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Customer Spotlight: Automated AG

Harvesting equipment from Automated AG, powder coated in Reliant equipment

This months’ Customer Spotlight features Automated AG out of Lake Moses, WA. Family-owned and operated by Kelly and JJ Dagorret, Automated AG specializes in unique and innovative harvesting solutions for the agricultural industry. Automated AG’s decision to bring powder coating in-house has been so successful it launched a new division of the company, Bandit Coatings, which offers powder coating services and is operated by Kelly and JJ’s son, JP Dagorret. We got a chance to speak with Kelly and ask her how Reliant has helped improve her company’s offerings.

Q: Hi, Kelly! First off, can you tell me a little bit about your business and what you do?

A: We’re an OEM equipment manufacturer for the ag industry. We build harvester platforms, various harvest products, watermelon harvesters, bin carriers and trailers – anything really for ag.

Q: How did you guys get started powder coating?

A: Well, we had a vendor who was our powder coat source and we were taking everything to him. In the beginning it was convenient, it was right across the street from our shop. Then we changed location, bought a facility and logistics got in the way, timing got in the way. We thought that it would be huge cost savings to go ahead and purchase our own system, and so we did.

Q: What’s your day to day powder coating process like? What do you do on a daily basis with your products?

A: Everything gets 100% sandblasted and then we rack it, put it in our first oven for our preheat. We have everything on a rail, and once it preheats to the temperature we want it preheated to, we put it in our spray booth, shoot it and then we can roll it back into our preheat oven or roll it forward into our other oven to cook it and cure it, depending on how much product we’re trying to get through the oven in any given day.

Q: So what made you decide to choose Reliant as your powder coating equipment vendor?

A: That would be my husband JJ, he was the one that was doing a lot of the research and looking at different options. Reliant was the best fit for us as far as being able to accommodate oven size. If we needed to go bigger, we can always add-on pieces to make our oven and our system bigger as needed. Everybody we worked with was just amazing. JJ looked into it, I want to say a couple of years ago, and Reliant was who he remembered dealing with.

Q: You guys had originally looked at this a couple years ago and dealing with Reliant was something that you remembered and was one of the factors that brought you back?

A: Yes. I think Kevin was who we dealt with on designing our system and getting everything priced out, getting our estimated delivery date, and then Aaron took over. Everybody that we’ve dealt at Reliant was super friendly, super helpful. Even the guys when they came to install the ovens, it was just a good experience all the way around. And it’s a quality product. JJ did his research, making sure what he was looking at and what we were looking at investing into this to make sure we were getting a good quality product.

Excellent, that’s what we like to hear!

Q: So I think this is going to be a pretty positive question for you: How has Reliant’s equipment and support staff helped your business grow?

A: We are now doing outside [powder coating] work. We originally just purchased this to do our own equipment. We’ve since gotten everything down to where we’re very efficient and so we had time slots available to do outside work. We paid for our system by doing the powder coating 100% ourselves. The system is paid for. [Automated AG installed their powder coating system a little more than 12 months prior to this Customer Spotlight interview.]

Q: So you’ve seen a significant ROI then?

A: Oh yeah. Just the time savings alone and the logistics of transporting all of our product over to a powder coat shop, being able to pick and choose what we wanted to do. If our guys in the shop needed something sooner, we are able to accommodate them and get everything coated whenever they need it. Huge time savings, huge cost savings.

We were spending about twenty four hundred dollars per machine to get it powder coated and now we’re able to do it around three hundred dollars per machine, so huge cost savings. Big numbers when you put out over 100 machines per year.

Q: What advice would you give someone who is looking at powder coating to do their business?

A: Do your homework, make sure you get the oven size that you need and make sure you have room for growth because there’s always an opportunity for expansion for any business.

Q: What’s your biggest success story with your business?

A: Our biggest success story is we’re able to put out quality products in a timely manner. Being able to get a quality control on our own powder coating has helped immensely. We can do a reshoot if we need to, we can do a color change if we need to.

Q: Let me follow up on that – When you talk about your own quality control, how long was it taking you when you had to send it out to someone else versus how much time you’re saving now in-house?

A: We were having turnaround time anywhere from one week to a month. If there was an issue with the coating, by the time we got the product we needed it. It would either be shipping issues, or there were light spots, or there were missed spots – but by the time we got it, we needed it on our assembly line and we had to send the product out.

Now we can catch it. If it comes out of the oven and we see a light spot, we reshoot, throw it back in the oven for a little bit and we’re good to go. If the guys missed a weld, we can tape it off and go ahead and reshoot that area and get the same quality coating as the rest of the machine.

So it’s a huge, huge savings in us being able to do that quality control. Same thing when we do products for other customers. We can make sure that the product we’re sending out is a quality that we stand behind, because everything we do is top quality.

Q: And you were having these quality control and delivery issues even though you said your source was originally just across the street?

A: Yes. He would do a chassis, but there’s wheels, top bars, extensions, various different components included in that chassis. So he would shoot them whenever he had the time or we would call him and say “hey can you run a couple of these for us because we need to start throwing them on a machine.” So we were always chasing components, always chasing parts. Now, we shoot everything in a large batch. And so we’re able to, even with our manufacturing process, create more of the same item, powder coat it, have it sitting on the shelf and ready for our assembly team whenever they need it. We’re not chasing anything anymore.

Q: That’s it from me, is there anything you’d like to add?

A: I will tell you this, any time we do shop tours – we have a lot of visitors from all over the world that come through: local people, growers, producers, what have you for the fruit industry – we always make sure to bring them into our powder coat shop. This is something that we’re very proud of. We always make sure to show people our powder coating.

