Color is Back
The demand for appliance coatings continues to grow.
There’s a reason appliances are called white goods. The term has been around since 1871, and white is still the defining color in many kitchens and laundry rooms today. However, companies continue to innovate and try new colors. Classic colors like white, black and beige are attracting the most attention but newer metallics have been gaining ground in the past few years. Biscuit seems to be the color of the year—for refrigerators or washing machines. And the industry continues to grow, both in terms of demand and also the range of products available.
The demand for appliance coatings is on the way up, according to research by the Freedonia Group. Demand is expected to grow 3.2% per year and reach $340 million in 2019. The reasons for this growth include the rise in major appliance shipping, as well as differentiation with special coatings such as textured surfaces or fingerprint-resistant refrigerator doors as well as unique colors.
Selecting the right coating
With all the color options today, what should appliance designers consider when selecting coatings? “Three things: quality, sustainability and reasonable economics,” says Biller. Phillips adds, “Color robustness and DOI (depth of image) image improvements. Fingerprint resistant coatings.”
And be mindful of specifications. “Don’t over or under meet the specs,” says Hartford, who suggests that the designers or design team get the suppliers involved early in the process. This allows for more flexibility in the types of systems available. With the appliance company consolidations, more product redesigns may follow. In an effort to add value, coatings can be one tool in the arsenal to add value. What’s next for appliance coatings?
“Substrates are changing,” says Biller. “Sheet metal and cast alloys are giving way to plastics of all sorts. Injection molding is becoming the preferred fabrication technique for many components.”
Phillips predicts “coating additives that provide fingerprint absorption. Carbon nanotube additives to the coating creating a tougher coating film with added chemical resistance at lower dry film thicknesses, without “giving away” substrate surface imperfections.”
“For the past 10 years, powder (as well as all other coating types) has suffered enormously due primarily to “stainless steel” in taking a great deal of previously coated square footage away. However, color is back and it has started with the home laundry and is now migrating back into the kitchen,” says Phil Phillips of Chemark Consulting Group Inc. “We see a large percentage of growth in colorful and matte finish coatings: liquid, powder, and coil, at over 35% in the next five years (an average of 7% per year).”
Stand mixers might be colored to match a BMW motorcycle, says John Shaw, account manager at PPG, since small appliances allow for more color in the kitchen. “They can continually offer new colors that have a lot of pizazz,” Shaw says. Attention-grabbing small appliances come in dozens of colors, and some of those will last a lifetime, which means they might cycle in and out of fashion a few times. New popular colors right now are raspberry, almost fuchsia, and electric blue, he says.
But no matter what color the product is, above all, it has to look flawless. “The biggest single trend is the demand for perfection,” Shaw says. “There is less tolerance for any defect on a part.”
Color options also depend on the product, says Andy Meshanko, segment manager, general finishes and appliance and metal enclosures at PPG. With certain substrates, the color capabilities are more limited. Meshanko says there has been growing interest in anti-microbial coatings, but they haven’t seen a growing volume at this point.
Pearlescent pigment is one of the effects to aspire to. It’s one of “the holy grails, the colors that are on everyone’s dream list,” Shaw says. This would look like a pearlescent color on a Cadillac. While these colors are eye-catching, they can be difficult to execute.
There has been a pullback in colors in the laundry area, Shaw says. Manufacturers want to innovate but also to see what sells, and so far it seems brightly colored washers and dryers have not caught on.
The biscuit color seems to have dropped off, says Brian Money, director of strategic accounts US/Asia at IFS Coatings. White, traditionally the main color, is also being edged out by black. In some cases, appliances might sell 60% black, 40% white since, as Money points out, black goes with stainless better. Metallics, though still a minority amount of the business, are expected to grow substantially.
Even when new colors are developed, it will take years before they are integrated into the home. And the next big color trends in the home may start on the street. “Automotive does drive a lot in terms of color,” Money says. “What they dictate out, people tend to follow.” This varies depending on the appliance—and the location in the home. For washers and dryers, you see every color in the rainbow, he says, which allows for more daring colors since they are often not on display. Sometimes the kitchen can showcase colors in unexpected places. For example, the inside of an oven. The deep blue color on the inside of the Electrolux oven makes the product stand out, Money says.
Jeff A. Moe, director of sales at Precoat Metals, says the interior of an appliance may be a place to differentiate a product. He uses the example of refrigerators with metallic smoky grey interiors. They don’t perform better, and it may not be as obvious when the refrigerator is full. “But in the showroom, the silver or grey interior gives an impression of luxury,” he says, even though it can be the exact same unit, it just looks more expensive. “It’s just something different,” Moe says, “And people sometimes equate different and better.”
Being daring can differentiate your product. “Colors that ‘pop’ are the order of the day which means more basecoat/clearcoat systems. In addition, satin and matte finishes are creeping into the designer’s radar screens,” says Kevin Biller, Powder Coating Research Group Inc. Phillips says color trends include more robust, brighter colors. “Black and white will continue to be popular and grays, but with a matte or muted finish, no gloss. Some tag this as a low sheen matte or flat finish,” says Phillips.
The changing appliance industry
The larger trends of acquisitions and consolidation mean that companies may want to stand out even more—but without spending more.
“Any solution we bring out should not add cost,” says Arun Kumar, global concept director - appliances & furniture at Jotun Powder Coatings.
In the quest for cost-savings, paint can be applied more thinly to items such as refrigerators. Appliances such as ranges, on the other hand, need a certain thickness in order to stand up to cleaning supplies and heavy use.
Powder coating for appliances continues to become more efficient. Bio based materials, or green materials, continue to attract attention, but since they can be more expensive, Kumar says they do not seem like they will increase without legislation.
Kumar says that the trend is also to use more color. While 85 to 90% of the market might be white, grey or black, this is changing. (Except for washing machines, which are still overwhelmingly white.)
“Appliance companies are trying to differentiate themselves,” Kumar says. “With more color, it can be more appealing to the target audience.”
While companies may be using more colors, they are also trying to use less of the coating itself. In some cases, the power coating may also get thinner in order to do the job more efficiently. A product that previously received a 60-90 microns film thickness might now use 40-60 microns, Kumar says, which provides material savings and reduces the carbon footprint.
Another element of design is to make coatings more functional. And there is still the wish-list for designers. Designers are looking for coatings that can change color with the light, Kumar says, or an oven that changes color once it’s hot. Though this isn’t available today, it’s something to think about for the future.
Another trend Kumar has noticed: “Designers want to use natural materials.” This means that something plastic shouldn’t be made to look like metal. “From the design community perspective, if looks metal, it should be metal,” Kumar says.
While color trends are visible, other trends in the industry may be harder to see. Speed to market is one trend in coatings today, says Valspar’s Bill Hartford. Customers want faster responses to color combinations, and so the company now offers more dedicated lab services for the appliance segment. With new products and the product differentiation requested, customers need things faster. In the past, Hartford says, the design to manufacturing cycle was much longer.