Coatings are Big Business

There's not much that today's coatings can't do.

Published Dec 22, 2014 4:13 PM by Jim Romeo

(Article originally published in May/June 2014 edition.)

Marine and offshore vessels operate in the most corrosion-prone of all environments – salt water – and the demands placed upon coatings manufacturers can be daunting: fuel economy, environmental compliance, and protection from corrosion, to name a few. Yet the advanced technology of contemporary marine coatings is more than up to the challenge, delivering the value-added performance that shipowners seek.  

Coatings are big business. In a 2012 report entitled “Strategic Analysis of the Global Market for Marine Coatings,” management consulting firm Frost & Sullivan found that the overall market had revenue of $5 billion in 2011 and was forecast to more than double by 2018.  


Globally, Asia-Pacific dominates the market for coatings with an approximate 75 percent share due to the region’s vast network of ports and shipyards. Within Asia, China represents roughly 45 percent of the region’s demand for coatings, South Korea 25 percent, Japan 15 percent, and the remainder from other countries. No surprise there, really, since China, South Korea and Japan are the Big Three of global shipbuilding.  

“The Asia-Pacific market is expected to grow at a compound annual rate of roughly nine percent, driven by the global migration of construction and maintenance and repair operations toward the region due to its low labor and production costs,” says Frost & Sullivan analyst Roland Heinze. “China, South Korea, and Vietnam will lead the way with Japan and Singapore not far behind.” 

Europe and North America are the second- and third-largest global markets with shares of roughly 12 and six percent, respectively. Both regions are expected to experience moderate growth of two to three percent. Heinze says that “The European and North American markets are highly concentrated with AkzoNobel, PPG, Jotun, and Hempel being the largest suppliers, although Sherwin-Williams is also a strong player in North America.” He adds that prolonged recession in Europe caused consolidation in the shipping industry, which slowed the growth of the marine coatings market.  

Jotun Coatings, which has about a 25 percent share of the global market, recently saw a slight dip in its revenues from a slowdown in new ship construction. Jotun’s offshore market share is strong, however, and its technology offerings are smartly aligned with industry demands. 

Other coatings manufacturers are developing products according to market need, and the outlook is optimistic. Heinze expects growth to rebound in 2014 and beyond, but the industry will face a mix of pricing challenges: higher raw material costs and greater pricing pressure from a more concentrated number of asset owners. 

Pricing marine coatings competitively is always challenging as initial coatings systems as well as maintenance coatings are often the most expensive item in a shipyard work package. As new ships approach their first docking cycle, these challenges come to a head. Shipowners must decide if pricey new coatings are worth the investment. The answer is almost always yes. 

“The newbuilding market is shrinking, but there is an uptick in ship repair and maintenance,” says Timothy McDonough, Marine Market Director for Sherwin-Williams. “Many of the vessels completed during the building boom are now drydocking for their first maintenance cycle, and coatings suppliers must have a laser focus on bringing to market products that can prevent unnecessary drydockings, reduce the time needed for scheduled maintenance, and extend the useful service life of vessels.” 

McDonough says suppliers need to be highly technical and consultative with their customers so that they can fulfill their exacting requirements. “There is no ‘One size fits all’ in this business,” he adds.

Fuel Savings

Suppliers are focused on enhancing the performance of their coatings and reducing application costs in order to extend asset lifecycles and provide added value to owners. Enhancements include better underwater hull performance for fuel conservation and increased durability in bilge and ballast tanks, where offloading may be prohibited due to environmental concerns. Application costs are also a focus, and improved product attributes such as quicker curing, edge retention, and the application of ultra-high solids for increased durability should help in reducing them.

“Anti-corrosion coatings include a variety of chemistries such as epoxies, polyurethanes, inorganic zinc primers and alkyds,” explains Heinze. “The underwater hull coatings are primarily anti-fouling and foul-release coatings that ablate and sacrifice thin layers of the coating system as the vessel makes way through the water.”

The ablative (shedding) quality of the coating reduces marine growth, promoting a smooth, laminar flow with reduced turbulence. The science of laminar flow greatly affects the amount of fuel or energy required to move the vessel through the water with lower resistance and reduced drag. As a result, the underwater coating system can greatly influence fuel consumption.  

Coatings manufacturer Hempel developed its Hempasil X3, which uses a unique hydrogel technology and a pure silicone composition, to set itself apart from conventional antifouling coatings in lowering fuel consumption. The coating’s non-stick properties prevent fouling of the hull at lower speeds of eight knots rather than 10 or 12 knots and thereby reduce drag, improve fuel efficiency and lower costs.

Like Hempel and other major suppliers, Jotun is developing its underwater hull products with fuel efficiency in mind as that is what the market wants. A mere one percent improvement in fuel consumption can translate into savings of twice what the coating costs.   

Environmental Considerations

In addition to fuel savings, the industry is keenly focused on environmental factors – including seawater ballast tanks and ballast water treatment systems. Bilge and ballast systems as well as other contaminated drain tanks hold fluid mixtures that can be caustic and corrosive. They require durable tank coatings that can be applied quickly, without dangerous solvents, and can hold the contaminated fluids for long periods of time without coating failure. High-solids and ultra-high solids are applied with no solvent and provide a thick, durable and quick-drying coating. 

“Globally, every developed region has its own environmental restrictions, and in emerging markets it’s only a matter of time before stringent regulations are the status quo,” says Sherwin-Williams’ McDonough. “Certainly waterborne technology and ultra-high solids coatings are significant parts of that picture. Reducing volatile solvents without compromising performance is where we all need to be.” 

Regulatory agencies have put more pressure on asset owners to use high-value, eco-friendly coatings with reduced solvent content and to eliminate the use of materials that may lead to the contamination of ecosystems, such as lead- and chromate-based corrosion inhibitors. The substitution of other alternatives initially led to a decline in corrosion protection, but coatings suppliers like AkzoNobel and PPG Industries continue to work closely with corrosion inhibitor suppliers like HALOX and Heubach to boost the performance of their new lines of coatings to meet past performance standards, and they are succeeding.

Ease of Application

An area where the coatings industry is driving innovation is in taking the myriad surface preparation variables out of the equation. Coatings that tolerate a variety of substrates and application conditions are more economical in the long run and make it easier for a shipyard to keep its commitments and agreed-to schedules. 

“We have products that provide superior adhesion on damp, marginally prepared surfaces, designed for situations where the luxury of waiting for optimal environmental conditions is not a viable option,” says McDonough. “In many shipyards, abrasive blasting is being replaced by ultra-high-pressure water blasting.”

Overall, the coatings industry is focused on improving productivity, flexibility, and improved application. Coatings technology is being engineered to be more robust to adhere to substrates in a number of different environments.

“By increasing the drying speed of these coatings and reducing the total number of layers required to produce an effective barrier against corrosion,” says Frost & Sullivan’s Heinze, “asset owners can lower their labor costs, thereby allowing coatings companies to increase the value of their products and promote market growth.”

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.