Future protective coatings might be worth the wait.
But what will the future of automotive protective coatings look like?
Automotive protective coatings have become a major component of the aftermarket automotive industry. Services like ceramic coating, paint protection film and wraps have become more mainstream and more affordable. The term “ceramic” has become a bit of an over-used buzz word in the industry (like organic in the grocery business) with major automotive supply manufacturers using the term on just about everything they offer so they can increase the price of the product. Just go to your local automotive supply store and you will see what I mean. There is “ceramic” car wash, “ceramic” detail spray, even “ceramic” wheel shine (whatever that is.)
Although some of these products may have small amounts of the active chemical found in true ceramic coating, that can be a double-edged sword for amateurs. For the most part these “ceramic” products are an over-priced waste of time that cause more problems than they solve. Originally the ceramic coating used to protect automotive surfaces was utilized primarily by the Defense Department. For example, helicopter blades were coated with ceramic to reduce friction through the wind and keep water from setting on the blades and other components. Eventually the Si02 chemical was found to have very positive benefits for automotive applications and an industry was born.
Future Protective Coatings: Ceramic
Today ceramic coatings have evolved in the same way that protective film coatings have. There is a wide assortment of evolutions of coatings, but they all do basically the same thing and have the same limitations. Think of the old-style clear bras as an example. Over time they would yellow and crack and look awful. Any detailer out there that has been hired to remove one of those, knows how truly awful they were. Today’s clear bra and wrap materials are vastly better, easier to apply and easier to remove later on. They still have limitations but far less than their original counterparts and they have new features that were unheard of when clear bra’s first came out. Modern clear bra often has self-healing qualities that can correct minor scratches once exposed to heat (either the sun or hot water). It’s pretty cool but again limited. You can’t drive into a tree and expect that level of damage to self-correct.
There are ceramic coatings that can self-correct too. We use a product called ‘Revivify” for certain projects and just like self-correcting paint correction film, this coating can self-correct minor scratches with the application of heat. Original ceramic coatings were very strong and used a higher concentration of the active chemical (Si02) which made them last longer than current ceramic coatings and they were also more scratch resistant. For whatever reason the manufacturers started reducing the concentration of the active chemical possibly because it was financially smarter to do that or it may have made the application process easier, either way the modern versions are sort of playing catch up.
Future Protective Coatings: PPF
It’s always difficult to look into the future but we are seeing some trends that will help us make some educated guesses. I believe what you will see is a convergence of ceramic coating and paint protection film. There will be a single product that fuses the main benefits and features of both while eliminating the most complicated and difficult aspects of each. For ceramic coating, one of the big problems is although it is strong it is too thin. When you apply professional ceramic coatings, it goes on very rough and thick and then must be leveled by hand to achieve a perfect shiny finish. The problem is the manual-leveling removes most of the ceramic that you just put on leaving a super-thin layer. If you have ever applied ceramic and missed an area and it fully cures you will see how strong the ceramic actually is (you nearly have to sand it off). If future ceramic coatings could self-level, then a deeper layer of the protective coating could be achieved enhancing all of its qualities including duration.
For paint protection film, the depth of the film does make it stronger and able to withstand things like rock dings. Ceramic coating is too thin to do this. But the application of paint protection film is difficult and usually cannot be performed by an untrained person. The materials themselves are expensive and custom cutting them can be difficult. I believe that in the near future, within five to ten years, the technology will evolve to create a sprayable protective coating that has all of the current qualities of ceramic coatings and paint protection film, it will be fully self-leveling and idiot proof. There are some spray wraps out there, but they are currently the domain of specialty shops with the right equipment and training.
About a decade ago, 3M had a sprayable clear bra product that they came out with. I used it and the technology was not quite ready. But it is a foreshadowing of what I am describing and predicting here. Before the end of this decade, you will be able to completely protect your car from scratches and the elements yourself with an aerosol based-self-leveling protective coating.
I will need to find another way to make money.