Thanks again to Kelly Dagorret from Automated AG for taking the time to talk to us. For even more examples of their high-quality work, be sure to check them out on Facebook, on Instagram and at their site, Automatedag.com. If you are looking for powder coating services in and around the Lake Moses, WA are, please contact JP Dagorret at Bandit Coatings.

Powder Coating Gun Application Issues – Powder Surge

One of the most asked questions during my training sessions is,” How do I keep powder from surging out of the gun?”

First, let’s talk about how the two most common types of manual powder guns work and what you should be looking for to prevent powder surges.

Box-Fed Powder Guns

How it works: When you use a box-fed powder gun, you set your box of powder onto the vibrating pad and insert the pick-up tube into the box. The pick-up tube releases a small amount of air near the tip to help fluff the powder so it can be easily transferred to the gun. The pick-up tube works with the vibrating pad to aerate the powder and keep it from clumping together.

What to look for: When properly adjusted, the powder should have a small volcano appearance around the spot where the pick-up tube goes into the box. There should not be enough pressure to shoot powder out of the box, but enough to keep the powder in a loose state and provide a consistent, smooth flow of powder to the powder gun.

Hopper-Fed Powder Guns

How it works: Hopper feed systems typically use a cylindrical stand-alone hopper container that you pour the powder into and close the lid. Air is supplied to the hopper, and the compressed air bubbles up through very small holes in a membrane located at the bottom of the hopper.

What to look for: When properly adjusted, the powder should look like boiling water when you peek in the container. If you stick your fingers into the powder, it should feel like silky smooth baby powder.

(For more information on the differences between manual box-fed and hopper-fed guns, check out my earlier article here.)

Top Five Reasons for Powder Gun Surging

1)  Too Little Air

It’s possible that not enough compressed air is being supplied to the hopper bottom or the pick-up tube tip. The air supply may have been disconnected or the line may be obstructed, but usually the problem is due to the gun not being properly adjusted. 

How to Troubleshoot: There is a small adjustment nut on the side of the unit that regulates the air flow going to the hopper bottom or tube tip. Adjust the nut up and down so that you get the effect described above (boiling water for hopper-fed or small volcano effect for box-fed). Remember, different powders have different densities, so you may have to turn it up a bit when using white primer powders or down a little when spraying something like red gloss topcoat powders.

Also, check your air supply and make sure you have a consistent 60-80 pounds of dry shop air going to the powder unit. If the air pressure is jumping up and down – perhaps because you have multiple pieces of equipment using the same compressor – consider installing a dedicated compressor for your finishing process.

2) Humidity

Moisture may be preventing the powder from flowing smoothly. If you have a box-feed system, bringing a fresh box of powder from an air-conditioned storage room to the hot, humid, plant environment can cause problems. You will get humidity condensation on the inside of the box. This makes the powder very difficult to fluff and it won’t be properly picked up by the tube, making it much more likely to surge. You can also have problems if you warehouse your powder in a damp or hot/humid environment (like the corner of the shop). Over time, exposure to moisture will cause the powder to clump up into large chunks.

How to Troubleshoot: First, if you are storing your powder in the shop, move it. Use a clean, air-conditioned storage room to warehouse your powder. Bring a box of powder out about 2 hours before you need it, open the plastic bag, and let it acclimatize to the shop air before using.

3) Water or Oil In The Air Lines

Moisture in your compressed air lines can cause powder to clump. In addition to the problem described above, the situation gets even worse when the air supplied to the gun unit has oil or water in the lines. Since the air is going through the gun and touching the powder, water propelled through the gun will cause the gun to clog, sputter, and surge powder on to your parts. The compressed air can also contaminate the finish by bringing along any oil or contaminants it encounters as it travels through the air lines.

How to Troubleshoot: Be sure to have a good air dryer or a multi-stage air filtration system installed in the system prior to the gun, especially if your air lines usually carry moisture or oil.

4) Worn or Clogged Equipment

Parts of the powder unit can wear down due to the abrasive nature of powder and cause the gun to perform poorly. The first place to check is the venturi nozzle sleeve. This is a plastic sleeve that periodically needs replacement.

Check the venturi nozzle on your powder gun often for wear and replace when needed.

How to Troubleshoot: Check the venturi nozzle sleeve to see if the powder has cut grooves into it, or if the orifice has changed from round to oval. If either is true, replace the sleeve.

Powder can also start to stick to wear surfaces in the gun system, especially in hot environments. When powder sticks and hardens, it is due to something known as impact fusion. Normally, compressed air will clean out most areas in the powder unit, but not when impact fusion occurs.

How to Troubleshoot: Q-tips soaked in isopropyl or rubbing alcohol are the best tools for removing powder residue that has partially gelled due to impact fusion.

5) Improper gun settings for the hose or particle size of powder

An improperly adjusted gun can cause surging. Powder gun units have an adjustable ratio of powder to air that is supplied to the gun through the powder hose. If this ratio is off, powder surging can occur.

How to Troubleshoot: The first thing to try is to increase the amount of powder to air, which fill the powder hose and keep continuous powder moving. This will help with intermittent surging. Different powder systems have different adjustments for this, so consult your gun manual or talk to your powder supplier’s technical representative.

Some powders are heavier in density or larger in particle size. For example, white primer is more dense than a red gloss topcoat powder. If you get a big burp of powder when you first trigger the gun after switching colors but no more surging, you may need to reduce the amount of powder to air.

Remember to Maintain Your Change Logs

Every time you make a change to your powder settings, make sure you update your log book. When troubleshooting your process, only change one thing at a time and record the results. This can help you isolate the cause of the problem and more quickly diagnose problems in the future.

Need Any Help?

Reliant offers multiple services to help your finishing operation run smoothly – from troubleshooting to training, installation and more. Call us today.

