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Not many industries can trace their roots to ancient Egypt, but history tells us it was the Pharaohs who oversaw the creation of some of the world's first ships. Since then, the ocean-related shipping industry has grown into a massive multi-trillion-dollar global market, responsible for moving 90% of world trade. According to the American Association of Port Authorities, the shipping industry contributed $5.4 trillion to the U.S. economy in 2018.
While ships may still have the same function as they did back in 3000 BCE - bringing people and goods from one place to another over sea - they've undergone a massive evolution, says Tom Molenda, director of marine coatings at PPG. "It is an industry that's been around for a long time," he says. "But ships are getting larger and larger and more efficient."
Molenda, who says he was drawn to the shipping industry because of its global reach, has been directly involved in a myriad of marine-related innovations over the years, including making ships more environmentally friendly and more fuel-efficient. With the need for environmental protection becoming more prevalent as well as other threats, such as cyber security potentially impacting the delivery of goods, the industry will only evolve further from here, he says.
Most people may not realize the role that paint has to play in the modernization of the shipping industry, but without the kinds of specialized coatings that PPG provides, the sector wouldn't be nearly as efficient as it is today.
For instance, one constant frustration for shipping companies is the build up of barnacles - little crustaceans that live in the water - on a boat's hull. These sea creatures not only slow ships down, but they also induce corrosion and can cause extensive damage to a ship's exterior hull. A 2007 report found that barnacles cost the U.S. Navy $1 billion a year in damages and lost productivity.
Knowing the destructive power of barnacles, PPG developed what it calls 'surface regeneration technology,' which prevents them from sticking to the ship. PPG SIGMAGLIDE, a silicone-based product, is applied to the ship's hull, which causes these organisms to slide off. "There are many application areas within a vessel and each has unique needs" says Molenda.
Marine Coatings play a role in the wider environment. The more efficiently a ship moves through the water, the less fuel it consumes, helping to reduce carbon emissions. PPG has developed a range of coatings under the PPG SIGMA SAILADVANCE brand that can help companies increase sailing speeds, while saving energy and reducing the ship's environmental impact.
Investing in innovation
Coming up with these types of coatings takes an enormous amount of scientific work, adds Molenda, but it also requires close collaboration with our customers. "Innovation starts with a deep understanding of your customers' problems," he says. "I can't emphasize that strongly enough."
While PPG closely watches developing regulation and global trends, it's also working with customers to identify issues that they need solved. The company's research and development team, which spends about $1 billion on new technology every two years, creates various coatings that eventually get tested and then implemented on its customers' ships.
With everything from oil to clothing to other industrial and consumer items needing to be moved from point A to point B, the shipping industry is only going to grow further from here. PPG is already testing out new coatings and innovations to ensure its customers can continue moving their items quickly, efficiently and safely.
"There's a very deep bench of technology and a lot of smart people we draw into this," Molenda says. "We develop products to meet very specific customer needs."