The ChemQuest Group, a global consulting firm focused on tailored business strategy and optimisation, technology acceleration, market intelligence and M&A advisory services for the speciality materials industry, has recently appointed Prem Patel as a Director. Throughout his career, Mr Patel has worked in roles for companies such as Rogers Corp, Lear Corp, and Milliken & Co and has been successful in growing P&Ls by leading and scaling strategy, M&A, product management, innovation and operations initiatives across global value chains. PPCJ spoke to Mr Patel, to find out his vision for the role.

Alongside your obvious expertise, what will your previous experience bring to ChemQuest’s clients?

I have experience within many functions in the specialty chemicals and materials industry, including R&D, operations, purchasing, marketing, sales, strategy, and corporate innovation. I’ve also worked at a diverse mix of companies, public and private, large and small, located at different points along the value chain.

The experience, insights, and best practices I’ve gained from this have been invaluable because I’ve come to understand the pros and cons of various business models and approaches within these critical functions. I also appreciate the effort and effect a strategy has on these functions, which allows me to think more proactively about an integration plan and the change-management process. I believe the ability to “think big” while being detail oriented is what truly makes great businesses.

What do you think are the main challenges and opportunities facing the coatings industry at the moment?

Defining sustainability is a major challenge across the coatings industry. Is it about carbon intensity, bio-based content, biodegradability, recyclability, eliminating chemicals of concern, etc.? Most companies have signed pledges to decarbonize but don’t have clear paths to get there. Accordingly, there is significant interest and effort in evaluating bio-based chemistries and pathways (i.e., fermentation processes used in engineering microbes). However, these bio-based options don’t always produce a product with the lowest carbon footprint, nor the desired level of biodegradability.

If we can rally around a few shared objectives, I believe there is ample opportunity for technology and commercial partnerships to make progress. For example, goods with longer service life might be better than biodegradable options – assuming exposure to those chemistries doesn’t harm workers or consumers. This brings me to what may be the best objective to start with – perhaps safer chemistries and/or handling processes are the best option in the short term to reduce workforce and consumer exposure to substances that affect their health and wellbeing.

In terms of opportunities, I see the aging workforce in a somewhat different light than many others. While it is certainly a major challenge, it presents an opportunity for companies to differentiate by providing deep technical support to improve value to their customers. Generate AI can help here too. AI is being used more and more to speed up and refine the innovation and product development process. As the levels of both technology and industry participation in AI increase, I expect significant customer value to be created. It may be a tough pill to swallow for some, however, because it is likely going to level the playing field somewhat.

Last, but perhaps not least, our aging infrastructure is also poised to provide opportunities for coatings companies. High-value bridges, oil and gas assets, and other infrastructure need major upgrades, all of which call for improved energy efficiency and resistance to weathering and corrosion.

What do you think are the biggest trends in the coatings industry at the moment, in terms of what customers are asking for?

As I touched on earlier, driving improvements to sustainability and environmental impact are key. One example is reducing or eliminating substances of concern (e.g., VOCs, PFAS). I’m excited about helping companies achieve their net-zero goals, reducing their Scope 3 emissions, eliminating chemicals of interest, and improving the carbon intensity of their packaging.

In addition, a less-skilled OEM workforce is driving ease-of-use improvements that are simultaneously beneficial for contractors and consumers. Positive developments include reduced prep, increased speed to completion, and more robust application windows.

Looking ahead, what do you think the big trends in the industry will be in the next decade or so?

I expect sustainability to remain an important trend for some time to come. Factors to address include supplier decarbonization roadmaps and impact on their Scope 3 emissions, recyclability, and reformulating to reduce/eliminate substances of concern. I also expect AI to play a much bigger role in driving our innovation trends, developing product formulations, and completing lifecycle assessments toward a future-state industry with lower carbon intensity.

For more information, reach out to Prem at ppatel@chemquest.com.

Read in PPCJ.