sealPurdue News

October 4, 1996

New lab helps Indiana companies find cost-effective solutions

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Purdue University is helping Indiana manufacturers find cost-effective ways to meet new environmental regulations, without compromising product quality.

"Thousands of Indiana manufacturers that use paint and other coatings on their products will soon be affected by new environmental standards, so it will no longer be 'business as usual,'" said Tom Sparrow, director of Purdue's Institute for Interdisciplinary Engineering Studies.

"For example, companies in the secondary wood-products industries that make furniture or cabinets have only about 14 months to comply."

A new center at Purdue, the Coating Applications Research Laboratory, was established to help Indiana companies find the least-expensive way to meet environmental regulations while maintaining product quality. The facility, at One Airport Road, will be dedicated at 11 a.m. Friday, Oct. 11.

The Environmental Protection Agency has issued standards limiting the amount of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, that can be emitted by industry into the atmosphere. Coatings such as paint, stain and varnish -- used extensively by the furniture industry -- contain VOCs, which evaporate into the air as the coatings dry. Companies in the wood-products industries that use such coatings must comply with the regulations by December 1997 or face serious sanctions.

The amount of VOCs released can be reduced by controlling how the coatings are applied and then dried, but not all companies have the knowledge or the equipment to do so, Sparrow said.

"The big wood furniture and cabinet companies have had people working on compliance with these regulations for some time," he said. "We're focusing on the compliance problems of our state's small- to medium-sized companies that don't have the internal resources to determine the least-cost option to reduce their emissions, yet need advice on how to comply.

"Wood furniture and cabinet industries are featured because they are a very large employer in the state -- 44,000 workers -- with a significant growth potential in both output and employment. They must meet EPA VOC standards soon if that potential is to be realized," Sparrow said.

Eighteen companies, along with five Indiana utilities, provided roughly half of the facility's initial $430,000 start-up costs, through a combination of equipment and cash. The university provided the other half.

The facility will be supported by fees paid by companies that use it, Sparrow said. Initially, utility companies -- American Electric Power Co., Cinergy, Indiana Gas, Indianapolis Power & Light Co., and NIPSCO Industries Inc. -- will pay for companies in their service areas.

"The utilities are important partners in this effort," Sparrow said. "They not only are providing a service to their customers, but they're concerned about environmental issues as well.

"If companies want the work done for free, we encourage them to go through their utility first. If they come to us directly, they pay the subsidized rate of $75 an hour. Out-of-state companies pay the full rate of $150 per hour."

The laboratory contains equipment that mimics an industrial production line, including booths for applying coatings and three different types of drying mechanisms -- a large convection oven, and dryers that rely on infrared and ultraviolet light. The climate also can be adjusted to mimic the wide variety of temperature and humidity conditions found in different regions of the state.

"This facility allows manufacturers to try different combinations of procedures and test out the various compliance options off-line," Sparrow said. "Companies will save time and money, because they will not have to use their own production lines to determine which compliance option maintains their product's quality and does it at least cost.

"Manufacturers can bring their coatings and their product to the facility, and we'll run them through various coating and drying techniques and tests to determine the best processes. If a company has a problem with its coatings, we can set up our lab to try to find a solution."

The laboratory also is developing research and teaching components. About 28 faculty members are involved in coating research through a companion center, Purdue's Center for Industrial Coating. They and other technicians will staff the lab and serve as consultants. Students also are involved in testing procedures at the new facility, and a classroom eventually will be built near the lab.

The facility is not limited to advising companies in the wood-products industries.

"Our initial focus is temperature-sensitive substrates, such as wood and plastic, that can be damaged if they aren't dried carefully. We chose this area first because regulations for the wood-products industries go into affect very soon," Sparrow said. "But we also can deal with other areas, such as protective and decorative coating processes for metal products."

The Coating Applications Research Laboratory is an interdisciplinary effort of several academic and research units: the Schools of Engineering, the departments of Agricultural and Biological Engineering and Forestry and Natural Resources, the Institute for Interdisciplinary Engineering Studies, and the Purdue-based Indiana Pollution Prevention and Safe Materials Institute.


Sources: Tom Sparrow, (765) 494-7043; home, (765) 463-1694; e-mail,

Lynn Corson, director, IPPI, (765) 494-6450

Writer: Amanda Siegfried, (765) 494-4709; home, (765) 497-1245; e-mail,

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