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One to One - Team AkzoNobel

In a unique Digital Dialogue, the team at AkzoNobel discuss their vision for the future of coatings systems   …

In the latest instalment of our Digital Dialogues, SuperyachtNews visited the team at AkzoNobel in Southampton. Operations Editor Jack Hogan and News Editor Max Stott spoke with technical support team manager Gareth Thomas, global technical manager Richard Jennings, and Emma Churchill, marketing excellence manager. Additionally, we spoke remotely to global business director Bilal Salahuddin for his comment on the current state of the market and the challenges of the COVID era.  

Logistical constraints kept Salahuddin held up in Holland. Still, we were able to speak via a severely tested wi-fi connection while onboard the full carbon hulled AkzoNobel Volvo Ocean race yacht. Few industries require as many different components from global sources as coating systems. When speaking about the challenges of the last 18 months on the supply chain, Salahuddin was honest in his assessment. 

“I would say it's been mayhem; like many other business managers, I lost a great deal of my hair in this pandemic because of the supply situation. As an example, the recent half-year financial report from Hapag Lloyd, and the amount of activity it has seen in 2021, shows the extent to which things have gone haywire in terms of supply chains." As Salahuddin continued, even the recovery poses challenges, "There is the COVID effect, where we had a lot of suppliers bring down their capacities. However, when things starting to recover faster than expected, nobody had adjusted, nobody was positioned to get labour back quickly and into production.”

 “So what we have seen is a kind of long-COVID effect, where we see the supply still catching up with demand. As we have observed, demand has recovered faster than supply, not only in yachts but across all sectors” stated Salahuddin.

To summarise the last 18 months for AkzoNobel, and look ahead, Salahuddin had a succinct response: “It's been Murphy's Law all the way. But now, after about five to six months of an extremely volatile situation, perhaps the most volatile of the world has seen in supply chains in the last 10 to 15 years, things seem to be getting better, but they're nowhere near normal.  So fingers crossed, by the end of the year, we will see more stability.”  

From a technical perspective, coating systems have come a long way since, as technical support team manager Gareth Thomas put it, the quality metric for paint was to pick up the can and the heavier it was, the better. Likewise, the idea that a coating system should be over-engineered with as many potentially harmful components as possible to cover as many bases as possible is outdated and doesn't suit a sustainable future. Thomas envisages a progression in the market towards data-driven customisation of coatings systems to suit an operational profile of a vessel. With the migration of many yachts into challenging and varied locations, a close examination of this profile - matched to the right coating - can replace the inverse approach using potentially unnecessary chemicals in a system in the hope of covering all eventualities. 

From a sustainability standpoint, AkzoNobel has set some ambitious targets for 2030. When speaking with Emma Churchill, marketing excellence manager, we posed the question: how does a coatings company overcome the preconceptions about a ‘dirty’ industry to communicate and deliver sustainability targets? “We see the importance of us leading the way and taking the opportunity to become the most sustainable coatings provider in the world”, explained Churchill, continuing “, We need to keep innovating, and not just from a products and services point of view. Innovating by not standing still. Many companies have not survived because they have not developed and moved with the times. We need to stay ahead of our industry, ahead of regulation and ahead of technology.” 

“What is considered sustainable today may not be tomorrow, so it is important for us to keep innovating”  said Churchill

Part of this transition to a more sustainable future for superyacht coatings will involve the continued reduction in reliance on solvent-based drying systems. But an industry that has the highest possible quality standards, and intolerance for imperfection, changing well-established norms presents a multifaceted challenge. Richard Jennings, global technical manager, explained that driving this change will be a collaborative effort. “The industry needs to change as well. We can bring the best new technology in terms of paint to market. Still, if the industry does not change with us, it is very difficult”. Further clarifying, Jennings continued, “Water-based products and different ways of drying paint, the applicators may potentially have to change their spray booths and their way of working, which is a very difficult thing to do. We see this as an industry-led thing, where we need people to come with us to make the changes.”

For access to the full Digital Dialogue, please click here. To access the full library of our digital One to One series by clicking here. If you would like to take part or contribute your thoughts, please contact Eleanor Shepherd.

 

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