Paul Bradley loves a challenge. When Lyft approached us about creating a retroreflective powder coating to make its e-bikes more visible, the technical manager for Industrial Coatings was our go-to project lead. The resulting PPG ENVIROCRON™ LUM coating is the first of its kind and a product with a future so bright, we have to wear shades.
Career Flows from Liquid to Powder Coatings
Paul’s path into powder coatings began at the youthful age of 16, when he entered a laboratory technician apprenticeship program. He started his professional career as a senior technician at a major coatings company while simultaneously earning his bachelor’s degree in chemistry.
“I initially worked in quality control on the liquid paint side but moved into powder coatings. That’s when my focus shifted to product development.”
He joined us in 2013 and is now responsible for product development and technical support at our powder coatings plants in Gainesville, Texas, and West Chicago, Illinois.
“In recent years, PPG acquired several small powder coatings companies that had existing product development labs with highly skilled people. While the bulk of our powder coatings research and development is done at our Center of Excellence in Strongsville, Ohio, we have a lot of depth in our local labs.”
Making Customers’ Days Better through Problem-solving
Paul thrives in an ever-changing, ever-challenging lab environment.
I never know what each day is going to bring. I especially love it when my team and I get to solve a problem. This means we’re helping people and making their days better. It’s a good feeling going home from work knowing that someone will sleep better that night because of what we did for them.
We’ve offered Paul roles that would take him away from direct customer contact, but he’s turned them down.
“You don’t find a lot of chemists like me going out into the field, but I love to talk to our customers.”
He recently got a “Lyft” to that customer list.
Genesis of a High-visibility (Literally) Product
In 2019, the ride-sharing company approached us and some of our competitors to see which company could develop a retroreflective powder coating to make the e-bikes in its DIVVY bike-share program more visible at night and in low-light conditions.
“I felt that there was a business need for such a retroreflective powder coating for many years.”
Inspired by the eyes of deer, retroreflective coatings use embedded glass beads to redirect the maximum light back to the source to improve how quickly and clearly an object can be spotted ahead. Such coatings are created in liquid form by sprinkling glass beads on the wet surface, which is how it’s done for retroreflective road lines. It isn’t as easy for powder coatings, which use a dry application process.
The challenge was getting the heavier glass beads to distribute uniformly and also float to the surface once the powder coating was sprayed onto an object. Within months, our team had a robust solution that Lyft selected.
Following extensive field trials, Lyft debuted its high-visibility e-bikes sporting Envirocron LUM coating – the world’s first commercial retroreflective powder coating – in June 2021. Shortly after, Time magazine named the e-bike as one of the best inventions of 2021.
Exploring Myriad Applications for the Coating and Technology Behind It
Beyond its high visibility, Envirocron LUM coating delivers all the attributes of a powder coating – excellent chip and abrasion resistance, one-coat corrosion protection and cost- and energy-efficient application. From a sustainability perspective, the formulation is free of volatile organic compounds and overspray can be reclaimed and reused.
“The performance and sustainability of this coating open it up to a wide array of applications requiring better visibility in the dark. I’m receiving calls weekly from colleagues around the world to discuss new opportunities, such as guardrails, utility poles and mining tools.”
The ability to get retroreflective material to float to a powder coating’s surface is another potential avenue for growth and the subject of a U.S. patent application awaiting approval.
“We’re exploring if we can improve the properties of other powder coatings using this new flow technology. For example, can we get an anti-viral particle or an anti-abrasion additive to a powder coating’s surface?”
Paul believes those answers will be found the same way we met Lyft’s powder coating challenge. The technical team will put their heads together to come up with some new innovations soon!