Powder Coating Q&A: Touching Up Your Powder Coated Finish

Every month, we take a common question about powder coating and get an answer from our resident coating expert, Bruce Chirrey. If you have a question for Bruce, please send it to info@reliantfinishingsystems.com.

Question: Occasionally I rub or scratch the fresh powder coated finish off of a small section of a part by accident while working with it after it has been coated. Aside from buying touch up paint to match the color I chose, is it possible to make a spot filler from the powder I was using? Someone I work with suggested using some rubbing alcohol and maybe a spoonful of powder to make a slurry, then applying it with a paintbrush and letting the alcohol evaporate before rebaking. Will this work? Thoughts on this or do you have a better suggestion? The areas I want to fill can be as small as a 1/16” square.

Answer: Touch-up can be tricky with powder coating. The alcohol method can work but might give you an unexpected result. Applying powder to the primary visual surface by any method other than respraying can give a halo-effect, a shimmer, or an uneven surface that may draw attention to the touch-up rather than disguise the original defect.

My simple answer for touch-ups is if it can be recoated, go ahead and recoat the whole part but with much less powder than was applied during the original coating. That way you have a consistency of powder film all the way around the part and no weird surface inconsistencies. If you just put a little powder in a corner, that’s different than on the prime visual area of the part. I have done corner touch-ups with q-tips and small brushes without the alcohol by applying powder to a part after it has been heated, then rebaking it at curing temperature for a few minutes. If you use the alcohol method, make sure the alcohol is completely evaporated. Otherwise, the touch-up and surrounding area can wrinkle.  

Thanks, Bruce! If you’re having issues with your finishing results, please give us a call. Bruce and our other specialists can troubleshoot your process and help you get the best finishes possible. Contact us today.

If you are looking for more powder coating information – including tips and tricks, troubleshooting guides, and equipment maintenance schedules – check out our Resources page.

Essential Powder Coating Supplies by Industry – By Bruce Chirrey

All right. You have decided to start powder coating. For most of you, this is an exciting and scary time. With the purchase of the powder equipment and the arranging of where to put it, you probably haven’t had a lot of time to think about the small stuff. So this article will give you some basic supplies tips that will get you coating faster. There are also so industry specific supplies or requirements to consider, but that will be at the end of the article.

Basic Supplies

Some supplies are fairly self-explanatory. If you are blasting to clean your parts, you will need some sand, garnet, or shot to run through the machine. Don’t buy a lot at first of any specific brand or size because you might wind up switching materials after a week. Buying the minimum amount to test your cleaning process is usually the best idea. The same goes for pretreatment chemicals, if you plan to use them. Most suppliers of chemicals will sell you a small amount to try before you commit to a large order. Sometimes they will even provide small samples for free. It doesn’t hurt to ask for a free sample.

Powder Coated Parts On RackAfter you have decided how to clean your parts, you will need to hang them in order to transport powder coated parts from the powder booth to the oven with out rubbing the powder off. Racks can be purchased or home made depending on your metal fabrication skills. If you are buying or making, the most important part of a rack is the wheels. Make sure you have metal casters at the bottom of the rack, that can withstand 450 degree heat. Order or make enough racks that you have at least one rack per finishing step. One in blasting ready for loading, one in the powder booth, one in the oven, and one in cool down or in your off load area. You don’t need that many to start powder coating and you may want to test one or two rack set-ups before you commit to buying or making four or more.

While you are experimenting with your rack design, try some different hooks. Get some samples from hook manufacturers or make some hooks using some bar stock and a wire/pipe bender. Most manufacturers do not use the first type of hook they try. You want a hook that will not get in the way of the powder, that will support the part, and be conductive for a proper grounding of the part. Plan on replacing or cleaning hooks every 5-6 uses. The reason for that is to keep a good ground on the part so that the powder does not fall off easily when moved or when a draft of air hits a powdered part.

Air cleanliness is very important to powder coating. Make sure you have a good oil/water separator on your incoming air line to make sure the powder is clean before it hits your powder gun and the powder that is being applied to your parts. A dedicated compressor with an air drier is ideal, but a decent filter on your air line will stop moisture from hitting your powder.

Now that you have clean parts on racks, they are ready to be powder coated. Most new powder coaters start with polyester powder coating. Polyester powder is user friendly, durable inside and outside, fairly inexpensive (except for wild colors and effects), and cures in an oven reliably without a lot of fine tuning. All powder companies have standard color cards that you can order from that cover most industry colors. If you know exactly what powder you will be using, then get a weeks worth of production quantity at a time. Most powder companies have 2-3 days shipping times on standard colors.

Powder Coating GunsWhile you are ordering powder, don’t forget to get some extra booth filters. One set of the first layer of filtration should do, be they filter squares or blankets. The other filters like bag or HEPA filters should not wear out very fast and can be ordered when needed. Remember not to “blow out” dirty filters with compressed air. That will cause holes in the filters and allow powder to get to the secondary filters faster than it should. Although the booth will pull most of the powder into the filters, operator masks are still required. According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), Washington, powder coating workers must wear no less than what is called an “N95,” NIOSH-approved respirator (otherwise known as a dust mask).

Depending on the powder gun you have purchased, there will be different wear parts to keep on hand to keep you gun spraying properly. Powder pump(venturi) nozzles, gun tips, and extra hoses are the most common extra powder coating gun supplies to keep around. The nozzles are near the pick-up tube and are necessary to keep the powder flowing without surging. They are plastic, so powder will eventually wear them out by cutting into the side. If you see a groove being cut into a nozzle or if the nozzle starts to look oval in the middle, change it out. Gun tips typically don’t wear out, but operators do drop guns accidentally so it’s a good idea to have a spare or two. Hoses  can get holes, be run over, get cut, or be melted by a hot rack. I’d have a couple around just in case. Some folks keep an extra set of hoses for color changes.

