"Manufacturers that use paint and other coatings on their products will soon be affected by new federal environmental standards, so it will no longer be 'business as usual,'" says 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 a year to comply."
A new center at Purdue, the Coating Applications Research Laboratory, was established in October to help companies find the least-expensive way to meet environmental regulations while maintaining product quality.
The facility is supported by fees paid by companies that use it. While the emphasis is on small- to medium-sized companies in Indiana, the center also works with out-of-state businesses, which pay a higher hourly fee.
The initial focus of the center is on temperature-sensitive substrates, such as wood and plastic, because regulations for the wood-products industries go into effect soon, Sparrow says. But the center also can deal with other areas, such as protective and decorative coating processes for metal products.
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 says.
"This facility allows manufacturers to try different combinations of procedures and test out the various compliance options off-line," Sparrow says. "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."
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