Improving on Perfection: R&D Leads 3M to Improve PPS Paint System with Detailed Upgrades

By Shawn Brereton

In today’s fast paced technological world, the word “update” has become daily vernacular. We are inundated by it. We get software updates, firmware updates, phone updates, app updates, service updates – this could go on forever, but you get the idea. Most of the time, you didn’t even want or ask for an update. A lot of times, you wished they had just left well enough alone, but when they get it right, you are pleasantly surprised by some new feature.

In August, we were invited to travel to Detroit for the Woodward Dream Cruise to cover the first ever 3M PPS World Cup Event in a celebration of classic car culture with Chip Foose! Ten painters from around the globe, who use 3M products, were invited to its paint training center to design and paint miniature car hoods to be displayed on Saturday during the Dream Cruise. The cool part was that not only were the painters diverse in geography, they were also diverse in industry background and experience. There were custom painters, production painters, and even collision shop painters.   

Here is the kicker . . . it was all a ruse! An elaborate, devious plan hatched by the marketing team at 3M to introduce us all (painters and media) to an upcoming upgrade to the Paint Preparation System (PPS). We’d been hoodwinked by one of the most innovative companies in the world. Sure, the PPS World Cup was real – the painter’s actually painted hoods, we actually got to go to Woodward, and meet Chip Foose – but the subterfuge was for us to experience the upgrade to the new system first-hand.

PAINTINGAnd you know what? Even though the painters didn’t ask for the update, they all seemed pleasantly surprised by the updates they didn’t even know they needed. They used the new product during their painting session.

Before we get into the specifics of the upgrade, a little background is in order. When 3M Division Scientist for the Automotive Aftermarket Division, and inventor of 3M PPS, Steve Joseph, first developed the PPS in 1996, he was looking for a way to streamline the entire paint process:  preparation, painting, cleaning, and even managing leftovers. This resulted in a 70 percent reduction in solvent use while shrinking prep time up to 50 percent.

PAINTGUNS

“The creation of 3M’s PPS addressed several articulated and unarticulated needs throughout auto body shops globally,” Joseph says. “It revolutionized the process by which the painter mixes and filters paint, basically eliminating the traditional spray gun reservoir. With the PPS, we were able to combine several of the mixing and paint transfer steps, thereby measurably reducing paint waste.”

Now with governments around the world increasingly mandating the use of waterborne paint systems because of its benefits to workers as well as the environment, the PPS plays a critical role in creating a cleaner shop environment. As with most waterborne systems, the water component of the paint interacts negatively with the traditional metal cup, which can lead to corrosion and a source for potential contamination. Since the PPS is made of plastic (cup, collar, disposable lid, and liner) it is ideal for waterborne systems. Also, because paint does not come into contact with the PPS cup and collar, only the spray gun channel and the PPS adapter require cleaning.

In the decade since its U.S. introduction in 2002, the 3M PPS has far exceeded its original intention of improving efficiency within automotive paint shops. This is that pleasant surprise we were talking about earlier.

Flash forward to 2017. 3M engineers have now spent the last 20 years in paint booths and PAINTING3mixing rooms around the world finding ways to continue to improve upon the paint process. This resulted in the next generation of the PPS (an upgrade if you will) – the 3M PPS Series 2.0 Spray Cup System.  

3M invested considerable time and effort understanding the challenges of traditional metal paint cup users and developing potential solutions.  The company assigned a dedicated team of experts to work alongside painters to better understand their challenges and invent a creative solution to address these challenges. Steve Joseph and the team spent three months in a body shop working alongside painters as part of the research process.  

The team identified three key areas for improvement – cleanliness, simplicity, and peace-of-mind. Based on what we saw during our day in the training center with the World Cup painters, they nailed it. The beauty of the upgrade is that it will be a virtually seamless transition for painters. They will still have 1.0 available for those who take a little longer to adopt the new system, but with the improvements they made, we don’t foresee anyone opting out.

What is so special about 2.0? Well, it is little things that add up to help the painter be more efficient, clean, and consistent. Here are the six key improvements and what the WC painters really liked about the system.

Wide Spout Adapter

WIDERADAPTER

The cup-to-gun spout adapter has been widened for a much more robust, solid feel. The four-point connection maximizes the stability and provides for easier cleaning.

“The way the lid locks into the adapter is my favorite thing,” says Carmine De Maria of C.A.D. Custom in Melbourne, Australia. “When you’re in a rush you know it is locked on. In the past when you used the big cup, it might rock a little bit and you think ‘is that going to fall off?’ I like the stability of the new lid and the way you know it’s locked in.”

Clay Hoberecht of Best Body Shop in Wichita, Kansas mentions “You know, I found the adapter much easier to clean, because it is wider and shorter. You don’t spend as much time making sure you got all of it.”

