By Kevin Biller, ChemQuest Powder Coating Research

I’m going to get a little personal in this column and take the opportunity to recount my illustrious career in the powder coating industry. I got my start in powder coatings in March 1978. This was before computers, digital scales, Excel spreadsheets, email, and smart phones. Interestingly, even though the tools to develop coating technology continuously evolve, the fundamentals of formulating a high-performance powder coating really haven’t changed that much.

The Beginning

I had just celebrated my 20th birthday, still too young to legally purchase a bottle of wine but filled with an eager enthusiasm to conquer the challenges facing this fledgling industry. Powder coatings were conceived in the mid-1950s as a laboratory curiosity by Dr. Erwin Gemmer, a German scientist. By the 1970s, this technology had found a commercial home as a thick-film, functional coating used to protect pipelines, steel rebar, and electrical equipment. The late 1960s and ’70s ushered in thermoset polymers, the use of extrusion to compound formulas, and electrostatic spray techniques capable of applying relatively thin films.

My inauspicious entry into the industry paralleled powder’s introduction to the major appliance and automotive industries where high performance was required. Typical applications were dryer drums; washer tops and lids; and automotive suspension springs, battery trays, and other under-hood components. I entered the industry as a lab technician at The Glidden Paint Co.’s Research Center in Strongsville, OH, in a maelstrom of fervent product development. At the time, I was laser focused on meeting the coating requirements of a rapidly growing number of enterprising fabricators who recognized the advantages of replacing porcelain enamels and solventborne paints with this groundbreaking finishing technology.

Moving On Up

I completed my chemistry degree four years into my budding career, which vaulted me onto the corporate ladder and provided a path to laboratory project leader and eventually group leader roles. These were dizzying times for the powder coating community. Each year promised double-digit growth of greater than 20%, along with a mind-blowing array of technical dragons to slay and processing mountains to scale.

The powder industry was on fire throughout the 1980s and, even more so, the 1990s. Tier-one automotive suppliers introduced clear polyester powders as the topcoat for aluminum alloy wheels. Automakers installed dozens of finishing systems that utilized powder as a body coat, initially as an intermediate coat (i.e., a primer surfacer), and eventually as the clear topcoat for BMW’s 5 and 7 series cars manufactured in Germany. Concurrently, clever chemists invented low-temperature-cure technologies, including the world’s first UV-curable powder coatings for application to pre-assembled electric motors. Seemingly everything metal that could fit into a cure oven was now being powder coated.

At this juncture, the large multinational paint makers began to realize that powder coatings were here to stay and entered the fray by building their own powder businesses, along with unrelenting acquisition of already-established powder businesses. Glidden, where I spent the first 15 years of my career, was purchased by the UK-based ICI Paints, making it a global powerhouse. This development afforded me the opportunity for a two-year assignment as part of a pan-

European powder group located in Birmingham, England. Upon my return to the United States, ICI sold off most of its industrial coatings businesses, including the powder coating group. I left the day Ferro Corp. bought our powder business to join the Herberts Group, a Germany-based powder producer.

Branching Out

After 19 years toiling away at these two global paint titans, I transitioned into an entrepreneurial realm, initially as an independent consultant and soon thereafter as a small business owner. Since making the break with the corporate world, I have owned two custom powder manufacturing businesses, served as an editor to a few coatings publications, and in 2007 founded the Powder Coating Research Group.

Probably one of my most unintentional but consequential decisions occurred around the turn of the century when I was asked to author a regular Q&A column for a company newsletter. My colleagues at the time suggested the column to be titled “Ask Kevin.” I thought such a humdrum title would attract few, if any, readers and offered in its stead an alternate nom de plume and hence, “Joe Powder” was born. My real name was not attached to the column for the first few years, which created a swirl of intrigue in our staid industry. Through the years, the “Ask Joe Powder” column has appeared on three continents in 10 different publications. In 2020, the Ask Joe Powder “powdcast” debuted and can be accessed through most popular podcast services and on the ChemQuest website,

The timing of my career moves may not have been stellar, as nearly every time I made a major transition an economic storm was brewing. When I shed my corporate identity in the late 1990s, the powder industry was enduring monumental headwinds with the economic recession of 2000–2001, along with issues with production overcapacity, consolidation, shrinking profit margins, and globalization.

Later that decade, I launched my powder technology group, unbeknownst that the Great Recession was looming in the shadows. Throughout this period, paint companies were tightening their spending budgets, including reductions in R&D, which probably benefitted our technology start-up by providing opportunities where understaffed technical groups couldn’t cover all the organization’s innovation objectives.

I weathered these storms undaunted and continued to thrive, leading an entrepreneurial technology outpost dedicated to crafting the next generations of powder coating technology. In 2021, our business was acquired by The ChemQuest Group, which broadened our resources and expanded our capacity, building a strong platform for future growth.

I recently handed over the reins of our powder coating R&D enterprise to my colleague, Nathan Biller, and the erudite team at ChemQuest. While I have stepped down from full-time employment after 45 exciting years as a technologist in this amazing industry, I won’t disappear any time soon as I will continue consulting work, as well as writing, teaching, and other engagements in the industry.

Future Developments

My rear-view mirror captures an exceptionally rewarding experience in a dynamic industry. Throughout my career, I have collaborated with some of the most ingenious technologists and, most importantly, some of the finest human beings I have ever met. It has been an honor and a privilege to share in the triumphs of this extraordinary technology, and I am enthusiastic to continue to contribute to its bright future.

Kevin Biller, founder of the former Powder Coating Research Group, serves as director of ChemQuest Powder Coating Research. Email: