EVA talks to Julie Voisin, Global Product Manager, Sherwin-Williams Aerospace Coatings
On 24 February this year the aviation paint manufacturer Sherwin-Williams Aerospace Coatings introduced a new basecoat paint technology, which the company says, is designed to deliver a consistent and colourful solid, mica or metallic finish. Called the SKYscapes General Aviation (GA) Basecoat 855 Series, the new high gloss finish is something of a game changer for the sector, the company claims. EVA asked Julie Voisin, Global Product Manager at Sherwin-Williams about the rationale for bringing a new paint technology to market and about the current state of the market.
Q: Why the new basecoat technology, and why now?
A: We are always looking for opportunities to improve productivity for paint shops. The more aircraft they can paint in a year, the better it is for their profitability. At the same time, if the paint shop can shave days or weeks off a paint job, then that creates more slots and makes it easier and faster for customers to book their jets in to be painted.
Q: How did the new basecoat technology come about?
A: We took some inspiration from our vehicle fleet paint products and drew on some of that technology to take it across to the aviation sector. The key attraction for us was that our automotive products had been developed to cater for the need for faster drying times and a very smooth coating. Developing these products for general aviation gave us the ability to offer the market a product that was easier and faster to apply.
Q: Apart from application speed and the ease factor, does the new product bring other advantages to aircraft paint specialists?
A: We have been able to add a large number of colours and special effects, such as micas and metalics to the product line. Our customers will all be very familiar with our mainstream product lines, but now when they want a unique look to the paint or a unique colour scheme, the SKYscape product will be their first choice.
Q: From a technical perspective, what is different about this basecoat product?
A: The real difference lies in the resin technology that underlies the paint. We put in a lot of technical work to ensure that we produced something that would dry faster when applied in smaller areas. You wouldn’t use it to paint the whole fuselage of a large cabin jet, but you would use it on a helicopter or a light jet, where you will have the proper balance between a fast drying time and the need to cover a specific area. It is a tremendous choice where the customer has specific colours that are being laid on to the design, such as stripes or overlapping areas of colour. Thanks to the resin technology that forms the body of the paint, it is very smooth to apply and it produces the outstanding, high gloss finish that many customers are looking for.
Q: What does the process of applying the paint entail?
A: The basecoat goes on first, which is the colour system, and then, when the basecoat layer is complete and the full design that is going on the aircraft is in place, the clear coat is applied over the top. The result is a very stylish and very hard wearing finish that can take the tremendous transitions from hot to very cold that a business aircraft endures as it transitions from the runway to a cruise altitude of, say 51,000 feet. (Above 30,000 feet the temperature falls to around -50 Celsius and gets progressively colder as you go higher).
The main point is that there is a lot of options for designers to work with, in this new product. Whether it be working with multiple colours or with micas or metalics, they have a wide choice.
Q: What is the drying time for this new paint?
A: A normal brand of paint for the aviation sector, will dry in around two to three hours. Our new product dries in 90 minutes. This is very important when the client has a design for the jet that has a number of colours, since otherwise you would have to lose time waiting for the underlying colour to dry before continuing. One of the helicopters I saw at the recent exhibition had 17 colours on it. Waiting for each of those layers to dry would be hugely time consuming for a paint shop, so this again, goes directly to profitability.
Q: Does it make the paint more costly when it involves developing special resins?
A: No. The thing that really drives cost in paints is not the body of the paint but the colour pigments. Some of these are very expensive. The more exotic colours, involving deep shades of reds, yellows and oranges requires very expensive pigments, and if you add in special effects like micas or metallics, that drives the cost up still further. White is our number one best selling colour and it is also the cheapest, since the large amounts we sell mean that we make it in extremely large batches, which helps to drive down costs.
Q: You see a large number of paint shops. How busy is the paint side of things at present?
A: What we see is that the paint shops we work with are full, with customers waiting for slots to get their aircraft painted. I was at the recent Helicopter exhibition, and everyone there was talking about how busy the sector is right now. Also, you have to keep in mind the fact that one of the primary objectives in painting an aircraft, apart from giving it a fantastic, original look, is to protect the aircraft against corrosion. Repairing an aircraft once corrosion has set in is a far more expensive proposition than any paint job.