MF: 2010 marks a change in strategy, of sorts, for PCI relative to the organization, marketing, and promotion of its annual trade show. For 2010 PCI has decided to partner with NACE International, the association representing those entities serving the protective coatings market. Can you explain the reasoning behind this change in strategy?

Steve Houston: It really has not changed; we just added a new partner to assist in the strategy. PCI has done Coating shows for some time now and felt we needed some additional horsepower to help create a true COATINGS event. NACE is really the obvious partner to help us facilitate that.

MF: Overall, what are your expectations for the 2010 NAI Coatings show?

Houston: We are expecting a very good show. It will have all the things you have come to expect at our historical Powder shows or Coating shows, with some very exciting new partners and programs. Plus, the technical sessions will be the best and most diverse we have ever had. Jennifer Egan, PCI program manager, said: “We are very excited about the interest we have received in this show. The exhibitor list is high quality, we have an excellent technical program, and a number of special events which makes NAI a must-attend event!”

MF: We’re coming up on the two-year anniversary of your appointment as executive director of The Powder Coating Institute. Can you describe your experiences thus far, particularly as it pertains to instituting some of the goals you initially established?

Houston: We have come a long way, baby!! And I do mean we, the board, PCI members and the PCI staff, have worked very hard to expand the reach and depth of The Powder Coating Institute to bring more value to membership and to the market. PCI now has a technical infrastructure that has dramatically improved our ability to serve the market. We have a certification program for both Custom Coater ( PCI 3000) and OEM ( PCI 4000) powder applicators, a fully staffed and functioning laboratory to perform powder tests and evaluations, as well as enhanced training and webinars that have never been better attended. These initiatives are all being led by Rodger Talbert, PCI’s new technical director.

Additionally, we have just established our first international Chapter in Sweden and are working to expand into other geographies. PCI recently launched Project Expand and contracted Chemark to do a deep market dive into those areas where powder could—and should—be expanded. Also under way: Project SOS, an electronic powder specification writer and project footprint to evaluate the carbon impact of powder compared to alternative technologies. This is currently being reviewed by the Raw Material Committee. The NAI Coating Show, of course, was established and we have new partners and co-sponsors like NACE, NAPCA, and the American Galvanizers Association. We have expanded the number of board seats, completely overhauled the PCI website, added a new Market Intelligence Committee that is working on market data collection and will drive the first-of-its-kind Global Powder Coating Report, which is due out this fall.

This is the short list, but this is what it takes to continue to keep up with the ever-changing market conditions and always bringing new and exciting things to membership. And, by the way, membership grew in 2010 for PCI!

MF: Looking at the North American market for powder coatings, what is your outlook in terms of sales growth for the industry?

Houston: PCI collects market intelligence quarterly, and 2010 data indicates that the market has increased by double digits in both Q-1 and Q-2 over 2009. But let’s not wave the victory flag too soon. The fact is 2009 showed the worst decline in powder sales in my professional career, and we have not recovered that completely. Powder needs innovation to drive growth, and we will need to find new and alternative ways to use powder before we can expect sustainable long-term growth.

MF: Similarly, what is your view of the powder coating market from a global perspective? In an interview MF conducted with you in 2008, you stated that “PCI is continuing to see production of industrial products moving offshore to low-labor countries such as China, India, and even Mexico,” in essence impacting the growth of powder coatings domestically. Do you still feel this is a major area of concern?

Houston: In 2009, we found that only four countries had growth in powder consumption, and China and India were two of those countries. This is an issue for powder coatings and for industrial paints in general. But, we have seen the momentum to move manufacturing overseas trend slow down, and we believe that most organizations are really looking longer and harder at the “risk/reward” to producing overseas. In fact, many have alternatively opted to stay here and compete using “lean” and are implementing more efficient production practices. This philosophy can only help manufacturing here in the U.S. and, therefore, become an important factor in powder growth domestically.

MF: Powder coatings have long been touted as environmentally friendly, high-performance alternatives to other finishing technologies, such as electroplating. Do you see any new developments in powder coatings coming down the pike that might further enhance coatings’ competitive position?

Houston: I personally don’t think powder is a “like” replacement for plating, but it has been used and will continue to be used when the consumer is willing to replace a plated surface with a coated one. Powder is the best and most environmentally friendly industrial coating available today. It is very important that we find ways to further penetrate more paint applications with powder coatings such as: architectural, large parts, heat-sensitive parts, military, government, DOT, and multiple-color production environments. This and other areas will help drive the next generation of powder coatings and is one of the reasons The NAI Coating Show is a good idea. Our affiliation with NACE will assist us in penetrating these market spaces where we have not been able to in a significant way historically.

MF: Anecdotal evidence suggests more and more plating companies are providing paint/powder coating services. Looking to the future, do you see a continued integration of these technologies at the finisher level?

Houston: I think platers and finishers alike are looking to find ways to generate more and diverse revenue streams by looking up and down the value chain. This allows them to offer more value to their current customers, and by offering these additional services assists them in finding new markets as well.