Coatings and finishes manufacturers may have different routes to market but all are united in the fact that supplying products for the timber sector is a crucial part of their business.

AkzoNobel, for example, has two market channels, via distribution and direct business. The former is through an established, longstanding nationwide network of distributors who have access to the full range of products, although many focus on the Sikkens brand for exteriors and the AkzoNobel brand for interiors and adhesives.

The direct business route is through manufacturers who pre-finish their wood products before sale. In this case the coatings used tend to be from the AkzoNobel brand.

“When considered as whole markets there is a balance between the interior and exterior markets, although in the UK it is fair to say that the AkzoNobel and Sikkens brands are known mainly for the exterior business,” said Carl Circus, UK distribution manager for AkzoNobel Wood Coatings. “But we are working hard to increase the awareness of our interior range.”

“In other parts of Europe, especially Scandinavia, our interior brands are seen as market leaders and we see no reason why this should not be our medium term goal in the UK.”

Sherwin-Williams supplies direct to large manufacturers of interior and exterior products but also works with distribution partners in the UK and Ireland to ensure its products are also available to small and medium-sized businesses.

The company has had “considerable success” in growing its non-wood segments over the last eight years but the majority of its sales remain in the industrial wood segment and it has seen strong and consistent growth here.

“In terms of overall market size the interior market is probably the larger of the two but we maintain a close focus on both,” said Graham Buchan, managing director.

For Remmers UK, meanwhile, the route to market is predominantly direct to the end users, who are mainly joinery manufacturers. The only variation on this is with brushing products, which are sometimes sold via specialist distributors or via the internet.

“The wood coatings market is massively important to Remmers UK,” said Dave Christie, technical sales manager. “It is our fastest growing sector and in 2016 we saw 50% growth compared to 2015.

“In 2016 we acquired one of the biggest window manufacturers in the UK as a customer and we feel confident we can build on this success in 2018.”

He added that, for Remmers, the interior industrial wood protection market is still “appreciably bigger” than the exterior market.

“We have a comprehensive offer for both markets but while we continue to concentrate our efforts on the exterior market we see 2018 being an important year for us in the interior coatings sector.”

Teknos is also experiencing good demand for its interior wood coating products and particularly from professional decorators.

“Although our heritage is based in the industrial wood sector, one of our growth areas is undoubtedly the professional decorator market,” said Michelle Alcock, Teknos UK’s managing director.

She added that the company has seen increasing demand for its brushing products, which enable users to maintain existing woodwork with TeknosPro paints that complement their original factory-finished Teknos-coated products.

Osmo UK also reported a “flourishing” wood finishes market, adding that the trend to improve, not move, had resulted in its DIY products performing well.

“We have found that our interior products are more popular,” said Steve Grimwood, Osmo UK’s managing director. “However, this is just by a very small fraction and our exterior wood finishes are not far behind. In particular, Osmo UV-Protection Oil was our second most sold product of 2017, just behind Polyx Oil.”

Flooring finish specialist Bona sells its products in the UK through a network of flooring distributors but also has a growing presence in the retail market. Its maintenance products for homeowners have a widespread distribution through DIY, hardware and retail chains.

“This is having a positive effect in raising the profile of the Bona brand to those who lack contact with the professional market,” said Alec Stacey, technical manager.

He added that wood flooring remains a popular choice in the home and that refurbishment of existing wooden floors, especially floorboards, is increasing.

The company is also very active in the commercial sector, with timber floors in airports, schools, museums, shops and restaurants and so on, all installed and treated to its own specification.

“The on-going maintenance and refurbishment of these larger floors offers great potential for growth,” said Mr Stacey.

“Customers are increasingly looking to add their personal touch to the appearance of their wooden floors,” he continued. “With new techniques and products such as the two-component colour oils, we can offer a wealth of different effects. There has certainly been a lot more interest in staining wood floors and in the use of floor oils.”

Bona Natural, a primer with a hint of white pigment is a big seller, said Mr Stacey.

“This provides an ‘unfinished’ appearance to the wood, especially when overcoated with our extra matt polyurethane lacquer, Traffic Natural. The desire for a floor that looks untreated, while having very wear-resistant, non-yellowing protection, is another trend that continues to expand.”

Osmo’s customers are also keen on the natural look and its aforementioned Polyx Oil has catered for this demand. Developed from natural oils and waxes, the clear finish offers protection for both flooring and furniture while emphasising the grain of the wood.

