Renato Villaseñor
Technical and Commercial Director of Galnik

Platings and Coatings Adapt Too

Sat, 09/01/2018 - 11:42

Manufacturing 4.0, automation, electrification and lightweighting do not only affect automakers and components suppliers. The effects of these trends trickle down the supply chain in the form of specifications, norms and needs that companies in the supporting industry must also assess.
Renato Villaseñor, Technical and Commercial Director of Galnik, says Mexico’s coating and plating market has also felt the effects of this process. “Players that support the supply chain must remain updated in prices, processes and the requirements of the automotive industry,” he says. Being part of a Mexican company that offers electroplating, coating and surface finishing services to the automotive industry, Villaseñor identifies three main challenges that coating companies face: meeting environmental issues, extending corrosion warrantees and preparing to meet the needs related to electric-vehicle manufacturing.
“Environmental regulations by the government and global sustainability strategies of OEMs are changing the coating business,” he says. As automakers choose to stop using certain metals in their components, the challenge lies in carrying out R&D to meet the requirements of new projects. The coating industry is also in the middle of a race to deliver and extend guarantees against rust and corrosion. “The bar is set at 15 years,” he says. “As specifications and norms in the industry become increasingly complex and start requiring the use of alloys, nanoparticles and other processes, coating companies are busy looking for new ways to fend off corrosion and deliver these warrantees to clients,” says Villaseñor.
The lightweighting trend, whereby heavy materials are substituted for lighter ones in vehicle production, is another challenge that Villaseñor sees for coating companies. “Steel is losing ground to plastic in vehicles and there are more electronic sensors to consider during coating processes,” he says. Companies must ensure their surface treatments do not interfere with the functionality of these sensors. While Galnik and other companies tackle these changes, Villaseñor adds that companies must worry about how automakers’ requirements and priorities for coatings vary depending on their origin. “European automakers focus mostly on environmental matters. US companies, meanwhile, care more about corrosion resistance. Japanese players place more importance on the appearance of the coating,” he says.
To keep up with the changing needs of the automotive industry, Galnik remains close to the Queretaro Automotive Cluster and other clusters in the country and generates partnerships with coating suppliers that engage in R&D operations in Asia, Europe and the US. “We are not in the business of producing chemical processes but in applying them, so we make sure our suppliers meet OEMs’ coating specifications,” says Villaseñor. Coating suppliers that engage in R&D usually also help OEMs develop their coating specifications and audit the companies that apply their products. “Working with these suppliers helps Galnik gain the trust of OEMs for coating applications,” he explains.
Implementing stricter standards might be pricier for companies but Villaseñor underlines that sustainability has not affected overall vehicle costs. “Years ago, cars would have a 2.5mm-thick bracket with a zinc coating that ensured it would remain corrosion-free for five years,” he says. “That bracket has evolved and is now only 1.7mm thick, making it lighter and cheaper, but it requires a zinc-nickel alloy that avoids corrosion for 15 years.” The price of the coating may rise but the production of the bracket is less expensive, so the vehicle’s cost does not increase. “Making coatings more resistant means making processes more efficient to keep vehicle costs in check while still meeting weight and durability requirements,” he adds.
Practicing what he preaches, Villaseñor has also invested to make Galnik as cost-efficient as possible through automation. The company has been developing its own automated plating lines since 2003. “We use top-of-the-line technology to fabricate our plating lines without having to bring engineers from Germany or spare parts from Japan and China,” he says. However, the company saw a need to enter the e-coating market so it brought in technology from abroad to boost its competitiveness. “We are importing the latest technology to attack new markets,” says Villaseñor.