Painting by the Numbers: Coatings Industry Explores Big Data

By Paul Mugge

You know the expression for something that’s boring? The one that goes, “It’s like watching paint dry.”

Well, there’s nothing boring about the paint industry’s quest for innovation and sustainability.
We’ve been partnering with the American Coatings Association—whose 250 members are primarily representatives of paint companies—to help them help their members embrace a culture of innovation. And most recently, we’ve been showing their leaders how use big data analytics in the area of sustainability.

To Steve Sides, vice president of Science, Technology and Environmental Policy at the ACA, sustainability refers to making more enduring, less environmentally impactful products that consumers love, leading to enduring success for paint companies.

“There’s a lot of pressure in the marketplace for coatings to become more sustainable,” Steve said. “We have a really good story to tell about how we’re making products that last a long time.”

But doing this requires knowing which technologies and trends to follow. In other words, having a crystal ball.

Steve thinks big data analytics can help the ACA see the future. “I’ve always believed the crystal ball is just out there for us to grasp. This project will enable us to get a crystal ball. I’m excited about big data. I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid.
Some of the first questions we’ve been asking in the searches are, ‘Where has sustainability surfaced most? What aspect of our industry might be most threatened by such issues?’ And the more searches we do, the clearer the picture becomes.”

Steve will be presenting preliminary findings from the early phase of the big data project we’re doing together at the CIMS spring meeting April 23 in Raleigh. Ultimately, ACA members will have access to the database that this project creates, letting them probe a few data sets.

The ACA is the first trade organization to be a CIMS member. It’s got a strong science emphasis—in fact, it used to be run by chemists when it was first started 127 years ago.

“We have a clear vision of what we are: We’re a bridging organization,” said Steve. “We interface between our industry and what challenges them, especially in the areas of science, technology and the environment.”

Steve and his colleagues are working on these challenges and opportunities on behalf of their members. They know that just because paint has been around for a long time and ends up on 70 percent of the products that make up our Gross National Product doesn’t mean it will always be that way.

“CIMS helps us take it up a notch,” said Steve, referring to his industry’s innovation efforts. “We’re trying to get more companies to use the Innovation Management Maturity Assessment (IMMA) tool that CIMS offers. The old days of getting 2 percent for research are over.”

Is your industry sitting around watching paint dry, or are you proactively innovating? We’d like to know!

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