How engineers develop new paint colors

How engineers develop new paint colors

Photo: Illustration: Ryan Olbrysh

Photo: Illustration: Ryan Olbrysh

My old truck shows its age. Its rusty undersides, cracked bumpers and scratched body carry the flaws of 18 years on this Earth. But look deep into Eucalyptus Mica paint and it still has that glow feature, its brilliance unlimited after 200,000 hard miles. This fact is not accidental, but the result of decades of improvement in the science of painting. And almost 20 years later, people are still working to improve it.

In the front row are people like Samantha Thobe and Ibrahim Alsalahi. They are Honda engineers working in Marysville, Ohio for the next generation of paint. And if they do their job well — something that is hard to dispute after a thoughtful discussion with either of them — the owners of Honda and Acura 20 years from now will be as impressed as I am today.

Welcome to The Professionals column, a Road & Track column where we talk to the exciting people behind some of the most exciting automotive jobs.

Photo: Paul Vernon / Honda

Photo: Paul Vernon / Honda

“My role is to take an ideological color and build it in a car manufacturing environment,” said Thobe, head of color development at the Marysville Automobile Plant. Road & Track. “Our design teams are inventing new colors […] travel the world to find them and come up with this idea […] “My job is to figure out how we can reproduce this dream color created in a lab with the material, equipment and procedures that went into producing almost 230,000 units a year on our line.”

This is a task of an order of magnitude more complex than making low-volume paints for high-quality cars. A Rolls-Royce takes advantage of hours at the paint shop, finishing by hand and the promise of an owner that will baby. An Accord has to go off the line in a fraction of the time, sit in an unprotected dealer batch for weeks and survive decades of use by someone in the Rust Belt who treats it like a device. The color should be designed from day one with this in mind.

Photo: Honda

Photo: Honda

Honda found out the hard way. The legendary reliability of the cars of the 90’s and the first Aughts means that everything was left long enough to see the transparent coats peeling off their roofs and hoods, a fact that tarnished their image as cars forever. Thobe’s job depends on making an industrial paint that sticks well, is thick enough to survive for years, and retains its luster.

It’s a natural role for a creative engineer. Thobe, who is 25 years old and comes from St. Henry, Ohio, graduated from Ohio State University with a degree in Chemical Engineering. Honda, with its large construction footprint a short drive from the OSU campus, gave her the opportunity to do this degree by incorporating a bit of her artistic side, helping to make stunning colors like the Tiger Eye Pearl so striking. in fact as it seemed to the idea. pictures.

Photo: Paul Vernon / Honda

Photo: Paul Vernon / Honda

“As far as chemical engineering is concerned, I really liked the peculiarities of the process. “So you can find out what’s going on in molecules and atoms,” says Thobe. Making sure everything is well behaved is the key to making a paint that adheres well, arranges its crystals properly and reflects the depth and quality that customers perceive as expensive.

Easy construction and construction to last are not always the same, that’s where Alsalahi comes in. A 24-year-old Palestinian paint engineer, Alsalahi’s role is in a push-pull relationship with Thobe. His job is to make sure that the paints designed by Thobe and her team withstand the salt, the sun and the scratches of the real world.

“Sam comes to me every now and then with a new color,” he said. “My job is to make sure the customer is happy. My job is to make sure […] “There are no problems in the field.”

The team paints samples of bare metal and other materials, sending them for tests that test for weather resistance, peel resistance, chip resistance and more. Using these tests – which simulate more than ten years of actual wear and tear, although Alsalahi cannot say exactly how long – the team looks at how thick the paint should be, how hot the color curing ovens should be, and how to ensure gloss. Every color is different and, unlike intuition, thicker is not always better.

Photo: Honda

Photo: Honda

“It’s absolutely a balance. “So when we apply thicker material, it will eventually cause us quality problems like loosening or holes,” he said. The thicker the paint, he said, the more heat it takes to harden it. The paint naturally runs away from the heat, so if you measure the thickness too much, the paint will slip out of the corners, leaving these tiny holes that will eventually turn into bigger problems.

The role is the culmination of a life passion for Alsalahi.

“I’m a car type, I always want to understand what ‘s going on inside a car. “The way things work and understanding what is in everything makes me more interested in my work,” he says.

After graduating with a master’s degree in engineering from Wright State, he worked with an automotive supplier that deals with many manufacturers. Honda, he says, had the strictest quality standards, which convinced him to work with the company in every possible way.

“When I saw it, I just wanted to work for Honda. I wanted to be part of the highest level, the highest quality [manufacturer]”, Said Alsalahi. He did not know that he would end up in the paint department by day, but that did not deter him.

“It was different. I wanted something that could be a challenge, that could be a daily challenge. That’s why I stick it, I hold it with both my hands. I like its complexity. “Every day we attack a complex issue and to understand it and see the final product is just a reward.”

Making these durable products, he says, is a key part of engineering. And if this Honda on the road is still glowing after 18 years in the sun, you better believe it.

Photo: Paul Vernon / Honda

Photo: Paul Vernon / Honda

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