Mathematicians help Rust-Oleum with paint problem

Rust-Oleum had a problem. When the paint and coatings manufacturer sent paints by container ship to far-off markets like Indonesia or Australia, the paint could settle and harden in transit, rendering it unusable and resulting in lost profits.

Dennis Lay, Rust-Oleum’s head of research and development, turned to UWM’s industrial mathematics program for help. Mathematics Professors Bruce Wade and Lei Wang, alongside Wade’s graduate student, Emmanuel Asante-Asamani, learned the paint’s chemistry. Then they built a mathematical model to attack the paint-settling issue.

The apparent culprit: high temperatures inside the containers.

“We formulated a system of differential equations that were based mostly on fluid mechanics,” says Asante-Asamani, “and we had to customize those equations to the specific problem of sedimentation.”

They tweaked the model by controlling for variables like the rocking of the waves or the vibration of the ship’s engine, and that helped pinpoint the problematic high temps.

“There were some really extreme temperatures when the shipping containers were in dock,” Wade says. “It was getting to 110, 120 degrees.

“When the [paint] polymers get damaged or the temperature affects their performance,” he continues, “paint can settle and make chemical bonds that can’t be broken.”

Lay says Rust-Oleum plans to use UWM’s findings to experiment on the paint formula. In the meantime, he’s grateful for the collaboration with the university.

“It was a great group of people,” Lay says, “and I came away impressed with everything that they did. It was very supportive to have those guys working with us.”