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Varnish Paint and Lacquer Industry Job Descriptions, Careers in the Varnish Paint and Lacquer Industry, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Industry, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Paints, varnishes, and lacquers are known as coatings. They are applied to the surface of many products to provide protection or decoration. Coatings are applied to bridges and buildings, aircraft and automobiles, and house walls and home furnishings. The industry generates approximately $18 billion in revenues and employs more than 50,000 workers.

Paints, varnish, and lacquer are made from different materials using different processes. Paint, for example, is composed primarily of a coloring matter, called pigment, and a liquid carrier. The carrier, or paint vehicle, may be oil, latex (liquid rubber), or a synthetic resin. Pigments are obtained either from natural sources, such as clay or mineral ores, or from chemical processes. There are thousands of different colors and shades. Turpentine, alcohol, or petroleum agents are also added to paint to increase its spreading, drying, or hardening qualities. Paint can be made in the form of a fluid, jelly, or powder. Some special paints are fire retardant, while others repel insects or change color as the temperature in a room rises or falls.

Paint is usually made in batches, or large amounts of a particular color or kind of paint. A paint factory is typically arranged so that a gravity flow system can be used. This means that the raw materials are kept in the upper levels of the plant. As the paint making process proceeds, the paint flows downward until the last step has been completed. Working with formulas supplied by chemists, batch loaders, or batch mixers, and their helpers empty the ingredients into giant mixing machines. The machines blend the ingredients into a thick paste. This mixture flows by gravity through a series of grinding mills, or tanks, that act much like huge kitchen blenders. The mills often contain metal or ceramic balls or sand particles that help mix the pigment and the carrier thoroughly.

The paint, varnish, and lacquer industry manufactures paint and other coatings that are applied to the surface of products to provide protection or decoration. This batch mixer is adding chemicals to a batch of paint in a paint factory. (© Martha Tabor/Working Images Photographs. Reproduced by permission.)

Chief shaders, or tinters, and their helpers are responsible for mixing various color pigments and thinner liquids into a batch to produce a precise paint color. They use blender machines for this work. Although special instruments are used to measure the hue, brightness, and purity of the color, it takes a skilled and experienced worker to match the color of a batch of paint to an established standard.

After the paint is filtered, it flows into the storage tanks. Fillers and packers fill tubes, cans, drums, and other containers from these tanks. Capper operators run machines that close cans. Other machines are used to close drums of paint. Lid stampers use machines to print an identifying code number on top of the cans or drums. Labels are applied, and the paint is ready to be shipped to distributors.

Although varnish is similar to paint, it does not usually contain pigment. It contains a resin that forms a hard transparent film as it dries. Most varnishes today are made of synthetic resins. Varnish is used primarily to give wood surfaces a hard protective finish. The supervisor of the entire varnish making process is the varnish maker. Kettle chargers and kettle operators load ingredients into huge kettles and heat them to the temperature needed to melt the resins. They must keep the kettle at the right temperature for the required length of time so that certain chemical changes will occur. From time to time, testers take samples to check the thickness and acidity of the varnish.

After it is cooled, the varnish flows downhill into thinning tanks. Reducers add thinners, driers, and other ingredients specified by the batch formula. Other workers operate filter presses that filter sediment out of the varnish. It is then allowed to age for a time. As the varnish ages, blenders test it and add any ingredients needed to bring it up to standard. The varnish is then packaged, labeled, and shipped in much the same way as paint.

Like varnishes, lacquers are resin-based products that provide hard surfaces. Lacquers contain ingredients that evaporate quickly after they are applied. Lacquers do not have to be cooked. Instead, the resins and other ingredients are thoroughly mixed in huge tanks. Workers filter the solution and age it before it is packaged and shipped to distributors.

The industry also employs chemists, chemical engineers, and chemical technicians who help develop and test new formulas for making the various kinds of coatings. Some workers use computers to analyze paint components. The industry employs a number of managers, engineers, clerical workers, sales representatives, and maintenance personnel.

Education and Training Requirements

Most production jobs in the paint, varnish, and lacquer industry involve the operation and control of various kinds of mixing machines. This work is usually learned on the job. Working as the helper of an experienced worker for a few weeks or months is usually enough to master many jobs. A job such as chief shader requires more experience and special skills. There are no specific education requirements for most production jobs, but high school graduates are often preferred. High school, college, or technical school courses in chemistry can be useful in the coatings industry.

Getting the Job

The best way to get a job in the paint, varnish, and lacquer industry is to apply directly to plants that make these products. Job openings are often posted on a sign outside the plant. Plants also list openings in newspaper want ads or with the state employment office.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Production workers in the paint, varnish, and lacquer industry can advance by learning how to operate more complex equipment. They often start as helpers and later move into more responsible positions, for example, as batch loaders or varnish makers. In these jobs, they supervise other workers. The coatings industry also offers courses in paint technology for workers who want to advance. Workers who get further training can become technicians or chief shaders.

Revenues for the paint and coatings industry are expected to grow more than 9 percent through 2010, to $20.1 billion. However, employment is projected to decline slightly over this period because of more efficient production processes, driven in part by competition from foreign manufacturers. Openings are anticipated to exist to replace workers who retire or leave the field.

Working Conditions

Most employees in the coatings industry work in new or modernized plants where the working conditions are good. Modern ventilating systems eliminate most of the heat and fumes that occur in the various stages of making paint and other coatings. Sprinkler systems, fire walls and doors, and shutoff safeguards keep the danger of fire to a minimum. The machinery is equipped with many safety devices, and safety procedures are stressed. The usual workweek is about forty hours long. Plants must be staffed around the clock, but most workers are assigned to regular weekday shifts.

Where to Go for More Information

Federation of Societies for Coatings Technology
492 Norristown Rd.
Blue Bell, PA 19422-2350
(610) 940-0292

National Paint and Coatings Association
1500 Rhode Island Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20005
(202) 462-6272

Earnings and Benefits

Earnings depend on the location of the plant, the specific company, and the kind of job. Benefits include paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and retirement plans.

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Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesManufacturing & Production