Low-VOC paint transforms a manufacturing process

ABB has used reduced VOC paints on power and distribution transformers for more than a decade - with good results

ABB has used reduced VOC paints on some of its power and distribution transformers for more than a decade, with good results. We`ve built on this experience to develop reduced VOC painting systems based on international standards that set new industry benchmarks for product performance and low environmental impact.

Everyone recognizes the distinctive odor of fresh paint, but did you realize what you`re actually smelling are the effects of volatile organic compounds (VOCs)?

Conventional paints contain color pigments and binding agents suspended in an organic solvent to get the right consistency. As the paint dries the solvent easily evaporates, dispersing VOCs into the air. Airborne VOCs react with other pollutants and sunlight to form ground-level ozone and smog, which are harmful to health and the environment.

To counter this problem, ABB Transformers launched an initiative in 2011 to reduce VOC emissions in its painting processes. This initiative was aimed at replacing the solvent-based paint used on transformer tanks with more environmentally friendly water-based and high-solid paints.

This is significant because ABB is the world`s leading manufacturer of transformer products, which are frequently subjected to punishing indoor or outdoor environments. A lot of paint is needed to protect them – and this adds up to  a lot of VOC emissions.

When the low-VOC paint project began,  transformers were by far the biggest contributor to the total VOC output for the entire ABB group. And traditional solvent-based paints and coatings for transformer tanks expelled roughly half their volume into the atmosphere during drying.

Any new painting process had to significantly reduce VOC emissions without compromising the quality and reliability of our products.

ABB`s low-VOC painting processes are aligned to a system of specifications based on IEEE and ISO international standards. The overall target is to reduce the company`s VOC emissions by 294 metric tonnes, equivalent to the yearly VOC emissions of approximately 25,000 average sized cars.

The new system works exactly the same way as conventional paint systems, except the amount of solvent in the paint is either reduced or eliminated, which in turn stems the release of VOCs.

Low-VOC processes are now  setting new paint operation standards for the company as well as the supply chain for outsourced painted parts, where ABB has introduced approved, standardized low-VOC painting systems to suppliers.

In addition to lower VOC emissions, ABB manufacturing units are reporting better paint quality and improved work environments..

Contrary to popular belief, the shift to environmentally friendly painting systems does not compromise the performance or durability of paint coatings and finishes. There is also no additional impact on costs.

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About the author

Frank Burke

I am a member of ABB transformers operational excellence team with responsibility for transformer painting across all product groups and transformer core manufacturing processes for medium and large power transformers. When not visiting another ABB manufacturing location, Ireland is my home and outside of work I have a keen interest in aircraft technology and engineering and when time allows building and flying model helicopters.
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