I first went to Surfex in 1994 with my industrial supervisor Len Wilby to help source specialist chemicals and find out more about the latest innovations, as part of my inks and coatings PhD. It was an incredible source for new ideas, processes and innovations particularly on additives compatible with UV curing. At the time it was quite unusual to have such an industrially focused PhD. Thankfully, that has changed with academia and industry now working much closer together – although there is of course always room for greater collaboration.
I was blown away by just how many people were at Surfex and the rich variety of technical information and products on show. So much so, that I found myself going to every Surfex throughout my studies, manned a stand as part of my first industry role at the Paint Research Association and then started exhibiting as a recruiter. Throughout my time I’ve found it an incredible place to meet candidates and clients being, as it remains, the number one event in the paints and coatings calendar. It was at Surfex that I first came across the Oil and Colour Chemists’ Association (OCCA), whom I’ve now been privileged enough to become a council member of and who operate Surfex on behalf of the paints and coatings industry.
Joining the Surfex board and taking on the role of Surfex MD
I’d seen Surfex in its absolute golden years and then watched as it gradually lost its focus in the late 90s and early 2000s. I was, and remain, extremely passionate about the event and felt strongly that it could be improved upon. Never one to hold my tongue, I spoke to the organisers who asked me to join the Surfex board in 2001. As a newbie, I set to work learning the ropes, understanding how the event was run and what the exhibitors and attendees were looking for from us.
In 2020 I took over as Surfex MD from Richard Gilkes, MD of Stort Chemicals, just in time for Covid-19! Richard’s final Surfex was cancelled and my first rescheduled event in 2021 was also cancelled, so we’ve designed 2022 to be one of the best yet. Thankfully, we’ve maintained nearly all the booked stands, which is testament to what a highly regarded event Surfex really is.
What to expect from Surfex 2022!
For 2022 I’ve pushed hard for top quality technical sessions, ensuring there’s something for everyone. We have industry leaders providing a technical focus, The British Coatings Federation (BCF) covering all the regulatory elements, including the transition to British REACH and universities, including Cambridge, Oxford, Birmingham, Durham & UCL discussing cutting-edge science and the latest research grants. I’m pleased to say that it doesn’t matter what area of paints and coatings you operate in there will be something for you.
The TechFocus seminars are also a real boost for exhibitors to promote their latest innovative products. They have had to wait four years for this event and we know that the attending profile will be formulators and technical managers – the people they really want to talk to.
Encouraging greater collaboration between academia and industry is a key focus of Surfex 2022. The Cutting Edge seminars will see top universities provide details on new funding opportunities as well as the latest research into how we can make chemicals and chemical production a lot more sustainable and cost-effective going forward. This is incredibly important for an industry that in the past, rightly or wrongly, has been criticised for being too slow to innovate.
One of the seminars I’ve worked closely on is the collaboration with the Royal Society of Chemistry- Surface Coatings Group as part of the Surfacing Science presentations. OCCA, BSI and the Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre will be presenting on a range of topics.
We’ve also concentrated on building partnerships in Industry Insight, so as well as the BCF and organisers OCCA we have BASA discussing sustainability and regulatory changes and the Chemical Business Association who will be focusing on logistics challenges.
The OCCA Surfex Charity Dinner
It’s not all business and technology, however, the Surfex charity dinner run by Ann-Marie Etherington is a fantastic event in its own right. Open to exhibitors and attendees, it’s a night of incredible food, entertainment, parlour games, dancing and above all fantastic company. For those on a stand, it’s a really good opportunity to meet other exhibitors and customers, as when the show starts it’s really difficult to get out there and find out what else is going on. The dinner also raises a huge amount of money for some incredible organisations including British Heart Foundation, Kidscan, Breast Unit and Alzheimer’s Society.
I’ve been going to Surfex for so long now that it’s a bit like going home to meet your family for Christmas, with the difference being that you also get the time to find out about some really impressive tech and innovations. As an industry, paints and coatings is really pushing the boundaries of what is possible, and the show provides a fantastic showcase for the very best we have to offer. I’d encourage everyone, no matter what stage they are at with their career to attend and I look forward to seeing a lot of you there at the event.
Surfex 2022 takes place at the Coventry Building Society Arena from 7 to 8 June to find out more, register as a delegate or discuss exhibition options visit www.surfex.co.uk, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01892 518877.
Dr Laura Merritt is an experienced recruiter and qualified chemist. Her PhD specialised in UV curing, photochemistry and polymer chemistry. Dr Merritt is the founder of Merritt Recruitment, a council member of the Oil & Colour Chemists’ Association, secretary of the Royal Society of Chemistry - Coatings Group and managing director of Surfex.
To connect with Laura on LinkedIn visit: www.linkedin.com/in/drlauramerritt/. A full list of the latest jobs in the chemistry industry and details of how to apply can be found here: www.merrittrecruitment.com/jobs.