Blast RoomsWhile you are in the powder booth area, there are a few other things that might be good to have around. Silicone plugs and high temperature tape will keep powder out of areas or off surfaces that you don’t want powder coating on. Bolt holes and friction surfaces are a couple of places you would want to keep powder away from. A box of cheap ear plugs are good to keep in the powder area. Safety-wise it’s a good idea to wear ear plugs in a noisy environment like a spray booth. Unused ear plugs are also great hose scrubbers for using between color changes. By using compressed air, you can shoot an earplug through a powder hose to “scrub” stubborn powder off of the interior hose walls.

Before you start moving racks in and out of the oven, you will want to invest in some high temperature gloves or mitts. 400 degrees F is pretty hot and will burn you if you don’t take precautions. Keep some high temperature grease close to grease the bearings of the fan in the oven.

mek-solution-for-powder-coating-testingAfter your parts have cooled down from being baked, it is a good idea to regularly check your finish to make sure it meets your quality standards. The easiest test is an MEK rub test. By getting some MEK and some q-tips, you can spot check your parts to see if you are getting enough cure. 20 double rubs will let you know if you have enough cure. Adhesion testing is also done fairly easy although you will want to check it on a scrap piece of metal instead of a part. Use a utility knife and some sticky tape to do a cross cut with about 5 cuts each way. Apply the tape to the cross cut and then pull up the tape. If any squares come up you need to look at your metal preparation or your cure. The final tool in a basic quality control box is a dry film thickness gauge. Be sure and get one that will measure steel and aluminum. Checking powder thickness is important for ensuring durability and to reduce unnecessary powder waste.

Those are the basic supplies or additions that every industry should think about incorporating in their process. Next up are some additional supplies or different materials that you might need for specific industries.

Architectural Aluminum

All architectural aluminum finishes will have to be pretreated with a Zirconium based pretreat and something to take off the oxidation of the aluminum. The powder used for extruded aluminum is usually of two different qualities. The first is Superdurable Polyester AAMA 2604 quality. This is what most architects will specify for the exterior of buildings. KYNAR® AAMA 2605 quality is the most durable exterior powder for powder, however, it is very specific on how the pretreatment must be applied. KYNAR® can only be applied over an automatic pretreatment system specially designed for these 10-30 year warranty finishes. Since the warranty is so extensive, an on-site boiling water test is usually added to the quality control daily checks. A color computer or unit is usually required because customers need verification that the parts produced will match other components done at different manufacturers.

Heavy Exterior Equipment

Heavy equipment suppliers usually will need upgraded exterior durable finishes. This starts in the pretreatment. While a one stage pressure wand may work in most cases, there may be additional steps depending on the end customers specifications. 3-5 stage systems may be needed to insure proper salt-spray requirements. A wash stage, rinse stage, phosphate (iron/zirconium/zinc) stage, rinse stage, and sealer stage is a common set-up. Additional testing like impact or salt spray are usually done on-site or by the powder suppliers lab.

Pipe

Powder coating industrial pipe is an interesting process since they usually heat the pipe to curing temperature and then spray or dip the pipe with powder. This uses a specific kind of powder called Fusion Bonded Epoxy powder. Since the pipe goes underground, the epoxy gives the best durability versus rust, chemicals, and moisture. However, if the pipe is exposed to the sun, polyester powder will have to be applied over the epoxy to keep the coating from degrading due to the UV rays.

Marine Equipment

Marine equipment like cranes on ships are the toughest environments for any coating to survive. Daily exposure to salt water and extreme temperature changes can wreck any finish. The pretreatment will have to be a 5-7 stage zinc phosphate system followed by a zinc-rich epoxy powder primer. Then a urethane topcoat will be applied to allow the best flexibility and UV resistance protection available. This is not a cheap system and will need regular salt spray and QUV testing by the manufacturer or their powder supplier.

Automotive

Automotive part manufacturers are usually grouped into under-hood part and exterior part suppliers. Under-hood parts are usually coated with epoxy powder due to the great chemical resistance epoxy provides. Since chemical resistance is so important, regular watch glass checks with hydraulic and brake fluid are not uncommon. Exterior parts are usually urethane or superdurable polyester powder. Gloss and color are very important for automotive manufacturers so daily gloss checks with a gloss meter and color checks from a color unit are usually required. Flexibility and dent resistance is also checked by having impact drop testing and a conical mandrel bend test.

Military

Military powder coating is fairly new. They have a two coat system usually starting with an epoxy powder primer and a CARC powder topcoat. CARC stands for chemical agent resistant coating. It is designed to be resistant to chemical warfare chemicals and also aids in the decontamination process if the vehicle is exposed. All the parts need to be pretreated with zirconium. A gloss meter is usually required to make sure the low gloss is within standard.

Summary

Developing your supplies list to tie into your powder process. Don’t be afraid to try different suppliers or qualities of each item. All of your supplies should contribute to a more efficient process and a quality finish. Try and compare each item apples to apples to see how much use you get out of it and if it helps your end customer. Keeping good notes on when you used an item and how much life you really got out of a particular spare part will guide you on keeping costs low and quality high.

Welcome to BoothsandOvens.com’s Tips & Tricks!

Every month or so we’ll talk about simple tips and tricks you can use to get the most out of your finishing equipment. Our kick-off article this month explains what equipment you’ll need if you want to start your own powder coating business.

The Basic Equipment

Whether you want to do one set of wheels at a time or thousands of parts per day, you will need a powder spray gun, a powder spray booth, and a powder curing oven. This equipment is essential if you want to get professional quality results.

The Powder Spray Gun uses compressed air to spray a cloud of powder onto the part. It applies an electrostatic charge to the powder, which causes the powder to stick to the part (because it is grounded). The powder is either stored in a metal hopper that is connected to the gun by a hose system, or a pick-up tube attached to the gun draws the powder directly from the box it was shipped in from the powder supplier.

