Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Legend of the brand Alumigrip™

The Legend of the brand Alumigrip™

Recently an article was written announcing the birthday of the brand Alumigrip® which stated that Alumigrip was officially born on  March 14,1968 making the brand 45 years old today.   For those not familiar with the Alumigrip brand name Alumigrip has been the standard of the aviation industry for high performance polyurethane topcoat color for painting of aircraft for a long time. The name Alumigrip is synonymous with paint for airplanes and is almost a generic term for aircraft paint much like Kleenex is generic for facial tissue.

That article appeared in the AkzoNobel magazine publication, REFLECTIONS Issue 13, page 6.  For your interest the REFLECTION magazine is linked here.  AKZO is the current owner of the Alumigrip brand by reason of their purchase of the aerospace and marine businesses of U.S. Paint in 2002. The article in Reflections magazine shows some graphics common during the period when Alumigrip was born.  The article quickly transitions into talking about the current technology of the Alumigrip product line which now includes a high-solids version and a base coat/ clear coat product line for general aviation aircraft painting. But there is a lot more to the Alumigrip story that was not told in the Reflections article. Here is an account of the word-of-mouth history of the Alumigrip brand written by two salesmen who were actually there to experience some of the Alumigrip history.

The legend of Alumigrip as it was handed down over the years comes from U.S. Paint where the product initially was developed.  The following article is “legendary” in that some of the actual facts about the events discussed are no longer traceable. So this article is based on the conversations that have transpired and the recollections over the years and may or may not be completely factual.  But this story is certainly part of the legend.

Alumigrip is believed to be the first two-component polyurethane commercially developed for use on commercial and general aviation aircraft in North America. 

Polyurethane polymers as a chemical class were around since about 1937 having been developed by Otto Bayer and his coworkers at the laboratories of I.G. Farben in Leverkusen, Germany, according to Wikipedia.   Initially, work focused on the production of fibers and flexible foams.   With development constrained by World War II (when PUs were applied on a limited scale as aircraft coating), it was not until 1952 that polyisocyanates became commercially available.  Commercially available polyurethanes for aircraft came much later.

Mr. Joe Dilschneider the President and owner of US Paint, (then known as U.S. Paint Lacquer and Chemical Co) a small industrial coatings manufacturer located in St. Louis, MO became acquainted with the technology as result of a chance meeting in a bar with a representative from the Bayer Company while Dilschneider was on a vacation in Germany. 

As legend has it the man from Bayer was describing a problem that was prevalent as a result of the development of the new chemical for the aviation industry developed by another St. Louis company, Monsanto. That chemical was called Skydrol® and was a phosphate ester liquid used for the hydraulic controls in aircraft.   Skydrol had many wonderful characteristics that made it a good hydraulic fluid for that application but acted like a paint remover to the aircraft paints and coatings of that time.   The legend continues that this conversation was the inspiration for the commercial development of polyurethanes to be used for painting airplanes.   Mr. Dilschneider went back to his laboratory at US Paint and presented his chemists with the challenge of developing a coating which would resist attack by Skydrol.   Dilschneider directed his team to look at the Bayer technology thinking this might be a viable commercial use for this largely unused type of coating. 

In 1964 Monsanto, McDonnell Douglas, and U.S. Paint teamed up to paint the first Douglas DC-9 with what would become Alumigrip.  As the St. Louis connection continues it should be noted that first DC-9 was delivered to Ozark Airlines, which was headquartered in St. Louis as well.  This ultimately led to the development and introduction of what is believed to be the first commercial product used exclusively as an aviation paint, which was called Alumigrip.   Through the 1960’s US Paint built on the success of its new product and developed strong business relationships with McDonnell-Douglas, Lockheed, Beechraft, and Cessna, among others.  Dilschneider acted on the early success with the DC-9 and made a deal with Bayer where US Paint was the exclusive importer to the US for Bayer’s patented curing agent technology for the product. 

In the late 60’s Dilschneider sold US Paint to Grow Chemical Corporation.  Under Grow ownership and Disschneder’s directing US Paint continued to develop polyurethane coatings.  The Alumigrip brand was introduced and the market for the technology continued to develop.  During the 70’s US Paint, though maintaining a strong relationship with Douglas Aircraft in Long Beach, CA began to concentrate its efforts on the business and general aviation markets.  By the end of the 80’s Alumigrip was almost exclusively used in business aviation –for many years it was the standard coating for private jets and other executive aircraft produced by Beech, Cessna, Lear Jet, Gulfstream, Falcon, and Sabreliner just to name a few.  The product was not limited to passenger air planes however.   Sikorsky used Alumigrip exclusively for application on helicopter fleets.  Also Air Tractor appreciated the toughness of the coating which allowed them to use their bright yellow color to coat their crop dusters. 

US Paint had a long list of celebrities with what seemed to be bizarre requests for special colors.  These included matching colors on countless logos, fabrics, cocktail napkins, china jewelry and parts off of various types of planes, boats and automobiles.   During the 70’s and early 80’s it seemed as if every day’s mail had another sample of something to match for someone’s aircraft.   By now more than 5,000 colors had been formulated in the Alumigrip line.  Please see below one of the earliest color cards of the Alumigrip standard colors.  VINTAGE COLOR CARD, circa 1975.

Also interesting is the shown ad below, circa 1984, which speaks of the pioneering aspect of Alumigrip and features one of US Paint’s most beloved salesmen ever, Orville Wilbur Wright, a descendent of THE Wright brothers.  Orville ad for Alumigrip

In the 1990’s low VOC. requirements for aircraft coatings caused US Paint (then owned by Nippon Oil and Fats of Japan) to take another look at the commercial aviation market and they developed High Solids Alumigrip which quickly developed a following among the world’s airlines which continues today under the direction of Akzo Nobel.  Today Alumigrip is again being used to coat air craft of every type and size. 

Nick Hall                                                          Dick Creek

VP Sales                                                                                                 President

AWLGRIP North America                                                        AeroCoat Source, LLC