Since the beginning of time, humans have been drawn to and sometimes even obsessed with shiny objects. These objects ranged from precious metals such as, gold, silver, and platinum to exotic minerals like diamonds, emeralds, and rubies. Today, these same attractions remain. However, the list of objects has substantially increased to include the likes of automobiles, electronics, and toys.
The early pursuit of shiny objects, specifically gold, led rise to the alchemists. The alchemist’s job was to try to turn just about anything into gold. These observations, theories, experiments, data collection, and then evaluations, led to the discovery of what we would today call chemistry. This newfound profession of chemistry would shape, mold, predict, and direct the modern world as we know it today.
Modern chemistry has gone through the professional evolutions in a similar manner as the medical professions. As time marches on, more data collection and results-driven approaches have both deeply broadened our knowledge base, but at the same time created more questions and further experimentation to pass/fail our theories. One specific group of modern chemistry practitioners comprises those who develop products. Product development involves creating specific formulas, for a specific industry, for a specific purpose.
CAR CARE PRODUCTS
One industry that has a broad spectrum of specific-purpose products — vehicle appearance chemicals — is the car care and/or vehicle care segment. The overall segment contains both the do-it-yourselfer (DIY) and the do-it-for-me (DIFM) market, including product selection from retail (OTC), online, local coin operator, local high line detailer, and dealerships, both independent and OEM.
One aspect of car care, and likely the most innovative, is the creation of products that protect and beautify the exterior surfaces of vehicles, with the most common being the painted and/or clear-coated surfaces. These types of products can have a host of different names: waxes, glazes, sealants, top coats, total coats, hot waxes, lava waxes, coatings, and ceramics. The top common denominator of all these different products is the ability of the treated surface to create water beads and become hydrophobic (water fearing). The creation and appearance of water beads is a demonstrable effect users can witness and use as a gauge of perceived value for the specific product used on their vehicle.
The appearance and creation of water beads can be accomplished through many varying chemicals and/or combination of chemicals. It is up to the product-development chemist to determine what chemicals are needed to satisfy the requirement and deliver expected results and outcomes.
Historically, the most common and well-known hydrophobic coating is carnauba wax. Carnauba wax was used in some of the earliest formulations of car care products and its benefits are well documented. Various types of waxes have dominated the car care industry for most of its 100-plus-year lifespan. Only within the last 20 years has there been significant growth in the way exterior protection has been approached in the ability of hydrophobic coatings to modify the surface to which it has been applied.
The original hydrophobic coatings relied on simple physical bonds to the exterior surfaces. The simplest example was smearing some typeof greasy substance onto the surface and buffing off the excess to create the hydrophobic effect. These physical bonds were short lived and usually wore off within weeks, depending on vehicle usage and storage. The introduction of the curable, amino-functional silicones and other additives greatly improved long-term hydrophobicity. However, durability was still being measured in months.
Incorporation of reactive ceramic coating chemistry into car care transitioned treated vehicle surfaces from physical bonds to true chemical bonds. The strength of a chemical bond is usually much greater than a physical bond. Therefore the hydrophobic coating’s longevity was greatly elevated to never before seen levels. Long-term hydrophobicity was now being measured in years. The ceramic coating chemical process is not overly complicated. However, there are thousands of different ceramic materials available. Consequently, there is a large variation in the different ceramic coatings available on the market today.
The influx of ceramic coating options within the various markets has allowed consumers to chose the level of ceramic protection delivered, how engaged they want to be in the application procedure, and what degree of monetary value they are willing to assign to ceramic coating protection. True market acceptance is displayed in the availability of ceramic protection across all market segment channels.
With all things considered, and comparing true apples to apples, ceramic coatings do offer the best hydrophobic coatings on the market today. They offer the best protection against harmful environmental attacks and protect vehicle exteriors, surpassed only by total vehicle vinyl wraps and/or clear films. Ceramic-based coatings will continue to steal market share from traditional hydrophobic coatings as the cost of entry continues to decline and ease of use increases as, all the while, availability proliferates.
As technology gets better, ceramic-based hydrophobic coatings will migrate into other car care segments. Initial offerings are available which are substrate specific, such as wheel, glass, headlight, and fabric. Only time will tell what the next evolution of car care will bring, in terms of raw materials used to create hydrophobic coatings. At the present time, ceramic-based hydrophobic coatings are the pinnacle choice. They are proven performers with greater benefits than previous offerings.