Realising the dream

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At first sight it might look as if manufacturing paint is one kind of activity and designing the paint job for an aircraft or helicopter is something completely different. And of course, from most perspectives, it is. But that doesn’t mean that paint manufacturers can neglect designers and focus exclusively on building relationships with aircraft paint companies.

And it certainly doesn’t mean that designers don’t have to bother building their relationships with paint manufacturers. As Julie Voisin, Global Aerospace Coatings Product Manager at Sherwin-Williams explains, there is an enormous amount that the paint manufacturer can do to support designers, helping to ensure that their vision translates perfectly to produce the owner’s dream aircraft as the end result. EVA talked to Voisin and to Craig Barnett, the founder and CEO of Scheme Designers.

Voisin points out that Sherwin-Williams goes out of its way to support designers, even though they are not direct buyers of its products. This support goes way beyond simply providing technical advice on products and colours. The company will fly technical staff out to meet with the designer and the paint shop, and will provide applications expertise on difficult jobs to ensure that the final results are as perfect as possible. Barnett says that this level of support is invaluable for him and his team.

Since 1997, Scheme Designers has specialised in the business of exterior design for aircraft of all types, sizes and models, from airline fleets to business jets, piston aircraft and helicopters. According to Barnett, around the globe, there are now well over 11,000 unique aircraft wearing a Scheme Designers paint scheme. “Over half of the OEMs delivering new aircraft work with us to develop the exterior styling for their factory new models, which means that we are setting the standard for the industry as a whole,” he says.

“We get a lot of inquiries over the internet, which has helped us to build a strong global client base, with clients on every continent. Some of our largest markets outside of the US, which is, of course, our strongest market, are Germany, the UK, Australia and Canada,” Barnett notes.

He points out that Scheme Designers is a technical as well as a design company. “We engineer each and every scheme that we produce, generating detailed drawings and technical specifications down to an eighth of an inch for the paint shops involved,” he comments. “When we design complex schemes, we will design and cut the complex paint masks required to accurately replicate the design on the aircraft, which helps the paint company’s applicators enormously. All they have to do is apply the mask to the aircraft and paint. We also have a strong relationship with the best airbrush artist in the world, and we fly him all over to do complex airbrush work, ensuring the best possible job for the client,” he says.

Barnett likens his approach to that of a fashion design house, setting many of the trends that the market is going to want in the year ahead. “When we work for manufacturers, they want the aircraft to have general mass appeal – it will set the trend for what many people want to do with their own aircraft,” he notes.

Other clients do not want to follow any trend. “They phone up and describe how everything in their life is unique and interesting, and for those clients, we will do a design that is very personal. In some cases it is so unique that it virtually only has appeal to that individual aircraft owner, and that owner will come back to us for the paint design on his next jet and the one after that. We build long-term relationships,” he explains.

So how does the paint manufacturer help a design house like Barnett’s? “We have worked very closely with Sherwin-Williams Aerospace for almost all of the 18 years that we have been in business. I had no idea when I started out designing who even made aviation paints. However, the paint shop I worked with on my first job was a Sherwin-Williams user. They put me in touch with their distributor, a New Jersey-based company, and they led me to Sherwin-Williams Aerospace. Since then, I have never failed to be impressed by the level of support that Sherwin-Williams provide for even the smallest project,” Barnett comments.

This kind of support is invaluable for a designer, particularly when they get a client that has a very specific colour requirement and are accustomed to getting exactly what they want in their lives, whoever they are dealing with. “Business jet owners are used to a level of service and a degree of detail that is without compromise. If they say they want a particular colour to be matched, be it the colour of their favourite car or their beloved pet dog, that’s the colour they want,” Barnett says.

He recalled the case of an owner of a Piper Aztec that Scheme Designers worked on for a family. “The aircraft was 30 years old, and was purchased new by the father. He had earlier bought a Corvette in special anniversary colours. They sent the fuel cap of the Corvette to us, and Sherwin-Williams was able to match the colour directly from the example we provided. Now when you see the car and the aircraft on the ramp together, there is no doubt that they are from the same family!” Barnett comments.

Another instance was a client who wanted a yellow metallic paint but wasn’t sure what shade of yellow, exactly, he wanted. Sherwin-Williams Aerospace helped Barnett to solve this problem by providing him with 20 different versions of metallic yellow. “A lot of clients will look at a colour chart and be able to find exactly what they need. In fact many people are not particularly colour sensitive and cannot really distinguish between two shades next to each other on the chart. Others have a very precise idea of the colour they want, even if they cannot show you an instance of it. Then we have to work to find objects in the real world, whether it is a scrap of cloth or a piece of leather, that comes closest to what they are looking for. There are millions of possible colour shades and only a few hundred in any colour chart. So colour support is the first thing that we want from the paint manufacturer,” he explains.

Sherwin-Williams Aerospace excels in the support they provide on this front, Barnett says. “We can send them anything and in a few days their labs will match the colour of the scrap we sent, and will send out a real sprayed sample or multiple samples to us and to the client, allowing the client see if that really is the colour they are seeking. They do not charge for this. It is a pure support service, and it is hard to overstate how important this is to us. In some cases, getting that exact match is a make or break element in the design process,” he notes.

Another dimension to the support provided by the manufacturer is on the paint shop side. “I might have a special project, or a particularly discerning client, and I will phone Sherwin-Williams and ask if they can provide a technical expert to spray the job out in the paint shop for the client. It might be an aircraft being done up for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, for example, where the aircraft is going to attract a lot of attention from a very knowledgeable audience. Every time I make a request like this, Sherwin-Williams has put someone on an aircraft and flown them to the paint shop concerned and put them up in a hotel for the duration of the job. I don’t have to pay any money to get this done. It is purely a support service, and that is a level of support from the manufacturer that you simply do not get in any other industry sector,” Barnett concludes.