We may be living in uncertain times but there is still plenty of certainty among coatings and finishes manufacturers, who are more dedicated than ever to serving the timber sector.

In the case of Sherwin-Williams UK Coatings, for example, industrial wood coatings is its only business and focus now.

“Following an internal reorganisation at the start of 2018 we have transferred all our non-wood business to our general industrial colleagues [within the Sherwin-Williams Group],’ said Graham Buchan, Sherwin- Williams UK Coatings managing director.

“This enables us to maintain our focus very steadily and clearly on providing the best possible service to our industrial wood customers.”

Sherwin-Williams’ route to market is direct to large manufacturers and via distributors to SMEs. Likewise, fellow manufacturer Teknos’s heritage is in serving the industrial wood sector but it has also witnessed growth in the professional decorator market.

“When more than three-quarters of windows and doors in the UK are factory coated in TeknosIndustry it makes sense to maintain those with TeknosPro,” said Michelle Alcock, Teknos managing director.

“The decorator market is therefore being introduced to Teknos through this route. We recently exhibited at the National Paint and Decorating Show and visitors were queuing to speak to our staff, so word is clearly getting out.”

Ms Alcock added that although other sectors, such as coatings for metals are increasing fast, more than 80% of the company’s current paint sales are into the timber sector.

“We have ambitious targets for this sector and expect that it will go from strength to strength in the coming years,” she said.

Osmo products continue to be in high demand, said Steve Grimwood, managing director of Osmo UK.

“Research conducted by Hiscox early last year shows a 400% increase in homeowners deciding to improve, not move over the past five years. We have witnessed the results of this as our DIY products have continued to do well.”

There are some hurdles ahead, of course. “The current market is a challenge and that has been the case for several years,” said Carl Circus, AkzoNobel (AN) distribution manager. “Our target customer [direct supply to large OEM producers and via distributors to SMEs] is one who produces a huge variety of new timber items for the building industry and we are all aware this industry has been through a large uncertain period with several ‘false dawns’, which have never been seen to take off as they were said to.”

He added that the uncertainty was due in part to the impact of the “constantly fluid Brexit negotiations”.

“Our logistical and supply teams are currently monitoring the Brexit situation as most of our industrial production sites are in central Europe,” said Mr Circus. “We have been reassured that the UK will not suffer significantly from internal AN supply policy, whatever Brexit finally looks like.”

In terms of the relative strengths of the interior and exterior coatings markets, the story varies according to the manufacturer.

“Although we have a strong and thriving exterior coatings business the volumes for interior finishings exceed those,” said Graham Buchan at Sherwin-Williams. “This would reflect the industrial coatings market generally, where the interior segment is larger than the exterior/joinery sector.”

Teknos also said its interior sales had grown in the last year, particularly in specialist areas such as digital printing, and it’s a trend the company expects to continue.

For Osmo, the interior products are slightly ahead in terms of sales but exterior wood finishes are not that far behind.

For AN, however, exterior coatings still form the bulk of the business. Making headway into the interiors market has been “a big source of frustration”, said Mr Circus.

“However, we believe that our portfolio of interior products offer UK and Irish businesses some real advantages when benchmarked against what is considered the norm in this market,’ he added.

Mr Circus went on to say that AN had seen a very slight change to the enquiries it was getting, particularly relating to the interiors portfolio.

“The subject of indoor air quality (IAQ) is increasingly being considered and for a number of years we have pushed product stewardship to the forefront of our thinking. Making a product ‘safe’ is a primary concern to our R&D specialists.”

He added that fire retardant requirements for building materials were also a large area of focus for the industry.

“Our R&D focus has been on systems for interior and exterior usage that can not only maintain the FR performance ratings for building materials – many of which have undergone their own modifications and treatments to satisfy conformity – but also offer more traditional unmodified materials similar conformity to the required essential standards.”

In addition, he said, AN places a heavier importance on supplying clear and practical advice to customers on the FR subject as a whole and the influence and limitations that a surface applied coating can have on it.

It’s a similar story elsewhere, which given the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, is not a great surprise.

“There is increased awareness in the wake of this terrible tragedy, so there are many questions on this topic,” said Ms Alcock.

“Fire retardant coatings are very much a growth area and we are now developing FR products for exterior use,” added Mr Buchan.

Other market trends reported by Sherwin- Williams include an increasing interest in environmentally friendly solutions such as waterborne or UV as customers strive to comply with VOC legislation.

And in terms of aesthetics, high-gloss finishes, though still popular, have given way to a trend towards dead-matt surfaces, said Mr Buchan. “Darker colours – greys, greens, blues and so on are still fashionable.”

