Resins, woods, processes and the trends that will shape the wood coatings sector

Exposed wood is a classic look for architects wanting to add a more organic feeling to their spaces, making it a go-to material in both commercial buildings and high-density residential developments.

We managed to get in touch with James Monroe, Dispersions & Resins Market Segment Manager, Furniture and Flooring at BASF, in Southfield, MI, who doled out some great insights into how the industry uses different coatings, and how consumer buying habits and regulatory changes are driving innovation in the industrial wood coatings sector.

How would you describe an “industrial” wood coating and what are some typical applications?

James Monroe: In general, you could think of industrial wood coatings as materials used for coatings applied at the manufacturing plant. Products such as architectural doors, decorative plywood and other millwork components are typically finished by the manufacturer with high-performing coatings such as UV curable, solvent-borne and waterborne systems.

Cabinetry, closets, furniture, flooring and moldings are examples of products supplied finished by the manufacturer for residential and commercial use. You will often find sealers, primers and paints applied to medium-density fiberboard (MDF), high-density fiberboard (HDF), medium-density overlays (MDO), fiber cement and particleboard. Products that receive a coating by the manufacturer are often referred to as “pre-finished.”

There are a lot of choices for resins to use in industrial wood coatings. What main points should I consider?

JM: Resins used in industrial coatings are selected for a balance of cost and performance. Waterborne acrylics are common in primers and sealers, but improved performance in both acrylic and polyurethane dispersions has made them more attractive in top coats and self sealing systems.

Traditional nitrocellulose-based lacquers and conversion varnish systems remain dominant because they cost less and are seen as more forgiving systems, while still providing performance.

The fastest growing chemistries are UV curable systems — both 100 percent solids and waterborne acrylates. UV systems are costly, but provide strong performance and the fastest cure profile, which reduces finishing time and drives down total costs for a manufacturer.

What factors drive the market for industrial wood coatings?

JM: Key drivers are really tied to the overall economy. Growth in our economy leads to construction of commercial buildings and residential structures, which drives demand for coated products. Currently, manufacturers supplying the commercial sector are doing well — architectural doors and millwork for hospitality, health care and service-type buildings are an important market segment. Residential is stable and improving, but there is still some hesitation with consumers.   

What trends in the industrial wood coating sector should decision makers be watching?

JM: Consumer awareness and education are driving regulatory changes intended to make products safer and more sustainable. Indoor air quality and emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are also a key driver.

New developments in materials that go into coatings are looked at with more scrutiny, which impacts innovation and time-to-market with new products. Lastly, manufacturing lead times are shorter, companies are leaner, and the coatings used must support these expectations.

How will these trends impact the market?

JM: I expect that the same trends and drivers will play into the near future. Consumers are more aware and want to know more about what they buy and how those things impact the environment. Keep in mind, people choose products that satisfy their concerns and still perform at a high standard, and this is what will drive innovation in wood coatings.

Can you predict what changes may be coming down the pike for the industrial wood coatings market?

JM: I expect innovation in equipment used to apply UV coatings and advancement in UV coating systems to have the most impact on industrial wood coatings types and where they are used. I also expect that regulation and policy changes will impact coating ingredients and how coatings are used.

What about wood trends? Is consumer demand changing the types of wood used?

JM: Species of wood typically follows consumer trends and type of market. A few years ago, dark colors were favored by designers for commercial spaces, making Walnut popular. It was also popular for designers to use lower cost wood like Yellow Poplar and specify a dark stain. Today you see more light colors and a natural appearance, which has boosted use of Maple and Oak.

Reclaimed or repurposed wood with a natural or weathered appearance is also popular. Painted kitchens and furniture commands about half of the coatings used in this application, and coating directly over medium-density fiberboard (MDF) or other wood composite materials is standard practice in these segments.  

What has the most impact on a coating’s performance, wood type or finishing technique?

JM: Surface preparation is key for a quality finish regardless of what kind of finish you use. For a quality finishing job, the wood surface must be clean and properly sanded prior to finishing. Contaminants such as hand creams, pneumatic lubricants and debris can cause finishing defects. So, having a clean environment along with proper sanding, is really the best way to achieve a quality finish.

Different surface preparations are needed when you are staining or finishing with a solvent-borne or waterborne system. This is mainly because water will raise wood grain. However, some firms using waterborne systems have learned to use this grain-raising effect to their advantage to promote adhesion. I would also note that advances in formulation of waterborne stains and finishes has mitigated grain raise and improved acceptance of waterborne systems. My key point would be that for a coating to achieve its potential, the surface must be prepared properly.

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