The current status quo of digitalization in the coatings industry is still poor – however, technical, economic, and ecologic potential is high 

By Wolfram Keller (corresponding author), Ulf Stalmach, Ralph Wörheide, June 2023 

Society and industry, including the chemical and coatings industry, are experiencing major challenges, especially digitalization and sustainability. Few small- or mid-sized coatings enterprises, SMEs, have so far ventured into the task of sustainable digitization or digital sustainability. They often do not have the competencies, experience and resources of large chemical companies that started doing so in the mid-2010s.  

However, other industries are much faster and more advanced than the chemical industry, of which the coatings industry is a part. The pioneers of digitalization in Germany are the ICT and automotive industries. Over the last three years, their digitization index has consistently been far higher than that of the chemical industry and coatings industry.  

Figure A1: Position of “chemical industry” and “other processing industry” incl. 
coatings producers relative to leaders in digitalization between 2020 and 2022 

This implies a great opportunity for coatings manufacturers’ digitalization approach if they partner with companies with strengths in this area. Ubiquitous silos and a lack of willingness to cooperate are major hurdles to digitalization in many coating companies.  

Up to now, the “coatings industry mantra” is the tacit knowledge of paint technicians and chemists, often acquired over decades, as well as top-secret formulations. Cautious protection of know-how, time-consuming, labor- and cost-intensive processes, and hesitation to introduce technologies proven in other industries lead to operational inefficiencies. Both, the chemical and the coatings industries are classic manufacturing and processing industries representing the product-centric “old economy”.   

This article is the first out of six of our series on sustainable digitalization in the coatings industry, the concept of a Smart Paint Factory and the Smart Paint Factory Alliance, SPFA