These two types of guns are called Hopper-Fed Powder Spray Guns or Box-Fed Powder Spray Guns. A third type of powder spray gun is available. It draws powder from a small container attached directly to the gun body. This type of gun is called a “cup gun,” and is typically used only for hobby or laboratory applications. Gema, Nordson, and Wagner are all well-known manufacturers of professional quality powder spray guns.

Powder Spray Booth ConstructionThe Powder Spray Booth is a ventilated enclosure that keeps the powder cloud contained so it won’t get into the rest of the shop. The spray booth also gives the operator the lighting and air movement he needs to efficiently powder coat parts. The part being coated needs to be well lit. Air movement is important because it causes the cloud of sprayed powder to move away from the parts–allowing the painter to easily see what he is working on.

Booths are typically designed with an exhaust that pulls air out of the booth and passes it through a filter system. Booths usually have either a cartridge filtration system that uses pleated, tubular filters, or an array of disposable filters, known as a disposable filtration system. Booths with cartridge filters are more expensive, but the filters last for a long time. Booths that use disposable filters are much less expensive, but the operator has to replace the filters on a regular basis. This costs money and adds to down-time.

Either cartridge filters or disposable filters can be used on powder spray booths that have a spray-to-waste design. These booths are intended for situations where the powder that doesn’t stick to the parts will be discarded. Most small manufacturers, fabricators, and powder coating shops use these types of booths. If the coater wants to reuse the powder that did not stick to the parts, he will need to have a booth that features a powder reclamation system. These systems use cartridge filters and usually include a way to pump spent powder from a collection area to a device that reconditions the used powder and blends it with virgin powder. The blended powder is returned to the powder spray gun and applied to parts. Reliant Finishing Systems is a well-known manufacturer of powder spray booths.

Electric Powder coating OvensThe Powder Curing Oven heats parts after they are coated with powder. The powder that was sprayed onto them melts and flows together. This produces a resilient and uniform finish once it cools. Ovens suitable for use in a professional powder coating shop will typically have a maximum operating temperature of 450°F or higher. There are two main types of curing ovens, electric curing ovens and gas-fueled curing ovens. Electric ovens are usually smaller in size (typically 6’ x 6’ x 6’ or smaller) because of the extremely large circuit sizes needed to support electric ovens that are roomier. Gas-fueled ovens can be configured to operate on either LP gas or natural gas. They can be very large in size and are typically the most cost-effective ovens to operate.

A third type of powder curing oven exists that uses infrared emitters to heat the surface of the parts. They are known as IR curing ovens. These ovens are less common because they are very expensive and the infrared heating doesn’t work well with parts that have complex shapes (because the infrared rays cannot reach the entire surface of the part). Sometimes a group of infrared emitters are arranged so that they pre-heat parts before they enter a conventional oven, in order to shorten the total curing time needed.

Because the most common way for most shops to perform powder coating is to batch their tasks and coat multiple parts (or multiple jobs) all at the same time, the ovens used for this process are typically called batch ovens. In higher-volume production shops, the oven may be part of an automated coating line where a conveyor moves parts through the oven at a pre-set rate after they have been coated.

Improving Results with Pretreatment

Equipment that helps you clean off dirt, rust, grease, oils and old paint before you apply a powder coated finish is called Pretreatment Equipment. As a general rule, the cleaner and more uniform the surface of the part is before powder coating is applied, the longer the powder coated finish will last.

Pretreatment usually comes in two forms for powder coating: blasting (usually with sand, steel shot, or special blasting media like aluminum oxide) and washing (usually using detergents and/or chemicals). Blasting helps remove scaling and other debris to get a clean surface for the powder, and it helps add texture to the surface of the parts so the powder can adhere better. Washing can be done using steam, heated pressure washing, or spraying at room temperature. Most systems apply a chemical mixture that helps remove oils and solvents from the parts, and may also make the surface of the parts more receptive to the powder when it is applied. As with blasting, this results in a stronger powder coated finish.

For more information on pretreatment, check out the Pretreatment Primer, here.

Plan for Success

Make a plan for your shop. Determine your throughput goals and lay out the path that parts will follow as they are coated. Let this plan guide you when you size the equipment and select where you will install it. Estimate how many parts per day you need to coat and how big they will be, then work with a powder coating specialist to determine how large your equipment needs to be.  Measure carefully and take into account the space you have to work with before you order powder coating equipment. This simple step can make a big difference in the success of your powder coating process and can save you days or weeks of headaches by preventing installation issues.

For more information on sizing your equipment and planning out your new workspace, check out the Oven Size Guide and Booth Size Guide.

For more information on starting out as a professional powder coater, check out our in-depth guide, the Beginner’s Guide to Powder Coating or feel free to contact us at (256) 513-6139. We’ll be happy to help you get started!

Powder Coating Outdoor Equipment Can Improve Your Business

Powder Coating Outdoor Equipment Can Improve Your Business #reliantfinishingsystems

Powder coat playground equipment to make it durable

Outdoor equipment is one of the largest and fastest growing markets for powder coating.  This is no surprise, since powder coating outdoor equipment makes good sense for both equipment builders and their customers.  From playground equipment to sporting goods, powder coated outdoor products last longer and perform better. In this article, we’re going to look at how powder coating systems reduce costs and produce a better outdoor product.

Powder Coating Versus Wet Paint

Almost all metal products that are going outside need to be finished in one way or another. Preventing rust is one of the main reasons that metal coatings were invented. Properly prepared, a finished metal object will outlast an unpainted one. So, why is a powder coating system better than wet paint methods for outdoor equipment? The simple answer is that powder coating is cheaper to apply and typically lasts longer.

