The Changing Face of Home Appliances
Published: Appliance Design
March 2, 2015
Take a quick walk through any traditional American home today and you’re still likely to see them—those classic, white and black high-gloss home appliances. Initially these colors were the only alternatives due to the limited methods available to coat the metal substrate. Most appliances were fabricated first and then painted using a process called “post-painting.” These coatings were typically several millimeters thick and consisted of a sprayed on powder.
But today, according to Larry Ashby and Xianon Kou, who are both coil coatings chemists with Valspar Corporation, a long-time member of NCCA, the surface appearance of both small and large home appliances is changing more rapidly than ever. Classic white and black is slowly disappearing. “These changes are a direct result of consumers wanting additional choices when designing looks in the kitchen, laundry room and other areas of the home,” says Ashby.
“Prepainted metal” is helping to fuel this change. When prepainting material, the metal is painted first and then fabricated into the specific appliance. “This process allows many new and different types of coatings to be applied. It also provides designers with much more freedom in their choice of final appearance,” says Kou.
A History of Prepainted Appliances
Early on, prepainted surfaces were limited to smooth and glossy surfaces. These surfaces were subject to fingerprinting, caused by the oils in the skin. Also marring was caused during the manufacturing process. A few appliances utilized an “orange peel” finish to hide these shortcomings in the smooth surface. However, consumer acceptance was limited.
According to Ashby, the first critical advancement in the appliance surface came with the advent of “embossing” technology. “The embossing process feeds the coil coated steel through rolls imprinted with ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ patterns under pressure. The resulting surface maintained this pattern throughout the remainder of the appliance assembly process. This embossed pattern does not completely eliminate smudging and marring, but effectively hides these affects,” says Ashby.
Another technique introduced for reducing smudging was using “flatting agents.” Flatting agents allowed the gloss or degree of shine to be adjusted and, thereby, change the appearance of the appliance surface. Another method was adding large-particle size solid materials to the smooth paint and a “texture” finish results. The uneven nature of these topcoats mitigated the imperfections revealed in the smooth finishes. Because the texture agents are added at a higher rate than the flatting agents, an esthetically pleasing, three- dimensional appearance occurs.”
Later, higher-end consumer appliances began utilizing stainless steel as construction materials. However, fingerprinting was still prevalent. So the Coil Coating Industry developed fingerprint-resistant clear finishes. These came into wide acceptance for both pure stainless steel appliances and the “stainless-look” or “faux” stainless appliances.
A number of finishes have been developed to achieve the look of stainless steel without the cost of stainless and some of it shortcomings. There’s also a newer technique that has come into wide use where simple cold rolled steel is modified to such an extent that the resulting finish has the look of stainless steel. These “stainless steel” substitutes all require a clear coating to achieve non-smudging and other properties requested by consumers.
A Look at Today’s Appliance Marketplace
Many surfaces modifications got their start in the automobile industry and then found their way to appliance topcoat offerings. This phenomenon helps establish consumer acceptance. For example, new formulating techniques allowed “flaked” pigments, both conventional and metallic, to be incorporated into appliance topcoats.
Flaked pigments, such as mica, impart a reflective property that to the naked eye has greater depth than the conventional smooth finish. Mica produces the reflective sheen desirous for metallic coatings without reflectivity. These metallic flake pigments impart “sparkle” to the surface coating, creating a totally new and different appearance to the home appliance.
Kou says designers have benefited the most from the numerous improvements in prepainted metals. “Because of these advancements, appliance designers are now able to offer more vibrant looks. The consumer demand for fresh styles and innovation will only increase. Fortunately, prepainted technology continues to stay one step ahead of the appliance curve.”
The National Coil Coaters Association is a nonprofit trade association of coil coaters, coating suppliers, metal and material suppliers, equipment suppliers, service centers and related companies. NCCA brings coaters, their supporting suppliers, and industry partners such as service centers together to promote the growth of coil coated products. The association members work together to address technical, legislative, regulatory, promotional, and educational needs of the industry. For more information on NCCA, visit www.coilcoating.org.