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The Journey of Spray Painting: From Invention to a Modern Automotive Finishing Process

Posted by Mike Bonner

Jan 4, 2018 2:56:00 PM

It’s probably a safe bet to assume that you’ve picked up a can of spray paint and used it to quickly and efficiently complete some type of home painting project. Most everyone is familiar with the process of spray painting. But on a grand historical scale, it’s still a relatively new invention.

Prior to the late 19th century, all paint — whether residential, commercial, or industrial — was applied painstakingly by hand using a brush. Painting projects that take only hours or days today could take days or weeks back then, making the painting process incredibly time-consuming and expensive.

Fortunately, as we approached the 20th century, all that changed, and we have two men to thank for it: Joseph Binks and Dr. Allen DeVilbiss.

Necessity is the mother of invention

Joseph Binks was a maintenance supervisor at Marshall Field’s Chicago department store in 1887.  Tasked with maintaining the whitewashing on the basement walls of the store, Binks eventually found himself frustrated with the length of time it took to complete the task.

Marshall Field’s had thousands of feet of walls spanning multiple floors, all of which required painting — by hand with a brush — and after weeks of work, Binks’ crew had only finished one of those floors.

Realizing this was an unsustainable situation, he decided to do something about it.

He cobbled together a hand pump, a nozzle with a wand, and a container for the pressurized paint, creating what many call the world’s first paint-spray device.

Despite drastically reducing the amount of man hours it took to paint Marshall Field’s basement walls, Binks’ invention didn’t truly start to take off until the 1893 Colombian Exposition in Chicago.  The event had a large number of exhibit buildings that required painting, and as opening day approached, the vast majority of them remained untouched.

Using his device, Joseph Binks was able to complete all of the painting before visitors arrived to see the exposition — literally and figuratively saving the day.  From there, Binks was able to successfully transition his invention into a profitable venture.

Around the same time, Dr. Allen DeVilbiss was having problems treating patients with sore throats.  He found that any medicine he gave his patients wasn’t properly covering the affected area, because, when swallowed, it went straight past where it needed to be.

So, like Binks, Dr. DeVilbiss decided to do something about it. He retreated to his workshop, and after some time, emerged with the world’s first atomizer. It was composed of a squeezable rubber bulb, a small tube, and a metal jar (if that sounds like an old-fashioned perfume sprayer that you may have seen in museums, it’s because, thanks to his son, DeVilbiss’ invention also branched off into the world of perfume).

With his invention, he was able to effectively apply medicine to his patients’ throats. Word spread among doctors, and he soon found himself tending to a full-time manufacturing operation.

Becoming an automotive finishing process

The companies of both men survived and grew through the years, simultaneously competing and inspiring each other when it came to product design and development. It wasn’t long before the automotive industry realized the value of using a spray gun to apply paint to vehicles, and in the 1920s, automobile manufacturers became major customers of both companies.

With multiple coats each requiring days of dry time in between, painting a car could take up to a month!   The use of air spray guns allowed them to shorten the painting time to less than a week — and when combined with new paint formulations, like fast-drying solvent-based nitrocellulose, this was trimmed to hours — thus significantly reducing the greatest bottleneck in the automotive production process. 

It was a huge improvement, and many more improvements would be made over the following decades, leading to better and better finish quality.

Advancing automotive spray finish quality

Today, Binks and DeVilbiss are no longer in competition — they are now both part of the Carlisle Fluid Technologies family of companies.  And with the decades of collective painting experience that Binks and DeVilbiss provide, coupled with a state-of-the-art laboratory in Toledo, OH, Carlisle is well-positioned to investigate how to further improve automotive paint quality.

And there are always improvements to be made…

That’s why Saint Clair Systems has partnered with Carlisle Fluid Technologies in a series of lab experiments to quantify the relationship between paint temperature and surface finish quality.  The first of these tests identified the degree to which the temperature of clearcoat during application impacts the quality of the finish.

This is a huge discovery for the automotive painting industry.

The future of automotive paint finishing

Driven by intense competition and an increasingly sophisticated customer base, automotive painting is a constantly evolving process, and we’re excited to be a part of the next chapter. In our next blog, we’ll discuss some of the new automotive paint technologies coming down the pipeline.

If you’d like more information on the series of lab experiments Saint Clair Systems is performing with Carlisle Fluid Technologies and how paint temperature control can be used to improve your automotive finishing process, contact us directly.

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Topics: Viscosity, automotive painting, Paint Temperature Control Series, paint temperature control, automotive paint finishing

How Does Paint Temperature Affect Different Automotive Paints?

Posted by Mike Bonner

Dec 21, 2017 3:02:00 PM

In our last blog, we discussed Henry Ford’s decision to choose one color for their Model T’s — black. To support his assembly line concept, Ford required a fast-drying paint, and in 1909, the only paint available that met the needs of mass production came in only one color: black.

To contrast with today, not only are cars available in a technicolor range of shades and hues, but they also utilize different types of paint to perform different functions.

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Topics: Viscosity, automotive painting, Paint Temperature Control Series, paint temperature control, automotive paint finishing

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