CoatingsPro Turns 20: A 20-Year Lens of the Industry

Lou Frank, founder of CoatingsPro Magazine.

CoatingsPro Magazine is currently celebrating its 20th anniversary. As part of the celebration, here’s some thoughts and analysis by Founder Lou Frank via a podcast interview he recently conducted with the magazine. Frank now works as director of business development at Coatings for Industry, Inc. (CFI) (Souderton, Pennsylvania, USA).

There have been many changes in the industry since CoatingsPro’s inception. First, technology. The whole concept of a podcast didn’t exist 20 years ago. The digital delivery of content came by way of sending someone an email, and even printing email attachments wasn’t necessarily easy back then. So we’ve come an amazingly long way in terms of technology with websites, social media, and so on.

But the biggest change in the industry is consolidation. With that has come a level of professionalism. Perhaps the best way to talk about it is with the folks that now own CoatingsPro. Most recently, it’s a consolidation of two major trade associations (NACE and SSPC: The Society for Protective Coatings). The transition to form the Association for Materials Protection and Performance (AMPP) was a big change. It enables global delivery of training as well as the stories found in magazines like CoatingsPro, and it can only help make our industry more successful.

There’s also been a shift in coatings development, especially on the environmental side. There was a lot of discussion about water-based coatings in the early 2000s, but they were shunned. There’s a fundamental, chemical reason as to why it’s far more challenging to make water-based coatings that are as effective as solvent-based coatings. Today, we face a real need to enhance the low-volatile organic compound (VOC) side of all coatings. Ultimately, everybody’s going to end up going there.

And the final area that’s changed in the past 20 years is installation protocols. It’s the way application is done, the way the specs are written, and the demanding way in which the application goes down before an inspector is able to look at it.

Back 20 years ago, when I went through my NACE training to be a Coating Inspector Program (CIP) inspector, everything was in the analog world. There wasn’t a device that you could lay on top of a coating, press a button, and, in an instant, see what its film thickness was. 

That device is not only available from several fine manufacturers today, but it also now uses Bluetooth to communicate to a computer, so you don’t even have to make mention of where or when you did it. You click a button, and it’s all taken care of for you.

That’s a huge change. It’s accountability — both in terms of application and management — that maybe is a good plus out of this consolidation over the past 20 years.

For the future, I see that there is likely to be further consolidation. You’re going to see bigger companies gobbling up medium-sized ones that have been long, strong, and in many cases, privately owned companies.

But here’s what I see as cool that will come out of it: Once acquisitions occur, it’s not uncommon to see talented people from the smaller companies being replaced by someone from the large company that says, ‘Well, I don’t need you anymore because you’re just duplicating an effort that somebody else already does.’ What you’re going to find then, I think, is that entrepreneurs will emerge out of these consolidations.

With those people, and also with the talented young people coming out of colleges and taking advantage of some of the training that’s available through organizations like AMPP, I think we’re going to see innovation in chemistry and application, equipment, and techniques.

One of the coolest things I’ve seen is the use of heavy-lift drones to apply paint products. You're not likely going to paint the underside of a bridge with one of these drones. But if you think in terms of a large fuel storage tank where the surface is just a giant, flat cylinder, essentially... you may find a drone being able to do that.

And, hey, it might mean that applicators have to get a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) license to fly that drone. So, I see a continuation of improvement in low- and no-volatile organic compound (VOC) coatings, and an even more urgent need to hire and train really qualified professionals to apply those coatings correctly.

The full Lou Frank interview is available at, and more news coverage on CoatingsPro’s anniversary can be read in MP’s December print issue.

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