Wilkins believes that ease of application and repair will continue to be a major focus at Ashland and other gel coat providers. “There is a lot of work being done around making gel coat products more forgiving when applied in changing environmental conditions,” he says.
Interplastic has implemented some new quality control rheological tools and techniques that measure how a gel coat is going to spray, level and sag. “Controlling the application characteristics of the coating from batch-to-batch is one way to reduce variation for our customers,” says Crump. “They can spray the same way every time, and it flows into the mold the same way every time.”
Customers and manufacturers are always looking for gel coats with new and different colors to help meet their design needs. Often times these gel coats are required for production on short notice. The use of gel coat quick tint systems, developed to meet this need, has grown over the last several years. Ashland’s Instint™ system, for example, operates similar to a paint mixer by rapidly tinting and mixing clear and white base gel coats to provide customers with just-in-time service.
While gel coat manufacturers work hard to meet the increased expectations of their largest customers, they are also looking for new opportunities. One potential market is construction. Diversified Structural Composite is already producing a garage door component with a class A satin finish.
Certain thinks the construction market could grow. “Gel coat is a pretty versatile material, and with some changes to its mechanical properties it might open up some opportunities,” he says. “Most of the gel coats out there today are designed to be very hard, high-gloss surfaces. But imagine that you had an in-mold coating that was more elastomeric. You could use it for other types of applications where you are not really looking for gloss or cosmetics, but for wearability.”
Gel coats could also play a role in 3-D printing technology. Polynt is working with a partner, TruDesign of Knoxville, Tenn., at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where they are producing molds for composite parts using a Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM) printer from Cincinnati Inc. “With BAAM, they are putting down a very heavy bead of material,” says Pauer. “That leaves a very textured, corduroy surface on the mold.”
Researchers have been using a mill to grind off that rough surface, but Pauer thinks they could use specialized coatings and putties that bond well to the current thermoplastic printing materials. “You could under-print the part by ⅛ or ¼-inch thickness, then add a layer that bonds to the printed substrate with a material that is much easier to finish than carbon fiber-filled ABS. Then you can gel coat the mold to provide a durable and repairable mold surface,” says Pauer. “Some initial test results show that the concept works well for prototype and some limited production parts in both traditional open and closed molds, as well as in 350 degrees Fahrenheit autoclave molds.”