5 Proven Strategies To Boost Your Powder Coating Success

oven and booth

Maximize Your Effectiveness & Profits

Are you looking to get the most out of your powder coating operation? Improving the effectiveness of your personnel and the efficiency of your processes will help you maximize profitability. Fortunately, there are a few simple strategies you can implement to quickly get better results from your powder coating department. In this article, we share 5 proven tips for boosting your powder coating success. 

booth and oven

1- Focus On Powder Coating Training And Skill Development

One of the top things finishing department managers can do to improve their results is focus on training and skill development for their employees.

Powder coating shops who take in outside work (like shops that do custom wheels or cycle frames) employ skilled coaters because their business success is linked to the quality of their coaters’ work. You won’t always encounter quality finish work at small manufacturing facilities, welding/job shops, and other industrial powder coating settings. Unlike with coating shops, finish quality isn’t in the spotlight because it isn’t the main source of income. As a result, there can be a costly lack of interest in coating quality and process efficiency. This is often tied to an environment where coating skill, maintenance thoroughness, and process improvement are undervalued.

Without proper training, employees may never fully master the operation of powder coating guns or other equipment–which leads to disappointing results. Unless there is an objective measurement of just how effective a company’s in-house coating efforts really are, it is challenging to correct all but the most obvious issues. Many companies can benefit dramatically from investing in programs for their employees that include performance evaluations and training on the equipment they use daily. 

We strongly suggest training on your own equipment rather than sending coaters to “how to” seminars hosted by equipment salespeople or professional organizations. With equipment sales companies, the classes are often no more than sales hype with little hands-on learning. With industry organizations, the material can become so technical and boring that your workers won’t absorb much. Whether you use a company like Reliant Finishing Systems or a well-vetted consultant, there is real value in having your coaters’ skills reviewed and improved using the coating equipment at your facility. 

It’s also important to invest in training your employees about workflow improvement methods and safety protocols related to your coating processes. By investing in skill development and operational training, a company can improve the overall quality of their powder coated finishes, minimize waste, improve throughput, and reduce the likelihood of accidents and errors. By ensuring that their employees are knowledgeable enough to have meaningful interactions with powder, chemistry, and equipment suppliers, a company can also make sure they aren’t being taken advantage of by their vendors. 

Although often overlooked, investing in employee training and skill development is a critical step towards achieving next-level success with your powder coating operation. Routine training sessions can help keep employees updated on the latest industry trends and techniques, as well as emerging products and equipment. By prioritizing the ongoing development of your coating line employees, you can improve their performance and help your company achieve higher levels of customer satisfaction. 

powder coating training

2- Proper Surface Preparation Is Key

When it comes to achieving great results from your powder coating operation, surface preparation is a critical step that can make or break your success. It is the number one cause of finish quality complaints. Although we discuss it in article after article, it is amazing how many shops still have finish defects that can be traced to poor parts preparation prior to coating. It is absolutely critical that your parts are properly cleaned and prepared before powder coating if you want a durable and long-lasting finish.

First, you need to make sure that your workpieces are free of any oil, grease, rust, or other contaminants that can affect the adhesion of the powder coating. To do this, you need to have  employees who will honestly evaluate the condition of the parts they are working with. Using only a chemical cleaner on a part that needs blasting or grinding is a waste of time and money. You need to have the equipment and supplies on-hand to get your parts prepped for powder coating, and workers who will make sure the parts are treated with the appropriate processes.

Whether you use abrasive media blasting,  industrial detergents, chemical cleaning agents, or more advanced pretreatment with conversion coatings, adequately preparing your parts will save you time and money down the line. After cleaning, it’s important to ensure that your workpieces are completely dry before proceeding with the powder coating process. In shops with low throughput requirements, coaters may use a powder curing oven to speed up the drying process. In most other shops, a dedicated drying oven is used.

To get the best results after surface preparation, you need to store and coat the parts in a clean and dust-free environment. This is where an environmental room can be useful. It is designed to provide a controlled environment where you can stage parts waiting to be coated, then spray them in your powder coating booth without worrying about dust and debris from your shop causing problems. Although considered by many to be a “luxury item,” an environmental room can easily pay for itself if your coating department is being negatively impacted by nearby processes such as grinding, sanding, and welding. 

By devoting extra resources to proper surface preparation, you can help assure that your powder coating adheres properly and provides a durable finish. Don’t skip this crucial step if you want to achieve great coating results.

3- Develop A Repeatable Coating Process

Once you’ve established a training program and worked through the various surface preparation protocols your employees may encounter, the next step in boosting your powder coating success is to develop and refine a truly repeatable coating process. Consistency is the key to achieving a high-quality finish every time, but many talented coaters don’t do things in a consistent manner. Because of their higher skill level, they can still get great results. But, in an unstructured environment, less skilled employees end up getting frustrated and leaving or they fail to improve because they have been left to flounder. 