Quarter-Turn Lid Locking System

1:4TURN

There is no longer a separate collar required to hold the cup onto the lid. PPS 2.0 integrates a disposable quarter-turn lid locking system into each lid eliminating the chance of not tightening it enough or cross threading, something that most of the WC painters had experienced.

Jacob Miles of Milestone Paint and Body in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee says “On more than one occasion, I’ve put the gun in the paint booth and gone to get everything else ready, then come back and there is paint dripping down everywhere.”

New Cup in Every Lid and Liner Kit

Each lid and liner kit box contains a new hard outer cup, something all the WC painters really liked. No longer would they have to worry about dried paint chips flaking off of the collar or cup threads into their fresh paint. Everything is all in one unit.

“The most important thing, I think, is that they’ll be sending new cups with every box,” says Justin Jimmo of Refinish Network out of Ontario, Canada. “Painters get so attached to tack cloths, rags, and everything. Cups are no different, so they don’t get changed and you end up with dirt in the paint. Now they just get everything new.”

Larger Cup Sealing Plug

A wider gun-to-cup adapter makes cleaning between jobs easier and a plug with a wider base has been incorporated to store the cups in case the painter uses that color often.

Shane Wanjon of Exclusive Image Paint and Body in Santa Clarita, California, expounds on Jimmo’s statement:  “Because I store paint all the time, I can go back to a paint I used before and found I’ve run out of lids, but I have a bunch of extra cups because I’m having to change the lids when they dry out. Now with the wider plug I can leave it upside down and use the same lid, I’ll have the same amount of lids as cups, which is nice.”

Domed Lid with Full-Diameter Filter

The 3M discovered that there was room for improvement when the paint level got low in the cup. The old lid is much shallower and narrow, which could sometimes lead to sputtering waiting for the paint to come through the filter, especially if a thicker paint is used. Now with the widened adapter to hold the cup on the gun, the engineers were able to design the 2.0 lid wider and domed allowing more paint below the filter while spraying, providing better flow and reducing the chance of sputtering when you’re getting low.

I really like that it has better flow now, it doesn’t start sputtering before you are actually out of paint,” says South Florida’s Connie Manjavinos of Girls Behind the Gun. “Sometimes on the old cup, when paint was low and you transitioned from vertical to horizontal, you could run out of paint in the neck very quickly, but the domed design lets more paint into the lid.”

Access Window/Measuring Scale

1:4TURN

The 2.0 cup has an access window, or cut-out, which will allow the painter to hold the liner for a cleaner, easier lid removal in case they need to add more tint. It also makes it easier to check the paint levels. Additionally, the measuring scale is now printed on the side of the cup, instead of the painter having to insert the scale between the cup and liner. All of the WC painters perked up when they talked about this feature.

Carl-Andre’ Giroux, an illustration artist from Quebec, Canada, mentions one of his favorite changes was the access window. “I like the hole in the cup where you can hold the liner if you have to remove the lid, which keeps you from accidentally pulling the liner out with the lid,” says Giroux.

Jacob Miles expands on Giroux’s thought that you don’t have to mess with the measuring scales anymore. “Those are little slip in see-through deals that goes in before the liner goes in, but if you spilled [previously] inside the cup, you’ve messed up your scale and can’t see it,” he says. Now you have a nice, new, clean scale that you can see every time. Now you’re looking down in it to see the ratio rather than trying to look through the outside, which was often dirty and hard to read.”

Conclusion

We asked ‘what is the number one thing that has changed as a result of using the new PPS 2.0 cup?’ The answer was unanimous:  It saves time. 3M engineers new they had a product that worked well, but they invested the time to study how painters were using the system to find out how they could make it work even better, all while making it familiar enough that it wouldn’t require retraining an entire industry. A very smart move on their part.

“At 3M, we are committed to constant innovation and applying new scientific solutions to our customers’ challenges,” says Steve Joseph.  “The evolution of the 3M PPS Series 2.0 Spray Cup System will turn the industry on its head with advanced performance, efficiency, and cleanliness.”

From the World Cup painters we spoke with in Detroit, and from what we saw with our own eyes, we think painters around the world will be pleasantly surprised with the improvements made and will quickly adopt the new 2.0 cup into their PPS system. This is one update that didn’t miss the mark and we can’t wait to try it out for ourselves.

About Shawn Brereton

Few are more passionate about the hot rodding scene than Shawn Brereton. The native of Syracuse, New York is a lifelong car enthusiast that appreciates all-things automotive. Shawn’s event coverage and car features have been published in a variety of print and digital publications. In addition to his in-house role at Xceleration Media, Shawn is the coordinator of the Memphis, Tennessee Gear Grinders Cruise and the proud owner of a ’55 Chevy and ’63 Oldsmobile.