Teknos has also noted the rising popularity of stronger colours, such as deep blues and dark emerald greens. Matts are still in demand for interior walls but it has found that gloss and semi-gloss are still desirable woodwork finishes.

For AkzoNobel the trend has been towards fully opaque shades, both inside and out and it places an emphasis on colour matching.

“As an industrial supplier working across the whole of Europe we tend to promote industry standard collections and our own AN colour systems, such as the Sikkens 5051 collection,” said Mr Circus. “At our UK headquarters in Blackburn we offer an extensive colour matching system and all of our established distributors offer in-house colour matches and same day tinting.

“Our prediction is that colour mixing and matching will increasingly be done at local level. The demand for all sorts of weird and wonderful shades and effects (largely unpredictable) and the improvements in the hardware involved in colour mix technology mean that manufacturers will move away from large ready mixed batches of all but the most popular and widely used shades.”

Osmo has noticed its customers increasingly favouring “natural and invisible” finishes and has developed two products to cater for this. Osmo Polyx-Oil Effect 3044 Raw is for interior applications, while UV-Protection-Oil Tints 429 Natural are for exterior use.

“Both of these contain white pigments to counter the darkening as well as yellowing and, at the same time, invisibly protect the untreated wood,” said Mr Grimwood.

“We believe the trend will always be to use a clear finish,” he continued. “We have found that people 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.”

The Sikkens exterior joinery system coatings are the most in demand products for AN and a cost-effective, high quality white mouldings primer introduced this year has also been very successful.

Meanwhile, for Sherwin-Williams its polyurethane and polyester products are popular across a wide range of interior uses, particularly as colours. Waterborne finishes are enjoying a growing market, said Mr Buchan, as are UV-cured products, which help reduce VOCs and can assist in achieving rapid line throughput.

Teknos’s water-based opaque and translucent AQUATOP 2600 is its star performer in the industrial wood sector.

“It has been tested and proven over many years,” said Ms Alcock. “We’ve also seen increased demand for FUTURA AQUA topcoats from our TeknosPro professional decorator range as it is extremely versatile (it can be used inside and out, on wood and metal) and includes a gloss option that has a high sheen not usually available in waterbased coatings.”

There is a steady stream of new products. “We have developed a new exterior primer, which we are very excited about and which is just being introduced to the UK and Ireland now,” said Mr Buchan at Sherwin-Williams. “And we are getting ready to launch a range of products that are based on non-fossil or bio-renewable raw materials.”

AN will launch its new generation of joinery topcoat systems very early in 2019.

“We know these will quickly be adopted by our customers as their system of choice,” said Mr Circus. “We have focused on making their factory processes easier by introducing early hardness to the film so that the items can be moved, handled and worked on much more quickly than before.

“The fully cured film also gives excellent surface hardness, scratch resistance and resistance to metal marking, all with excellent flow characteristics and, of course, with no compromise on the long-term performance.”

Osmo recently developed Polyx-Oil Express, a premium, fast-drying wood finish. It takes just 90 minutes to dry between coats and offers flooring contractors, specifiers, DIY enthusiasts and consumers a solution that eliminates long downtime while still providing all the professional features of a traditional oil-based finish, said Mr Grimwood.

Teknos introduced new products to customers at last year’s W exhibition.

“We launched Pentofluid Silverwood, a water-based protective paint for cladding that gives a weathered look,” said Ms Alcock. “It garnered a lot of interest at the show.

“We also launched Platin 4545, which is a water-based lacquer, with a FIRA ‘Severe’ rating, that is suitable for timber staircases, flooring and table tops. It was shortlisted for an Elements of Innovation Award at the show.”

Ms Alcock added that the acquisition of Drywood Coatings, Feyco Treffert and, more recently, Kiilto last year, had considerably strengthened Teknos’s offering in the internal wood coatings market, allowing it to make products such as Platin 4545 available in the UK and Ireland.

“We can now offer more choice in the exterior wood coatings market too, with low-film build paints from Drywood as well as innovative products like Pentofluid Silverwood from Feyco Treffert.”

Further developments at Teknos include a new state-of-the-art, purpose-built warehouse and office in Bicester, Oxfordshire.

“We are very proud of it,” said Ms Alcock. “It increases our storage capacity seven-fold, gives faster turnaround times for pick-up and delivery and has been designed with sustainability of the building and working practices in mind. We are looking forward to welcoming customers for training and the complete Teknos experience when our application centre is fully up and running.

“On a personal note, 2019 will see a big change for me as I leave Teknos GBI to become managing director of Teknos USA,” she continued. “I leave our stunning new head office and a £10m business as my legacy and am looking forward to the new challenges ahead in the US.”

News of Ms Alcock’s successor in the UK will be announced in due course.