“However, in recent years we’ve noticed that our customers are increasingly favouring a natural and invisible finish for their wood, both internally and externally,” said Mr Grimwood. “Two products that have been developed recently to meet this demand are Osmo Polyx-Oil Effect 3044, for interior and UV-Protection Oil Tints 429 Natural, for exterior.

“Both these finishes contain white pigments to counteract the darkening as well as yellowing and, at the same time, invisibly protect the untreated wood.”

Pigmented, as opposed to clear finishes are also identified as a strong trend by Sherwin- Williams.

“It has been a real characteristic of the past decade for both interior and exterior,” said Mr Buchan.

AkzoNobel’s experience is that the wood coatings market is traditional, leading to repeated use of the same products. However, the company also concentrates on developing concepts borne from its long-standing research and development projects, which are geared to either improve coating performance, process efficiency or material safety.

“It’s the latter that we see is beginning to become a focal point with end users, architects and specifiers,” said Mr Circus.

“Our recently launched formaldehyde free Duracid FF acid curing lacquer range is a perfect example of how we can make coatings safer not only during factory application but also when placed in a living or working environment.”

For Remmers the customer’s demands remain broadly unchanged.

“The driving forces are service, product quality and a desire to produce an interesting aesthetic,” said Mr Christie. “We’ve been working hard on providing the aesthetic result that will give our customers what they need to increase their own market share.” He added that Remmers’ high performance exterior coatings remained the most in demand.

“Excellent water resistance and highly effective isolating properties remain an advantage that our customers benefit from and we continue to improve these further.” Teknos said that, irrespective of interior or exterior applications, customers wanted high quality paints, reliable service and access to a large colour database.

Ms Alcock added that the company’s dilutable stain TEKNOSTAIN 1996 was proving popular as it allowed the user to control the level of coverage, colour saturation and overall look.

“On the industrial wood side AQUATOP 2600 water-based opaque and translucent paints are our biggest seller because they have been tested and proven over many years,” said Ms Alcock.

“FUTURA AQUA topcoats from our TeknosPro professional decorator range are also in demand as they can be used inside and out and include a gloss option that has a high sheen not usually available in waterbased coatings.”

She added that, through the acquisition of Feyco Treffert, Teknos has some interesting new products on offer, including access to digital printing for wooden surfaces. AkzoNobel had a “fairly quiet” 2017 in terms of new coatings concepts, focusing instead on its tinting systems, websites and range consolidation, but it hinted at “exciting developments” that will come on stream in 2018.

Remmers, meanwhile, has been working on a range of ecologically enhanced brushing products to supplement its industrial range.

“These products contain resins based on a more renewable source,” said Mr Christie. “We have also been developing our high performance water-borne interior and exterior industrial products to offer improved scratch resistance in comparison with traditional solvent-borne and water-borne alternatives.

“We are also offering our metallic-effect wood coatings for the first time,” he added. Sherwin-Williams has responded to customer demands for “functional” coatings, such as fire retardancy, anti-fingerprinting and anti-bacterial. And it has also launched a new formaldehyde free range.

“Our formaldehyde-free AC range and our new NISO (non-isocyanate) PU products both enable manufacturers to operate with much lower levels of hazard in their finishing areas, without compromising on product performance,” said Mr Buchan.

“We have also developed a wide number of silky-feel and matt finishes to respond to the market’s changing fashions and requirements. Similarly, the demand for high gloss continues and so we have launched an acrylic for exterior and interior, which is proving popular, as well as a fire retardant interior range.

“There is also a new range of coatings for gazebos, beach huts, garden furniture and so on, which shows excellent durability, even in areas close to the sea.”

Mr Buchan added that research and development is “one of the defining characteristics” of how Sherwin-Williams does business.

“Just for industrial wood coatings in Europe we have more than 140 people in our labs in Italy, Sweden, Germany and Poland dedicated to the continuous improvement and expansion of our product ranges,” he said.

The most recent addition to Bona’s range is the waterborne Traffic HD finish.

“Not only is this the most wear resistant coating that Bona has developed but it reaches a hardened state much more quickly than other products,” said Mr Stacey.

“After just 12 hours treated floors can be returned to full use, even within commercial situations. It is being used at one of Europe’s busiest airports, Schiphol.”

In addition to being extremely durable, the solvent content of Traffic HD is very low and 40% lower than its predecessor, he said.

