg|~|Paintwork typically acount for 1-2% of construction costs|~|In a city like Dubai where authorities pay landlords lost rentals while the municipality upgrades their buildings and improves the neighbourhood look – paint and coatings could never go out of fashion. Even buildings, which want to look stark, raw, rough, traditional or historic, have a special coating that gives them a ‘heritage’ look. A building covered with paint to look as if it is unpainted. No wonder then that such a market would see investments such as the recent Dhs75 million spent by market leader Jotun in shifting and expanding capacity to 50 million tonnes a year at what is being claimed as the largest paints factory in the Middle East and Jotun’s largest outside the home base of Norway. There are several other large producers such as National Paints, Berger, Sadolin, Hempel, International Paints and Sigma and Dulux in the market, apart from the many smaller players and foreign suppliers. Although the market is big it remains quite small on a global scale when volumes are considered. However, per capita is among the highest in the world, because of the staggering amount of construction work ongoing and still limited population. Paintwork generally accounts for 1-2% of total construction value depending on the project type. While the Middle East paints and coatings market is estimated at about 500 billion litres, the UAE itself absorbs some 100 million litres a year, the industry says. And like in the UAE, the rest of the Middle East too, has a large number of small operators and shops that do not appear on the official statistics. Market analysts say the paints’ pie is growing by about 10% annually. Paints came to the lower Gulf in a big way with the infrastructure boom. Setting up of drydocking facilities in Dubai and Bahrain, brought marine anti-fouling coatings, which too became a big market. As petro-dollars boosted spending on housing and real estate, decorative paints started to dominate, and now account for about 70% of the paints turnover of larger players. Because of the size of the growing market, cash-rich developers bringing up huge new projects all over the Gulf, and the continuing investments in traditional housing and infrastructure development, competition is becoming fierce. “The regional paints market is very competitive. If you ask any of our competitors, they will say that it is very price competitive,” says Erik Aaberg, managing director of Jotun UAE, which claims a 40% market share in the UAE. Though the market may overall be very price conscious, mainline players do manage to exist on the strength of quality, especially with world-scale high-profile waterfront developments which need to emphasise and have a quality stamp. “We have been able to sell in the high-quality and durable segment. People here are getting more into quality and we respond by introducing more colours and new products all the time, so much so that by now we are producing few standard colours,” Aaberg told Construction Week. There are, however, some 20 colours that are fast-moving, with ‘beige’ moving in large volumes being a highly popular choice in the region. Out of just 5 base colours, producers can mix thousands of colours with the limiting factor literally being just their own imagination. Paints are just not paints anymore. The industry counts all wall coverings and coatings like fibreglass, metals, plastic, stucco and of course, the glue to stick them up with. And, these are not just paints that are imported or formulations that are imported and just mixed out here. Most major factories in the region have their own research laboratories which endeavour to solve some of the paint problems that are peculiar to this region. For example, plaster in the Gulf environment and climate tends to crack. The factories here produce paints that are elastic and flexible to deal with the stretch factor. “Our marine paints and most protective coverings have been developed in Norway. But most of our decorative paints for the Middle East have been developed here. We have specially developed formulations to suit local conditions,” said the Jotun UAE managing director. Texture type coatings for external finishes are much more popular in the Middle East than in other parts of the world. In Europe and America the smooth finishes are most popular. One benefit of using a textured finish is that it hides any defects in the plasterwork, but with plasterwork in the UAE being a similar quality to work elsewhere it would appear a large part of this popularity is due to personal choice. Another preference that differs from other markets is the use of polyurethane. These finishes are favoured in the UAE for external finished because it is a very hard durable coating that is not affected by the sunlight as much as other coatings such as epoxies are. UV degradation is the primary cause of weathering in the UAE. In the paints business, the process of making paints is a blending process Many producers get a licence from some manufacturer in Europe or elsewhere and blend the paints locally. But to formulate paints is a much more difficult process, therefore local research and development facilities become very important. The majors are not just focused on growing their market share and fattening their bottomline, they do take some community responsibility. Paints business has a high relationship to environment, and if not given due consideration, could easily become a cause of concern. And in today’s growing green conscious societies, paints manufacturers are keen to be seen as protectors of the environment. “We are trying to educate the market,” says Aaberg. “We are concerned about the environment and want to influence the market so that there is much less use of solvents”. In Europe, the level of solvents in paints is becoming an issue. Authorities are determining the safe levels of volatile elements that should be in paints. Protective coverings are normally made from polyurethane epoxy. This has a lot of solvents which are volatile and can evaporate and thus be harmful for inhalation and for the atmosphere. Paints companies have responded by developing water-based solvents, which as yet are slightly more expensive. “We now try to get clients to go for a water based weather shield systems that are much cleaner for the environment and have good colour fastness because colour fading is the biggest problem here,” says Craig Shaw, Dulux business manager, Al Gurg Leighs Paints. Like Jotun, it is a big policy for ICI Paints to move away from solvents in paint coatings. This has been partly driven by legislation and corporate responsibility as large manufacturers push the environmental charter forward. “It is, however, important to remember that it is not just on the use of solvent based paints, it also applies to the manufacturing process. Water based paints are obviously cleaner, but you have to get the balance right because they can consume more energy when producing them,” says Shaw. Product developments now mean that there is little to no sacrifice in product performance, and in many cases the performance of water based paints can be even better than solvent based counterparts depending on the substrate. “The technology is now available to make any type of product water based, but you have to be able produce it at price level that is affordable to contractors,” says Shaw. Another area where focus is needed is the anti-fouling paints, which are used in applications such as the bottom of ships and marine vessels. Such coatings kill fouling elements like barnacles and protect the surface from new ones growing on them. However, such paint have tin in them, which is considered harmful. Since January, the USA and Japan have implemented some regulations that do not allow ships with tin-based anti-fouling paints to come inshore. The International Maritime Organisation too, has issued advisories on such coatings, said Aaberg adding that though no such requirement exist in the Gulf, Jotun has decided to comply with IMO directives. “The challenge facing the industry nowadays is to produce a paints product without having to use tin,” Aaberg. The need for a changeover is not that immediate. A large vessel can sail the seas for up to five years, before it may be required to go in for dry-docking. The market in the region is unregulated, but that does not mean that anything goes. Producers claim they are proactive in avoiding techniques and practices, which might attract criticism. As elsewhere in today’s global village environment, they are sensitive to green concerns ||**||

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