SA’s paint industry working towards picture perfect

by Ofentse Sefolo
SA’s paint industry working towards picture perfect

Are you always getting the quality of paint that you are expecting? There are a few reasons why you may not.
The South African coatings industry currently faces a couple of challenges that affect the quality of paint in the country and the South African Paint Manufacturing Association (SAPMA) technical committee is hard at work to find solutions that will better regulate and back-up claims made by paint suppliers, and also largely eliminate sub-standard paints entering the market.

Determining quality
The first challenge, according to Deryck Spence, executive director of SAPMA, is that there is a tremendous amount of ignorance in the market space as far as the quality of paint is concerned.

“This is especially highlighted when you walk into a big paint distributor where the price of, for example, 20 litres of interior/exterior PVA paint will range from R1 500 all the way down to R147,” he says.

“At the higher end of the market, paint companies are manufacturing paints containing higher levels of solids, providing good scrubbing and durability, low odour and long guarantees, which are very expensive due to the amount of technology that goes into the production of the paint. At the bottom end of the market you get a basic paint that will turn transparent after the first rain and which will come off if you scrub it or touch it.

“But since all of them have the same labelled description, the only indication as far as quality is concerned, is the price,” Spence explains.

A quality band system
To make it easier to accurately determine paint quality and streamline the process for paint manufacturers to indicate a mark of quality on their products, SAPMA is envisioning a Multi-tiered Quality Band System that will classify paints, at this stage, in three ranges – minimum, medium and upper levels.

“This will also provide a basic specification for architects and designers,” Spence adds.

The association is working to develop an independent laboratory that can perform tests on an ongoing basis at affordable prices, giving all paint manufacturers, including smaller companies, the opportunity to compete in the market place with products complying with an accepted industry standard. Once established, paint manufacturers will be able to send samples for compliance testing of products falling under the various specifications of the Quality Band System.

The SAPMA technical committee will establish the standards under which the Quality Band System will be launched and will make recommendations regarding the establishment of the laboratory as well as the equipment necessary for initial and ongoing testing. However, the laboratory would function independently with regards to testing and classification.

SAPMA is currently in negotiations with an accredited, international laboratory to set up such a laboratory in South Africa and Spence is optimistic that the wheels will start rolling by the end of this year.

“It is something that has been a long time coming and something that is being demanded by the market because there is a lot of confusion out there. The majority of local paint companies are supportive of this initiative and even the Department of Public Works has expressed interest in the Quality Band System so that they can recommend certain paints for projects. I definitely think that there is space in it for all industry players,” Spence notes.

SA – a dumping ground for low-quality paint?
The second significant challenge the coatings industry is facing, according to Spence, is that the local market is open to the dumping of questionable quality paint, including leaded paint, from both African and Eastern countries that have free import access to the market.

“Considering the ignorance in the market about the quality of paint, it is quite possible to bring in very low quality paint and actually capture a large slice of the market,” he states.

“To get an idea of size, the biggest paint companies in India will produce more paint in one day than what the biggest local paint manufacturer would produce here in a month. In countries such as India, labour costs are also considerably lower than here,” Spence explains. Even though water-based decorative paint has a high proportion of water in it, they can still land it in South Africa cheaper than local manufactured product

The issue of lead
He further points out that it is quite possible that these cheaper paints contain lead colour pigments since they are much lower priced than their lead-free counterparts and give a very good colour, which is why it is used in the first place.

“This poses a big risk to the local market seeing that towards the end of last year the paint industry, together with the Department of Health through the auspices of the World Health Organisation and the Global Alliance to Eliminate Lead Paint (GAELP), has committed itself to remove all lead from paint by 2020. This also includes industrial paint, which was previously allowed to contain lead,” Spence says.

“However, South Africa is the only country in Africa with stringent legislation aimed at removing lead from paint completely. And with Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries having free access to the South African market without any duties restricting trade, the paint imported from those countries are not regulated or checked at the moment. Plans to further extend duty-free trading to Egypt and East African community will compound this risk,” he explains.

Protecting the local market
Spence mentions that per year, about R1,2 billion worth of finished product is coming in from mostly Europe, which is also a duty-free sector. “This paint is monitored reasonably well and it is largely paint that is not feasible to manufacture locally because of international agreements. And since it is priced well and of a high quality, we are not too worried about that,” he says. “It is the lower quality and the cheaper side of the market that poses a threat.”

According to Spence, a number of years ago a chemical company from Egypt marketed resins in South Africa and local manufacturers ordered large quantities. However, once the product arrived here, the quality wasn’t near to that of the samples provided. This caused huge problems in the market and resulted in many claims and even job losses.

“This is one thing our members, especially the suppliers of raw materials, are particularly concerned about,” he states. “The benefit for Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is that they have very good prices as far as lighter fractions of oil and paraffin is concerned, and their wages are much cheaper than it is in South Africa. On top of that, the Egyptian government, for example, has got a $2,4 million incentive bonus for exporters.”

Compulsory specifications
SAPMA has recently met with the National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications (NRCS) to discuss how to control the quality of the products coming into the country and ways to protect the local market.

In Europe, the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) regulation was adopted to “improve the protection of human health and the environment from the risks that can be posed by chemicals, while enhancing the competitiveness of the European Union (EU) chemicals industry”. As a sort of safety net, all chemical substances imported into the EU have to meet the requirements of REACH.

“Our recommendation is that the Departments of Health, and Trade and Industry, together with SAPMA and the NRCS, apply a compulsory specification. For a start, we might tackle the lead issue first, implementing a regulation that any importer into South Africa will have to sign a declaration stating that the paint being imported does not contain any lead.

“Essentially, we just want to level the playing field. Local manufacturers are prepared to contest the competition, but not if they are on a hiding to nothing. We have to protect our local industry because that is after all what is driving the economy,” stresses Spence.

Full thanks and acknowledgement are given to SAPMA for the information given to write this article.

Caption Main Image
To make it easier to accurately determine paint quality, SAPMA is envisioning a Multi-tiered Quality Band System that will classify paints in minimum, medium and upper levels.

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