Powder Coating Is Cheaper To Apply

Just one powder coating application is as strong as many coats of wet paint #reliantfinishingsystems

Just one powder coating application is as strong as many coats of wet paint

A single coat of powder is just as scratch-resistant and durable as a multi-stage wet paint application. Yes, automotive paints can last as long, but those types of wet polyurethane are coatings are expensive and require more steps.  First, you have to properly prepare the metal, then prime it, then apply a two-component color coat, and finally apply a clear topcoat. The material cost alone is usually four times that of powder – to get a similar result.

 

Graph showing 75% relative savings on material costs in powder coating system versus wet paint

Powder coating raw materials for metal parts costs 25% of wet paint methods

Not only are raw materials cheaper using a powder coating system, but there’s less handling and preparation of the parts! Powder coating is much easier to apply than wet paint. Since powder is simpler to apply, painters will produce fewer flaws, such as sags and runs.  They will also need less practice. The average cure time for a metal part is about 20 minutes to bake and 10-15 minutes to cool, so you can typically handle, assemble and pack your parts much faster than when using a wet paint method.

Outdoor Powder Coating Lasts Longer

Furniture with Powder Coating Outdoors

Powder coated outdoor furniture will last much longer and continue to look nice

What about durability benefits in powder coating outdoor equipment? Since rust is usually our primary concern, what kind of resistance to corrosion does powder coating provide and for how long?

 

Checking For Durability With Salt Spray Testing

Examples of Salt Spray Testing

Examples of salt spray testing

Perhaps we want to determine how resistant a coating is to corrosion.  We can use a common industry test called Salt Spray Testing.  This simulates extreme outdoor conditions by spraying a coated part with pressurized air and saltwater.  The salt spray test is used to determine how long a finish might last before rust and corrosion compromise its integrity.

Salt Spray Testing Method

  1. Start with a coated sample part.
  2. Scratch the coating all the way through to the metal in an X pattern.
  3. Blast the part in a testing chamber with 5% or higher salt spray solution.
  4. Time how long you’re spraying.
  5. When rust has reached 1/4″ or more from the scribed point, stop spraying. How much time has elapsed?
  6. Compare this time to other coatings’ times.
Salt Spray Testing results on three coating methods
Process Avg Salt Spray Hours
1) Grinder, solvent wipe, liquid enamel 50
2) Grinder, solvent wipe, powder coat 250
3) Blast, pressure wash, phosphate, powder coat 1000

Here’s some results from different coating processes. The powder coated sample –
with no other preparation or special treatment – lasts on average five times longer than the same object finished with a common wet paint.

Salt spray testing is a controllable lab test that simulates tough conditions to determine overall finish performance when powder coating outdoor equipment. However, many variables will affect true performance.  This test gives only a rough estimate of how resilient any finish is. If you use powder coated equipment on the Florida coast, 100 hours could equal one month.  But if you are in Arizona 100 hours could equal 15 years. Climate, local weather patterns and equipment usage all play a part in how long your finish will last, but the more salt spray hours your part takes to rust, the better.

Customer Example: Swapping To Powder Coating Can Help Your Outdoor Product Business

Joe’s Trailers is a sample business that wants to provide its customers with durable products. Joe’s Trailers can show how a typical small manufacturing business can easily change its methods to get better results from powder coating outdoor equipment.

 

 

Joe’s Trailers started with this wet paint process (Process 1 from the Test Results above)

  1. Grind the welds down and the mill scale off the metal
  2. Wipe the trailer down with acetone
  3. Spray an industrial enamel wet paint

When Joe tested a panel that was coated using this wet paint process, it got these results:

The panel took 50 hours to get 1/4″ creep of rust on the scribed mark

But, Joe sometimes needs to store the trailers outside for a long time.  He also sells them in areas where road salts are used.  The wet paint finish on the trailers isn’t lasting, and customers complain.

Joe responds to customers’ concerns

Outdoor Powder Coating On Trailers

Powder coating can help heavy wear products – like trailers – withstand day-to-day use and extreme conditions

Joe decided to purchase a powder coating system to increase quality and reduce material costs. He kept the same preparation. But with his new powder coating oven, he got 250 hours of salt spray before there was a ¼ inch of rust creep with the powder coated finish (Process 2 from Test Results above).  This was five times longer than with his wet paint technique. That’s a level of protection so thorough that no trailers rusted in his storage lot while they were stored outside during the off-season.

Joe expands his business to a new kind of customer, increasing profits

Joe got a call from an upscale landscaping company located near Chicago. This customer wanted his trailers to last longer than the current trailers he bought from a local home improvement store. The customer couldn’t use ugly, rusted trailers in his service area because of his demanding clients, and the winter road salt quickly corroded his trailer fleet.

Joe decided to make some improvements to his powder coating system.  He already had a powder coating spray booth and powder coating oven.  He decided he could improve his pretreatment.  Joe invested in a blast booth, and a special pressure washer that generates steam.

Now his process is

  1. Blast the welds and scale, which is quicker than grinding
  2. Apply cleaner, rinse with water, steam with phosphate, and rinse
  3. Coat with powder in a powder coating spray booth
  4. Bake powdered parts in a powder coating oven

This new piece lasted 1000 hours in the salt spray testing chamber before the rust creep reached 1/4 inch (Process 3 from Test Results above).  Because the finish was so durable, Joe was able to offer a four-year rust warranty.  He increased his prices to cover labor and equipment.  He even got more profit from these upgraded trailers than his basic trailers.

Consider powder coating systems for outdoors products

Switching to a powder coating system can greatly increase coating performance and durability.
Consider it especially for products that must suffer the wear and tear of outdoor use. Products will last longer in outdoor conditions. Business costs like product storage damage, customer returns, and premature warranty issues will be reduced. Finally, higher prices can be charged for better products.

