|Mark Harms (above) is Global Market Development Director, Furniture and Art Kirby is Technical Director, at the Product Finishes Division, Sherwin-Williams.|
Even when your customers have used a product for years, and that product is accepted as an industry standard, your company’s radar must stay active - channeled through sales, marketing, engineering, and legal - in order to protect and increase market share.
Take wood finishes. For decades many wood finishes used in North America have contained formaldehyde. It is used as a building block in an amino chemistry reaction with other materials to create an economical finish that forms a good film and has good properties.
Over the years, the durability and appearance qualities of acid catalyzed coatings, such as conversion varnish and catalyzed lacquers – along with ultraviolet alternatives typically used in larger shops - have made them the more popular and accepted factory applied finishes for wood cabinets, furniture and architectural millwork.
These finishes are still used on a regular basis in commercial finishing applications. Many finishers are content to continue using these tried and true products.
But when the spadework that a manufacturer regularly performs tells them that the game is changing – or soon will be – it makes all the sense to invest in product development to meet the perceived needs of our customers– plus the needs of their customers, as well.
Based on conversations we at Sherwin-Williams have had with manufacturers from the wood cabinetry, furniture and casegoods industries nearly six years ago, we recognized that factory applied finishes in North America would soon need to change to meet evolving air quality and environmental requirements.
Discussions around formaldehyde revealed that many customers preferred an alternative to reduce employee exposure during application and curing. Customers also expressed a desire to reduce odors during product installation or unpacking, when residual formaldehyde emissions may be most noticeable.
As these conversations were taking place, the overall view of formaldehyde across industries was changing. Formaldehyde has been a suspected carcinogen for many years.
In June 2011, it was formally labeled as such by the U.S. Government’s National Toxicology Program. While not banned from wood finishes, this development, coupled with customer conversations, showed that it made sense to seek alternatives.
Because of the proven track record and popularity of conversion varnishes and catalyzed lacquers, Sherwin-Williams selected these for formaldehyde free new product development.