Paints, Pigments, and Coatings

Overview

Paint powder

"Paints and coatings" spans everything from the colored shells on chocolate candy to barnacle-resistant layers on ship hulls, and some sources include adhesives in this category as well. New products address customer requirements from fast-growing markets in developing nations and health and environmental regulations in the United States. Fluctuations in the cost of raw materials create a need for more plentiful and economical substitute ingredients.

The food and pharmaceutical industries have their own marketplace and regulatory requirements. Coating development in this industry sector focuses on providing new functionalities and compatibility with new drug compounds and food product applications.

Paints and coatings in other sectors fall into three broad categories:

  • Architectural products make up the largest segment of this market. These are paint products, anticorrosion coatings, fireproofing coatings, and other materials for use with residential and commercial buildings. Products can be decorative as well as functional, and they must meet the needs of customers ranging from large commercial enterprises to do-it-yourself homeowners. New colors and finishes and low-VOC (volatile organic compound) formulations drive demand for new product development.
  • Industrial coatings are used by the aerospace, automotive, consumer products, original equipment manufacturing, shipbuilding, and infrastructure supplies industries. These coatings can reduce friction or serve as adhesives. They can resist temperature extremes, prevent corrosion, and guard against microbial contamination. Reflective paints and coatings are needed for reflective markers and signs on roadways and airport runways. Fabric and wood coatings help furniture items to resist wear and stains.
  • Specialty coatings are generally applied "in the field" rather than in the factory. Automotive refinishing and industrial maintenance materials help keep machinery in working condition. Marine paints prevent rust and barnacles on ships and docks. Traffic marking paints are used for roadway lane markers, parking lot striping paint, and airport surfaces. Graffiti-resistant paints keep urban buildings looking clean.

High-tech coatings include cationic electrocoating materials that cover all the nooks and crannies of complex metal parts to protect them from corrosion. High-performance ceramic coatings increase the lifetime of aircraft turbine engine and automobile engine parts, protecting them against high temperatures, wear, and corrosion. These coatings are fairly new on the market, and many are still under development.

"Green chemistry" plays a large role in the paints and coatings industry. This involves sustainable and non-polluting manufacturing processes as well as products that do not release harmful compounds into the air or water. "Post-consumer management" involves disposal and recycling of paints and other coating materials. Opportunities here include environmental chemistry, health and safety, product development, and public policy work.

Typical work duties include the following:

  • Synthesize and characterize new products and components (pigments, binders, solvents, antimicrobials)
  • Develop new applications for existing products
  • Develop and support commercial products, provide marketing support
  • Provide customer support in the application of commercial products, assist with troubleshooting
  • Study and improve the health, safety, and environmental effects of paints, coatings, and adhesives
  • Teach courses and train students
  • Communicate with funding agencies, regulatory agencies, and the general public
Related Fields
  • Synthetic chemistry
  • Analytical chemistry
  • Materials science
  • Formulations chemistry
  • Environmental chemistry
  • Product development and support
  • Health and Safety
  • Organic chemistry
  • Polymer chemistry

 

Education

Paint and coating chemists require a solid background in chemistry or a related scientific field. Research and academic positions usually require a Ph.D.  Research assistants, technicians, and production plant workers may have bachelor's or master's degrees. Instrument specialists and persons working in marketing or customer service may have master's degrees. Some program managerial and administrative jobs may require master's degrees, but research director positions generally require a science Ph.D.

 

Licenses

Licenses are generally not required for paint and coatings chemists.

 

Workspace

paint plant

Paint, coating, and adhesive chemists often work in academic, industrial, or government laboratories. They generally work regular hours, unless an experiment or a project deadline requires working overtime.

Industrial chemists may work in factories or production plants. They may travel to customer sites to advise and train customers or to troubleshoot processes or equipment. Academic chemists may teach classes and confer with students during office hours.

Environmental chemists may work in the field, taking and analyzing samples to monitor levels of paint and coating components released into the air or water. They may also work with production plants to improve manufacturing processes and monitor compliance with regulations.

Paint, coating, and adhesives chemists may present their work at conferences and symposia, and they may publish their work in scientific journals or general-audience publications.