Agriculture Equipment with Powder Coating Outdoors

Powder coating can provide performance and cost benefits across a number of markets

This example has focused on trailers. Remember that these benefits apply to any outdoor product, here’s some ideas to get your creative ideas flowing:

  • Handrails, fences, and playground equipment.
  • Automotive parts like truck accessories, and farming machinery
  • Seasonal items like fishing and marine equipment, deer stands, and much, much more.

When taking on a new powder coating project, remember to ask your customer what they need. Get the correct coating procedure in place to meet their expectations. Use your vendors as resources to help you tailor your powder coating equipment, powder, and pretreatment methods to exceed your customers’ needs.

Reliant Finishing Systems provides fully integrated powder coating equipment. Whether you want to supplement your existing system, or install a complete finishing line, feel free to call us today about any of the following:

Pinholes and Outgassing: Troubleshooting Your Powder Coated Finish

Pinholes And Outgassing: Troubleshooting Your Powder Coated Finish #reliantfinishingsystems

Time and effort wasted: a cured part full of pinholes is what you want to avoid.

You’ve prepped your part, applied the powder, and now you’re waiting to pull the finished product out of the oven. Maybe it’s a piece that your customer desperately needs or maybe it’s a part you’ve taken special care to finish for yourself. But once you take it out, instead of a beautifully smooth finish, you’ve got a ragged, pitted mess – your coating is full of pinholes.

What Causes Pinholes?

Pinholes develop from a process called “outgassing.” Pinholes occur during the cure – as the part heats up, gasses that are trapped on or inside the part escape through the powder, causing holes or bubbles in the finish. These pinholes are not only unattractive, they also allow moisture and corrosion to penetrate the coating and damage the surface.

Troubleshooting Outgassing: What To Look For

Understanding how pinholes occur and where they come from is key to preventing them. We’ll go over the main three causes and how best to troubleshoot them below.

Make Sure Your Product Is Clean

Troubleshooting Powder Coating: Anything not cleaned off of the part - solvents, grease, oils and other contaminants - can cause disastrous results. #reliantfinishingsystems

Anything not cleaned off of the part – solvents, grease, oils and other contaminants – can cause disastrous results.

One of the primary causes of pinholes is surface contamination. Solvents, grease, mold release agents, and machine oil can all vaporize through the powder coated finish during the curing process. Leftover residue or improper cleaning can subject your part to a variety of finish defects, including pinholes.

Preventing this type of problem comes down to proper cleaning. Identify the contaminant(s) and remove them prior to applying powder. If the problem continues, you may have to add an additional pretreatment step to your coating process in order to achieve the level of cleanliness you need to avoid pinholes (for more information on pretreatment, read our article here).

Your Products – Or How They Were Treated – May Be To Blame

Powder Coated Cast Fitting

Pinholes can occur from the parts themselves, especially cast metal parts.

Cast metal parts made of aluminum, iron, steel, and brass are some of the most likely to have outgassing issues. With both die-cast and sand-cast parts, gasses can become trapped in the part during the pouring process. High-quality castings using premium metals will almost always have less entrapped gas.

Outgassing can also happen occur when a powder coated finish is applied to material that already has a zinc surface treatment, like galvanizing. During the galvanizing process, gasses can become trapped within the surface coating. It is the escape of these trapped gasses that can cause outgassing problems when curing galvanized steel parts that have been powder coated.

Galvanized Steel Surface Unfit For Powder Coating

Surface treatment, like galvanizing, can also cause pinholes in your powder coating.

Pre-baking the part can solve this type of issue. Pre-heat the part before coating, then allow it to return to room temperature. We recommend the product be heated to a temperature slightly above your target curing temperature and held at temperature for a little longer than the part would normally be cured. While some parts are of such poor casting quality that this method won’t work, this solution is effective for the majority of outgassing issues.

In extreme cases, it may be necessary to modify the design of the part, impregnate the casting, or use a sealant during the production to get the best powder coating results. It may also be possible to use IR curing or change the coating to one that uses a time/temperature recipe that doesn’t result in the part’s mass being heated as intensely during the curing process.

Make Sure You Aren’t Applying Too Much Powder

Powder Coating Application Using Powder Spray Gun

Good coverage techniques and quality control testing will help you avoid overloading your products with powder.

Pinholes can occur with some powder coating materials when they are applied in one heavy coat of greater than average thickness. When this happens, gasses that escape during curing are released through the outer surface of the coating after it has begun to cure, causing imperfections in the surface that remain after the part has cooled.

Check your film thickness to make sure you’re aren’t getting too much powder on your products (we discuss powder thickness in our article on quality control testing). If the part requires a coating with a particularly heavy film thickness, apply 2-3 thinner layers instead of one heavy layer.

Some companies also offer coatings with enhanced flow characteristics that enable the coatings to remain liquid for longer periods of time during the curing process. Trapped gasses can escape harmlessly when the coating is still liquid. The coating will flow into the imperfections caused by the gasses’ exit and yield a blemish-free finish. These specially formulated coatings can also be used for applications where a thinner film thickness is acceptable but the parts’ outgassing cannot be eliminated.

Get The Best Finish With Proper Equipment And Training

Reliant Finishing Systems not only offers professional-grade spray booths and curing ovens to get the absolute best results, but we also offer a wide range of troubleshooting and training services. Whether you need a new system or want to improve your existing operation, we can help. Give us a call today.

What Coaters Need To Know About Powder Coating Particle Size

Powder Coating Particle Size

When troubleshooting your powder coating, you may find specific issues caused by the powder coating particle size.  Unfortunately, while a lot of information is available on this subject, most of it is very technical in nature and doesn’t explain the real-world production issues that are caused by improper powder coating particle dispersion. If you’re looking for practical knowledge to improve your results, these basic guidelines will help you identify finish problems related to particle size.

