At the risk of sounding complacent (which I can assure you is not the case), I have always maintained that the growth of our coatings industry is on a robust path, even if we look at the simple organic path. The underlying segments like construction, automotive and infrastructure (never mind transient slow-down effects, or short-term impacts due to external factors) are always going to support and fuel its growth, at least over the next 5 to 10 years, with a double-digit growth nearly secured. Build on to this, layers of inorganic growth due to newer opportunities (think smart cities, export prospects, new applications, et al) and the picture looks even better.
While there are many things to feel happy about in such situations, the challenge with such bountiful times is that the entire focus tends to go into production and sales-related compulsions. Not bad if you ask the finance guys, but in a larger sense is fraught with a hidden danger that could come to haunt the industry. I have spoken about this in the context of a lack of focus on R&D efforts, and the consequent lack of innovation and value-addition in our Industry. While maintaining and reinforcing this concern, I extend this to another factor that could have an even more telling impact. Legislations and regulations, especially in the Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) context, are something where our country in general, and also Industry in particular, have remained behind the game for various reasons. Given that it is a matter of time before these come into play, either due to the realisation of hazards, pressure from government and non-governmental organisations and the increasing global harmonisation of these standards, we are sitting on a ticking time-bomb. Ignorance and indifference to these are akin to the proverbial cat shutting its eyes and assuming that nobody can see it, just because it cannot see anything around it.
The implications of this imminent arrival of legislations and regulations in this manner are a very stringent, dramatic and quick need for businesses and industries to turn around and adapt to these to ensure compliance. This is unlike the West where the early realisation allows for a phased and gradual implementation of the same, which obviously makes for a more planned and sustainable transition.
Given that we are fundamentally an extension of the chemical industry, and that the adverse effects of synthetic chemistry are only now being understood and examined, these are bound to intensify. The possible carcinogenic effect of titanium dioxide (without verifying the veracity of this finding as of now) is a classic example of something that could become a reality, without it ever being considered by anyone hitherto.
We cannot hide behind any excuses or garbs to remain ignorant and non-compliant. We must engage more with our peers from other industries and geographies, as also the scientific community, to rise and be ready whenever the occasion demands. This is what will shape the future of our chemical industry in times to come, and this rings true for our coatings industry too. This is something that will be ignored at one's own peril.