Product development continues to be driven by a mix of customer demands and legislation.

“Customers always demand the best performance and most pleasing aesthetics but may overlook important factors such as materials safety issues,” said Carl Circus.

“This is where legislation helps drive safer initiatives such as our FF range or a change to fully waterborne technology.

“With recent and continuing technology improvements the performance of the best waterborne systems can rival that of the more traditional systems,” he continued. “And the health and safety benefits in the factory and after installation make the argument to change [to waterborne] even more persuasive.”

Dave Christie at Remmers agrees that the pressure to move from solvent-based to water-based products is “as big as ever” and that the technology of the new water-based technologies is making that possible.

“Demand for solvent-based products is now very low, partly driven by legislation,” said Michelle Alcock. “Teknos has built its reputation on water-based coatings and will continue to develop coatings in this area.”

Sherwin-Williams has also seen a steady trend away from solvent-based products and the increasing use of waterborne coatings, firstly in exterior applications and now, increasingly, in interior projects.

“Of course, there is still a demand for solvent borne finishes and we are proud that we can offer the gamut of finishes and can support our customers at their own pace as they move from one technology to another,” said Mr Buchan.

Sherwin-Williams has also continued to develop its capability in powder coatings for wood.

“We are now supplying to certain large customers in eastern Europe,” said Mr Buchan. “The market for these finishes is still limited in the sense that they require a certain degree of capital investment by the customer and there are only certain surfaces that are currently well-suited to the technology.

“However, this is a product sector that we see as strategic and we will be maintaining our leading edge in this technology.”

Bona took the decision to discontinue solvent-based products a number of years ago – and before the EU legislation lowering permissible VOCs in decorative finishes. “Although our products already conformed to the tightened legislation there is a concerted effort to ensure they are the ‘cleanest’ and safest available,” said Alec Stacey.

“We are lucky at Bona UK as our Swedish produced products are sold into countries such as the Netherlands, with tighter legislation than the EU/UK ones. This means that our products already conform to higher standards.”

He added that it was important to constantly assess and sometimes replace materials as data regarding their safety or sustainability became available.

When it comes to trends in colours and finishes, it is clear that there is no one size fits, all with different customers opting for completely opposing aesthetics.

According to Bona, many customers are after the unfinished look and just want a resilient coating that won’t change the appearance of the timber, while others want to radically alter the colour by using stains or coloured oils.

“Oils such as this are growing in popularity due to the simplicity of the treatment,” said Mr Stacey. “Just a single product and one application is required for a traditional oil treatment. Some, such as Bona Craft oil 2K can be subsequently overcoated with any Bona Traffic lacquer for improved wear resistance and ease of maintenance.

“Consequently, there is an expanding palette of coloured oils available. Subtle, timber-enhancing colours are popular, along with variations of grey.”

He added that parquet flooring is enjoying a resurgence with either very white or, at the other end of the spectrum, rich dark browns frequently being applied.

“I believe that customers will continue to look for different colouring options for their floors. It is now possible to overlay applications of oils with coats of complementing or contrasting colours, which produces interesting, multi-dimensional effects.”

It is Osmo’s belief, on the other hand, that the trend will always be to use a clear finish.

“We have found that customers will choose clear even though colour will offer stronger resistance to UV (outside) and the more opaque the colour is, the longer the protection lasts,” said Mr Grimwood.

Conversely, AkzoNobel has noted a definite move towards opaque, solid colour systems, with traditional ‘heritage’ colours becoming very popular.

“This has meant a downturn in the popularity of our translucent systems – but trends can turn very quickly,” said Mr Circus. “Each year we publish our Colour Futures brochure which details current trends and colour concepts. We have also added a ‘wood’ supplement to show how the colours and effects can be extended to include timber substrates.

“The ‘colour of the year’ always provokes discussion,” he continued. “In 2017 it was a Denim Drift shade but we’ll need to watch this space to see what 2018 will bring.” Remmers also highlighted a “continuing theme” of applying a traditional heritage feel to joinery and furniture.

“We have some very natural low sheen looking finishes that support this,” said Dave Christie. “However, we do also see some more progressive styles being adopted, such as the metallic finishes.”

Having said that, he predicted that the aspiration to make timber look as natural and as untouched as possible would become more pronounced in the future.

Meanwhile, Teknos reports that greys are still in demand and that matt finishes are currently more popular than gloss