Productive Processes

Jeff Alexander, President of the National Coil Coating Association in the US, discusses the market, the economy and opportunities for coil coaters and pre-painted metal.

The National Coil Coating Association (NCCA) in the US was formed in 1962 and will celebrate its 50th anniversary at its Annual Meeting in April this year. It numbers approximately 100 member companies, comprising coil coaters and suppliers of key inputs to the process: paint, metal, pretreatments, materials and equipment. Its non-coating members include chemical companies, resin manufacturers, engineering firms, equipment manufacturers, etc. The non-coating segment of its membership is very diverse.

Objectives and Targets

"Our primary goal is to increase the use of pre-painting and to make NCCA members better able to compete against other materials and methods of coating. We accomplish this through marketing programmes, development of informational and educational tools, provision of statistical data on trends, sharing of technical and regulatory developments, and networking with industry peers," NCCA President Jeff Alexander told ISMR.

The National Coil Coating Association has logged previous success in areas such as HVAC and office furniture over the last several years, but believes that there is still potential to convert more. It provides a variety of resources and technical support to members to promote the benefits and cost advantages to manufacturers of using pre-painted material.

"We have been focused on environmental performance of pre-painting as a process and are participating in a joint project with a related association to develop a life-cycle assessment of metal building panels. The coil coating process is broken down separately in that report," Alexander elaborated.

"We continue to refine our marketing message, and a new website with a focus on the advantages that pre-painting provides for various end uses should be launched later this year. We have several new informational tools under development, as well,"he added.

The association has improved its statistical programme by developing an import tracking report to accompany its shipment report. These market data tools are only available to member companies.

"Perhaps our biggest initiative is a search for a Technical Director to help coordinate industry technical positions," Jeff Alexander told ISMR. "The Technical Director will also work to resolve perceived obstacles to the use of pre-painting in different industries, where penetration should be greater given the benefits that pre-painting provides."

Markets and Segments

Due to its rigidity, metal can span greater distances than many other materials, allowing more design freedom. Colours and patterns can be applied via the coil coating process. Pre-painted metal can even provide the look of wood grain, copper patina, aged slate, rusted metal and more. Almost any colour, pattern and texture can be applied via coil coating.

Construction has always been a core area for market penetration of pre-painted material, – with residential roofing offering opportunities for pre-painted steel and aluminium. The NCCA supports the MRA (Metal Roofing Association) and continually looks for new opportunities try to convert post-painted applications into pre-painted applications. However, construction markets are already mature and using coil-coated products. They have also been heavily hit by the global economic downturn, so the challenge is to continually pinpoint new market opportunities.

"We have seen some recovery in construction markets over the past two years," Jeff Alexander told ISMR. "While residential continues to struggle, post-frame, architectural, pre-engineered and appliance/HVAC segments have shown some strength. We believe that 2012 will show slight growth over 2011."

He also highlighted another concern voiced by his members in the US.

"The member companies are very concerned about pre-painted imports into the US market. These products, while cheaper in cost, often do not meet the performance criteria that end-user customers are led to believe," he told ISMR.

An Eye on the Environment

The coil coating industry has long embraced the green revolution. There are real environmental and cost benefits to using coil-coated products as opposed to other finishing and post-finishing applications. It may help a manufacturer to eliminate a spray booth or a powder operation further down the line. There are huge cost savings in inventory management, too – if a manufacturer converts to a pre-painted product (with the help of his coil coater or service centre), he can manage his inventory down to a much lower level, using just the amount of material he needs in the right colours, with no excess metal on the floor. There are also labour cost advantages at a plant, as downstream operations are eliminated by using pre-painted materials.

"Coil coating has embraced many green initiatives, and there are more to come," Jeff Alexander explained. "Incineration is used today to eliminate harmful pollutants, but there is also a movement away from chrome. Formulations containing lead have also been greatly reduced over the past five years.

"The move to reflective coatings has become very important over the last few years. Most coatings produced in the US today contain reflective pigmentation. This allows for greater energy efficiency within the building and can qualify for energy tax credits."

The NCCA helped to highlight the true cost of coil coating by introducing a tool – a cost calculator – which allows companies to quantify and decide on the actual costs of manufacture on a pre-painted versus a post-painted basis. It looks at all the costs, including hidden ones (environmental/chemical costs, labour, etc.), to identify the true cost components and highlight the savings that can be made. The NCCA typically holds two major events a year, an annual meeting in the Spring and an Autumn technical conference and trade show. Its next annual meeting, including the 50th anniversary celebration, will be held in Tucson, Arizona (23-25 April 2012). Its Autumn conference and trade show will take place in St. Louis (1-3 October 2012). The two Keynote speakers for the 2012 Annual Meeting are Alan Beaulieu, a popular economic trends expert, and Bob Weidner, President and CEO of the Metals Service Centers Institute.