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SAE World Congress

Henkel Corp. has plenty of interest in its Aquence Co-Cure coating process that could revolutionize automotive paint shops by reducing volatile organic compounds emissions while saving space and dramatically reducing investment capital.

A paint shop is the most-expensive single component of a new vehicle-assembly plant, costing about $200 million, says Chuck Schilling, director-automotive coatings for Henkel in North America.

Conventional paint shops run vehicle bodies through several steps, including pre-treatment, electro-coat, primer, base coat and clear coat. Two ovens are necessary to ensure successful curing of the coatings.

Henkel’s 2-coat Aquence process (pronounced AH-quentz) eliminates the metal pre-treatment and e-coat and several other steps in a conventional paint shop, requiring 40% less floor space. And the bottom line apples-to-apples investment is $20 million, one-tenth the price of a traditional shop.

So far, about 75% of intended applications for Aquence are automotive, including complete vehicle bodies and underbody components. Henkel intends to use the process for Class-A exterior surfaces.

In India, Tata Motors Ltd. uses the process to apply primer to full bodies for the Tata Ace truck, while AkzoNobel Coatings Inc. supplies the powder monocoat.

Henkel is shopping the new technology for agriculture and construction equipment; home appliances; and alternative energy structures, as well.

The supplier is working with several companies to use the paint technology for solar-panel projects, Schilling says.

Most paint jobs need electro-deposition and electro-static application methods, but Aquence use an “auto-depositing” process that requires no electrical current to attract pigment and resin to the part.

The final step is to bake the component in the Co-Cure oven, allowing the powder coating to fuse with the Aquence surface.

Henkel says the process improves corrosion resistance, requires less energy and is more flexible and compatible with both powder and liquid top coats, as well as water-based and solvent-based coatings. The process eliminates the need for a traditional primer to protect the surface from harmful ultraviolet rays from the sun. “It’s not totally UV stable, but it’s more UV stable than e-coat is,” Schilling says, meaning the surface will resist chalking and weathering.

On the environmental front, Aquence produces small amounts of volatile organic compounds, 0.03 lbs. per gallon.

By comparison, a conventional e-coat produces up to 0.5 lbs. per gallon in a raw state. “So you have 10 times more VOCs in the tank,” he says of the old system.

Henkel first commercialized the new paint shop process with Valley Towing Products (formerly Thule Towing Systems) in Lodi, CA. That application saved the customer $4 million by eliminating the need for a new e-coat station.

As the North American auto industry wrestles with overcapacity, investments in new paint shops are becoming rare.

Despite the downturn in the market, three new large-scale automotive paint shops under construction in North America will use Aquence, Schilling says. One of the shops is capable of painting complete bodies.

Aquence can be adapted for renovation of an existing operation, but Henkel’s strategy is to concentrate on greenfield operations, Schilling says. “That’s where the true advantages come in.”

tmurphy@wardsauto.com