Highland Colour Coaters sets out to burst bubble

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THE metal finishing firm behind the M8’s Heavy Horse sculpture has joined forces with a university chemist to solve a problem that costs the global engineering industry hundreds of millions of pounds a year.

Cumbernauld-based Highland Colour Coaters, which also galvanised Andy Scott’s Kelpies artwork at the Falkirk Wheel, has received a grant from the UK government’s Technology Strategy Board to investigate why bubbles sometimes form when powdered paint is coated on to galvanised steel.

Superstition surrounds the problem – called “gassing” – with some metal workers believing it won’t happen if they apply paint using their left hands while others claim it only happens on certain days of the week.

Geoff Crowley, managing director at Highland, said: “Gassing is a particularly frustrating problem as it only happens now and again. “It seems to happen in all sorts of different conditions, with different compounds and coatings, in hot countries as well as cooler ones like ours. There is very little research into the problem at the moment and what exists is often contradictory.”

Rikki Speakman, a chemist at Glasgow Caledonian University, will work with Highland over the next two-and-a-half years to try to understand why gassing occurs and then come up with a solution.

He will also have access to laboratories at Felling near Gateshead, run by the chemicals giant AkzoNobel, the world’s largest paint maker and the owner of the Dulux brand.

Crowley said gassing costs his firm alone around £50,000 a year – a considerable sum compared with its profits of £500,000 on the back of about £8 million in turnover – because, when the problem occurs, the metal must be stripped down and repainted.

Across the UK, Crowley said the problem costs the metalwork industry millions of pounds and hundreds of millions on a global scale.

Bringing an end to gassing could also have environmental benefits.

“At the moment, a lot of people will use spray paints instead of powder coating,” he explained. “But spray painting is more expensive and the chemicals used can damage the ozone layer.”

Highland was set up in 1978 in Elgin and opened its Cumbernauld site in 2002. The site underwent a £2m extension last year.