 

Technical Skills

Analytical Vision Interpersonal Communication
  • Problem-solving skills and an interest in solving applied research problems
  • Synthetic and/or analytical chemistry skills, including competence with laboratory instruments
  • Critical thinking and analytical skills to design experiments, troubleshoot processes, and analyze data
  • Attention to detail in synthesis and characterization work
  • Ability to think in terms of customer satisfaction and customer requirements
  • Diligent attention to federal and local regulatory constraints
  • Written and oral communication skills to explain findings and share results with scientists and nonscientists
  • Computer skills, including familiarity with computer modeling and data analysis

Career Path

Careers in the paints, coatings, and adhesives sector offer a wide variety of entry points: basic or applied research, product development, customer support, health and safety, environmental regulatory compliance, and sustainable manufacturing practices.

Students and recent graduates may pursue internships in industrial, academic, or government laboratories to see if this field is a good fit and to help with deciding whether to pursue a graduate degree.

Research and academic careers generally require a Ph.D. and possibly one or more postdoctoral fellowships. Research associates and technicians may decide to stop with a bachelor's or master's degree, or they may return to school to earn a doctorate after gaining some work experience.

Program management or administration is an option for experienced chemists. As with any manufacturing sector, careers in public policy and government affairs are an option, as well as legal careers in patent law and intellectual property. Chemists with experience in this industry sector may go into sales and marketing.


Professional Organizations


 

Future Employment Trends

The paints, coatings, and adhesives sector is considered a mature field in the developed nations, but it is also cited as one of the industry sectors with the highest concentration of employment for chemists. Evolving regulatory standards, changing manufacturing processes, and trends in consumer preferences drive research and innovations to develop new products and processes. Developing nations that are experiencing a rise in standards of living drive much of the growth in this industry.  

According to the ACS 2014 Salary and Employment Survey, employment of ACS members has increased over the past few years in several industry sectors, including "coatings, paints, and inks." Several industry reports predict global demand for paints and coatings to rise steadily through 2017, driven by a rebound in the construction and automotive industries, which will increase demand for road and bridge coatings as well as motor vehicle paints and coatings.

Between 2013 and 2017, U.S. paint and coating production is estimated to grow from 1.2 billion gallons to 1.5 billion gallons, worth more than $150 billion. Industrial oil and gas applications will drive an increase in protective coatings (original and maintenance). Maintenance and specialty coatings markets are predicted to show less growth because of a decline in marine applications and a poor outlook for vehicle refinish coatings in developed nations.

Government regulations and consumer preferences are driving a reduction in volatile organic compounds, leading to stronger demand for the development of water-based paints and high-solids formulations (including powder coatings).

 

Is This Career a Good Fit for You?

Product development research requires a practical frame of mind and close attention to customer needs, manufacturing processes and economics, and regulatory restrictions. Chemists may work closely with plant engineers, patent lawyers, and customers to ensure that new products are not only innovative but also useful, affordable, safe, and non-polluting.

Coatings developed for the food industry (food coatings and coatings for factory equipment and packaging) must comply with their own set of strict health and safety standards. Collaboration with biomedical researchers may be required.

Research and policy-making involving the health, safety, and environmental effects of these products requires an ability to gather and present clear and convincing evidence. It also requires explaining complex concepts to nonscientific members of government agencies and the general public and listening to the concerns of persons with a stake in the issues.

Opportunities

The paints, coatings, and adhesives sector is cited as having one of the highest concentrations of employment for chemists. Government regulations and consumer preferences are driving sustainable manufacturing processes, responsible disposal practices, and a reduction in volatile organic compounds. This provides opportunities for environmental chemists, health and safety specialists, product development chemists, and public policy workers. 

Education

  • Research and academic positions usually require a Ph.D.
  • Research assistants, technicians, and production plant workers may have bachelor's or master's degrees.
  • Instrument specialists and persons working in marketing or customer service may have master's degrees.
  • Some program managerial and administrative jobs may require master's degrees, but research director positions generally require a science Ph.D.

Salaries

  • $115,920 for natural sciences managers
  • $76,440 for chemists
  • $101,960 for materials scientists
  • $47,270 for chemical technicians