The invention of paint protection film revolutionized the auto industry. Like many inventions, the origin story for PPF begins not within the automotive industry, but within another industry entirely.
So how did this protective technology make its way from military research labs to the cars of thousands of consumers? In this article, we’re discussing the fascinating history of PPF and how an invention intended for military use transformed the world of car paint forever.
Like many technological breakthroughs of the 20th century, paint protection film got its start with the United States military and owes its meteoric rise in part to the proliferation of the helicopter.
At the time of the Vietnam War, helicopters were changing the face of modern warfare. Production was in full-boom, as these agile machines proved to be an invaluable offensive tool for navigating the waterways and island-like terrain of southeast Asia.
However, the sands and debris of the war-torn country’s beaches started to take a toll on the fragile helicopter rotor blades. Scratches and nicks in the blades caused malfunctions, but the helicopter blades themselves were expensive and time-consuming to replace. The military’s only hope was to call on product developers for a solution.
To solve this problem, researchers developed a thermoplastic urethane to cover the blades. Originally called “helicopter tape”, this initial blade protection film was far less complex than the automotive paint protection films of today. The original formulation was thicker, in order to protect the blades from serious debris, not the minor road-side pebbles that we are familiar with on the highway.
This blade protection technology was also far less complex. It was designed to protect the long, uniform helicopter blades, and thus did not need intricate cutouts to fit curves or concave recesses like the cars of today. Less conformity and flexibility was needed, making the original helicopter tape much more simple.
The new materials that allowed for this breakthrough — urethane — was exactly right for delivering uniform coverage to the helicopter propeller, allowing for easy installation and outstanding strength. When sand and debris hit the protected blades, only the coating was damaged and was easily replaced, giving the rotors a much longer lifecycle than those without the film. Military contractors started to expand the uses of the new urethane tape, applying it to a variety of aircraft. Today, this PPF technology is still in use in the aviation industry.
After the development of PPF technology for the military, the automotive industry wanted to get their hands on this protective coating technology. Here’s how paint protection film made its way to the world of cars.
Use in Racing
Racecar drivers and their teams were the first to get their hands on the new PPF technology. They saw how urethane products protected aircraft and thought they could modify a version to protect their expensive race cars from similar damage.
In making its transition to the world of racing, the original thermoplastic urethane had to undergo several changes. It was developed to withstand thinner and thinner applications while maintaining levels of protection. This allowed the urethane coating to better conform to the front of a vehicle.
The original film’s thickness was changed from 8mm down to a mere 5mm, which also made installation easier. After these alterations, more and more racers started adopting this technology in order to protect their cars while on the track.
Transition to Consumer Vehicles
Eventually, PPF evolved into its modern-day form and transitioned to a consumer-driven market. Thinner, more flexible, and clear, modern PPF was the perfect solution to worsening road conditions and less garage space for many car-owners.
Modern-day PPF delivers the same level of protection as its ancestral form but now offers several new features, including superior stain resistance, non-porous surface texture, and bubble-free application. Additional breakthroughs in PPF technology allow for multi-layer applications and self-healing properties that extended the time between reapplications.
Dealers and After-Market Body Shops
Car dealerships saw an opportunity for upselling when it came to PPF. As application areas grew larger, manufacturers focused on creating more and more cut patterns for the majority of vehicles on the market. Eventually, PPF technology was developed for application to boats, RVs, trucks, and more.
As the applications for PPF grow, consumer demand grows along with it. More and more people want to protect their car’s resale value and understand that PPF makes the most sense when it comes to the level of protection they want.
The rise in consumer awareness is a growing force in the PPF industry. This increase in demand continues to open up new points of sale for PPF across industries. A prime example of this is after-market body shops.
Today, new cars are not the only vehicles getting paint protection films installed. Used cars are a growing market segment for PPF, thanks to the return on investment that many consumers are seeing after installation. PPF acts like an anti-aging treatment for a new car, freezing how a used car looks and ensuring protection against future damage. For this reason, many body shops have started to seek out PPF suppliers.
Better Protection for More Vehicles
The world of PPF is expanding beyond what it was just five years ago. From humble beginnings in the military, this technology has spread to the consumer realm and continues to pick up speed.
Protection of vehicle surfaces is also expanding to auto glass. Products like SharpShield are improving the durability and visibility of car windshields with a unique, liquid coating. By smoothing out microscopic surface imperfections in the glass, drivers can achieve a better field of vision and reduce night-vision glare, which creates a safer overall driving experience.
The world of PPF is continually evolving. From its military roots to the future of car protection, the PPF industry is going places, and taking dealers, body shops, and consumers along with it. By delivering the benefits that consumers love, the PPF industry is guaranteeing the future value of cars, making these products one to watch.