In the words of Warmington-on-Sea local defence volunteer Corporal Jones, 'Don't panic!' says independent paintmaker HMG Paints of Manchester, in response to next year's implementation of the new EU Products Directive 2004/42/CE, limiting the use of organic solvents in vehicle refinishing.
Contrary to sometimes feverish speculation and misguided scaremongering, this will not mean a wholesale switch to waterbased paints from January 2007, since the vast majority of CT finishing and refinishing applications will be covered by existing compliant products. Only newly-developed waterborne basecoats will be a specific Products Directive requirement and this should not represent a major problem for most bodyshops, since the volume usage is relatively low in the CT sector.
Market concerns about the new legislation were highlighted to HMG, when the company made its first-ever appearance at the 2006 Commercial Vehicles Show, Britain's biggest road transport exhibition that this year recorded record attendances. One of just two paint manufacturers represented at the event, HMG distributed over 5,000 leaflets to trade visitors and handed out almost 50 kilos of sweets, dispensed rather incongruously by a giant armoured Ork figure.
"We achieved our main objective of highlighting HMG's growing presence in, and commitment to, the CT market within the UK and Ireland," says the company's CT Products Manager, Steve Louis. "With our network of specialist distributors and an impressive customer base that includes major train, bus and coach manufacturers and top class CT refinishing bodyshops, we feel that we have a good overview of the market sector and can offer informed opinions on key issues within the industry."
"Certainly, the new environmental legislation, due to come into force on 1st January 2007, is causing some degree of concern and confusion in the marketplace," continues Steve. "As part of our strategy of differentiating HMG from its main competitors and offering best advice to customers, we are deliberately adopting a 'don't panic' approach to the directive and offering OEM's and bodyshops practical guidelines and application training where required."
Although the legislation still contains a number of grey areas, the actual products to be used by the CT market post-January 2007 are actually the simplest aspects to understand, according to HMG. Two separate pieces of legislation will apply to specific segments of the CT market: EU Directive 2004/42/CE, otherwise known as the Product Directive (PD), applies to the vehicle refinishing and repair sector, while the 1999/13/EU Solvent Emissions Directive (SED) continues to cover OEMs and bus and truck coachwork builders only.
The PD legislation sets down maximum VOC content for various product categories, including primers and topcoats, in their 'ready for use' state; other than basecoats, these are the same levels as required under PG6/34, which has been in use since 1998 within the UK. Since the onus is now on paint manufacturers to observe these limits for solvent content, this does lighten the administrative load on refinishing bodyshops, although it does mean that all are now affected, rather than just the larger bodyshops previously registered under PG6/34.
For most CT bodyshops within the UK the legislation should not present a problem, especially given the relatively low usage of basecoats; although for smaller shops not currently using compliant products and Irish operators yet to be exposed to significant product VOC legislation, there will be an initial learning curve. This will entail moving from low-to-medium solids products to ultra high solids formulations, but HMG and its independent distributors are happy to advise on product selection, equipment upgrades and application methods needed to make the transition.
"If it's any consolation, most UK customers have already gone through the same process, initially working with earlier generations of compliant coatings," comments Steve. "Now they are so comfortable with the products and air handling techniques, they wouldn't dream of going back to the old technology."
Like other vehicle refinishing paint manufacturers, HMG is actively developing a waterborne basecoat that will spray like a conventional solvent-based system and offer the same degree of colour accuracy, yet meet the new PD requirements. The company is taking advantage of the very latest resins technology to formulate a low-solvent basecoat and ready-to-use tinters for solid colours, metallics and speciality finishes; however, it does caution that waterbornes will require new storage, transportation and spraying regimes, not least because of their obvious propensity to freeze at sub-zero temperatures.
As to businesses concerned with the first painting of bus, truck and trailer coachwork, the new directive does not regulate the VOC content of products used within this sector, which remains under the scope of the existing SED legislation. This new build / OEM market can effectively use any paint product as long as the total average usage of solvents does not exceed 54% by weight overall. However, says HMG, this is best achieved by simply adopting products that meet the VOC limits set out in the parallel PD legislation, which should also ease the burden of maintaining detailed product records.
Finally, HMG points out that, whilst manufacturers must meet the new solvent limits for all products sold after 1st January 2007, a grace period will allow non-compliant products to be used for up to 12 months after this date, under a 'placed on market' codicil. Which means there is even less reason for CT bodyshops to panic!
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