To have an environment where everyone can thrive, you need to start by developing standard operating procedures (SOPs) that cover everything related to your coating operation. The fewer things you leave to chance, the better your consistency will be and the fewer rejects you’ll have to deal with. Before you can develop intelligent SOPs, you must have a nuanced understanding of what’s going on in your finishing department. 

One way to get that knowledge is to develop log books that help you identify and track who is doing what and for how long. After only a few weeks, you can usually see patterns emerging that can help you determine what makes some coating situations winners while others are losers. You want to put procedures in place that help assure your success by making every job a winner. 

You should have SOPs that cover everything from powder storage rules to powder gun settings to powder booth filter maintenance routines to mil thickness testing to optimized cure times to quality control inspection techniques. Each employee involved in the powder coating process should be trained on the SOPs and held accountable for following them. Regularly reviewing and refining your coating operation can help identify areas for improvement and keep everyone aligned with the goal of producing the best possible results.

equipment log book

4- Implement Effective Quality Control Measures

Another strategy for maximizing success with your powder coating operation involves implementing effective quality control measures. Without proper quality control measures, your finished products may not meet required standards, resulting in expensive reworks or customer dissatisfaction. Even if they are deemed acceptable by the customer, delivering parts with inconsistent finishes doesn’t instill confidence in your buyers. This is especially true when dealing with consumer products where your parts may be seen by thousands of people thanks to a single post on social media.

Quality control measures should be incorporated throughout the entire powder coating process, starting with inspection of the substrate before any coating is applied. This inspection step includes checking for contamination issues and imperfections in the surface that may impact the adhesion of the powder coating. Based on this inspection, the appropriate parts preparation should be undertaken, then the parts should be inspected again immediately prior to being powder coated. 

It’s also important to implement rigorous checks during the powder coating process itself. This may include checking and adjusting powder application guns, measuring the thickness of the applied coating to ensure it meets the required specifications, monitoring the cleanliness and overall condition of the powder booth’s exhaust filters, and regularly checking the quality of the powder coatings being sprayed.

Once the coating has been cured, the finished product should be carefully inspected to confirm there are no defects or issues with the final coating. This step includes checking for consistency of the finish, evaluating any blemishes or spots, and verifying that masking and plugs were removed correctly.

Implementing effective quality control measures not only helps guarantee the finished product meets the required specifications, but it can also help to identify recurring finish quality issues and/or areas for improvement to the coating process itself. This allows you to continually improve and refine your coating processes, resulting in better quality finishes and more consistent coating results over time.

measuring coating

5- Invest in Professional Quality Finishing Equipment & Materials

For industrial powder coating applications, professional quality equipment and materials are essential to success. By selecting high-quality equipment from established national manufacturers and pairing it with name brand blast media, pretreatment chemicals, and powder coatings, you can help guarantee the quality of your powder coating work and generate better results for you and your clients. 

Whether you’re buying finishing equipment for the first time or you’re an experienced coater and your existing system isn’t giving you the results you need, use caution when buying new equipment. The market has become flooded with look-alike products offered by small online stores that cater to hobbyists and start-ups but also sell upmarket to larger legitimate businesses. They may offer powder guns that look like Gema or Wagner but are actually cheap Asian imports. They may also have booths and ovens that resemble products built by Reliant, Global, Rapid, or other established brands, but don’t have the same quality components, tech support, or warranty coverage. These products are often underpowered, poorly designed, and come with little or no support after the sale. There’s also a glut of used products on the market, especially since 2020. Regardless of price, it’s common to hear used powder coating equipment referred to as “someone else’s problem.” You don’t want it.

It’s important to find a trustworthy equipment supplier that you’re comfortable with. You should consider factors such as product durability, ease of use, warranty, brand reputation, and compatibility with your specific coating needs. Request references and check up on several of them before paying a deposit. Always get a written agreement that defines the scope of work, the lead time, the payment terms, and the warranty.

Along the same lines, learn about the products that are on the market. You should get to know multiple powder and chemistry reps and get their advice about what products are likely to work best for your particular application. Sometimes, the most economical solutions don’t involve the cheapest materials. If a $10-a-pound powder gives you 3X the coverage of a $5-a-pound powder because it has less inert material, the applied cost is going to be less, even though the purchase price is higher. The same concepts apply to reusable blasting media, pretreatment chemicals, booth filters, etc. 

Well-engineered new powder coating equipment may come with a heftier price tag, but the investment will ultimately pay off in the form of increased fuel efficiency, greater equipment longevity, improved throughput, and better workflow. When used with well-made equipment in a properly managed coating environment, premium quality powder and expendables help assure consistent coating results while maximizing the effectiveness of your personnel and reducing your total operating costs. 

The Path Forward

This isn’t a one-off effort but an ongoing journey towards excellence, requiring continuous learning and adaptation. By investing in your people, processes, and equipment, the return will show in superior finish quality, higher customer satisfaction, and improved profitability.

The road to enhanced efficiency and profitability may seem challenging, but the rewards are substantial. As you embrace these best practices, you’ll see your powder coating operation’s overall effectiveness soar, bolstering your bottom line and fostering a culture of excellence.