Behr staffs about 200 chemists and technicians to work on every aspect of paint formulation. Quality control is essential to manufacture products on a large scale. Behr technicians run checks on every paint formulation at multiple points in the manufacturing process.
Creating a perfect paint formulation doesn’t always mean adding new, exciting raw materials—sometimes you have to take components out. Heavy metals, including lead, mercury, and chromium, never have been part of Behr’s formulations, so the company researches how to provide corrosion resistance without these ingredients.
The R&D team at Behr "would like to find more ways for paint to do things other than provide aesthetic appeal,” according to John Gilbert, senior vice president of research and development. “Of course, paint has to provide the decoration you want on your house, but there are other things it can do as well. If you’re painting a deck and there are nails, you want the paint to provide some corrosion resistance. That’s an example of something functional. We’re looking for other things paint can do, such as reflect solar heat so a deck or patio you just painted isn’t too hot to walk on.”
The R&D team reviews how different raw materials perform in the paint, and the opportunities that emerging chemistries bring to the table.
At its Santa Ana, Calif., plant, Behr depends on its employees to enforce quality control throughout the manufacturing process.
In 2009, Behr products contained among the lowest VOC levels at 50 grams per liter, and topped Consumer Reports rankings of paints in all three finishes tested (satin/eggshell, flat/matte, and semigloss). The latest Behr product, Marquee, has even lower VOCs, while offering a one-coat guarantee for a range of color options.
At one point during the manufacturing process, dry pigment is dispersed in water, and the particles’ “fineness of dispersion” is checked for consistency. Next, the dispersed pigment is mixed with acrylic binders (“resins”), thickeners, and additives. Before it receives final approval, technicians confirm the paint’s viscosity, tinting strength, pH, and numerous other qualities.
Water comprises more than half of most paints, creating the potential to waste significant amounts of a natural resource if something goes wrong. To avoid that, Behr’s manufacturing facility has a zero-waste stream. After a batch of paint is made, poured into cans, and sent off for distribution, technicians spray out the tank with a high-pressure hose to rinse it out. That resulting diluted paint is used as part of the next paint batch.
“When we build a paint, we use polymer chemistry and analytical science to provide the very best properties, like resistance to scrubbing or washing, household stains, dirt, or durability of the color against fading," says John Gilbert, Behr senior vice president of research and development.