How Powder Manufacturing Creates Different Particle Sizes

When powder is manufactured, it is combined in a giant mixer, melted, cooled into a big sheet, and then broken up into pieces. It is then ground and sifted through a screen to the specific particle size the powder manufacturer has designated.

During the manufacturing process, there are three types of particles produced: standard, fine and large.

Standard Particle: This particle size is what the manufacturer wants to put in the box. The size range of the particle is very tightly controlled, Standard particles will produce the best possible finish and generate proven, heavily tested results.

Fine Particle: This particle is very small and could cause some finishing issues like picture-framing if there was too much allowed to be packaged. The fine powder particles build up at a different rate from the standard particles, especially in areas of “wrap”, and cause unacceptable variations in the finish.

An excessive amount of fine particles can also contribute to application guns spitting or sputtering because fine particles can be fluidized more easily than standard particles. During the grinding process, powder manufacturers have suction hoses above the grinders to catch a lot of these fine particles that would not otherwise be sifted out. Fine particles, by nature, float in the air more than standard particles. That’s why the suction hoses can catch most them.

For more information, visit this powder troubleshooting guide from Tiger Drylac. Specifically, on page 16 of the document, they show a good example of “picture framing” due to excessive build-up of fine powder. http://www.tiger-coatings.com/fileadmin/user_upload/downloads_us_new/technical-information-sheet/tiger-drylac/TIGER_Drylac_Troubleshooting_Guide.pdf

Large Particles: This particle is too big to pass through the final filter screen. Sometimes manufacturers will re-grind these large particles to get good powder out of them, but sometimes they just throw them away. If large particles wind up in a box of powder because of a manufacturing error or flaws in the screening equipment, they do not hold a charge as well as a standard particle and will most likely wind up on the floor of a spray booth. In addition to decreasing your transfer efficiency, an excessive number of large particles can cause the part surface to be more susceptible to powder loss during pre-cure handling, resulting in thin spots that can’t otherwise be explained. (to learn about Transfer Efficiency, read more here.)

Some fine particles and some large particles will wind up in the powder box regardless of the process being used. The powder coating manufacturer has a particle size distribution analysis machine to measure samples of powder and see how much variation the powder particles have. In a normal box of powder, there shouldn’t be enough large or fine particles to cause problems. 

Typical distribution of powder coating particle size in different powders.

What Is The Powder Coating Particle Size Supposed To Be?

There is no standard answer, because each different type of powder has specific particle size requirements due to the special effects components or pigment used in its formulation. Regardless of size, the key to good powder is generally to have as tight a particle size spread as possible.

Typically, smaller particles carry better charge and fill voids in the coated surface better, but they do not penetrate Faraday Cage areas well. To get a powder that both holds a charge well and creates an even distribution, the manufacturer will usually decide on a happy medium for the average particle size based on laboratory and sample production testing.

Here is an example of a graph of a sample of powder:

Powder Coating Particle Graph

As you can see, there is a curve to the distribution. That means that some particles are a little bigger and some are a little smaller. The more peaked the curve is, the more reliable your finish should be. If the curve is flattened and you have a lot of fine particles or large particles, you could have more finishing problems and/or worse transfer efficiency.

Powder Coating Issues Related To Powder Particle Size

Powder coating particle size discrepancies can create issues with the quality of your finish and can increase your applied cost. These problems can be especially troublesome in a production environment, especially if you use a reclaim system as opposed to spray-to-waste. If you don’t reclaim and reuse spent powder, the particle size in the box is all you have to worry about. If you reclaim your powder, then you need to consider powder particle size even more closely. It’s likely you will have some adjustments to make to achieve your best finish.

“Virgin” powder, straight out of the box, will typically be more conductive than reclaimed powder. The reason for this is that there are some large particles, as well as some inert particles that were part of the original powder formulation. These particles are most likely to fall off the part and get recycled back into the powder supply. As you use more reclaimed powder, this percentage grows and your powder does not adhere as well to the parts. Most powder experts recommend a ratio of at least 60% virgin powder to 40% or less reclaimed powder to get acceptable finish results.

Remember, the fine particles will usually adhere to the part or get stuck in the exhaust filters of the booth, so it’s mostly the heavy particles (that are the least attractive to the parts) that get recycled. Some particles, even those of ideal size, will stick together due to contamination or partial gelling in hot environments. These clumps of small and standard particles act like large particles and don’t stick to the parts during spraying. It is important to hand filter all of your reclaimed powder or use an automatic sieve to filter reclaimed powder being pumped back into your powder hopper.

What If I Think I Have A Powder Problem?

Powder Coating And Color Chart

If you think you may be having a finish issue that’s linked to a problem with your powder, always start by contacting your powder supplier. Powder coating vendors have access to tools that the average powder coating shop or finish line manager does not. Listen to your powder supplier and follow their suggestions. Don’t be shy about asking them to look into potential powder problems, but remember that most coating defects are due to process issues, not defective powder coating media.

In a spray-to-waste environment, your supplier may elect to replace questionable powder or have it analyzed to confirm that it isn’t defective. It’s likely that they will want to review the way your using their product, and they may find a production issue that you’ve overlooked.

If you do a lot of reclaim, your powder supplier can test your virgin and reclaim samples to let you know what you can expect from your powder as far as average powder particle size. By keeping good ratios of virgin and reclaim, you can adjust your guns to the appropriate settings to get repeatable, high-quality finishes.

Need Expert Help?

Reliant Finishing Systems is a U.S. manufacturer of high-performance powder coating equipment. In addition to building powder spray booths and powder curing ovens, we manufacture blast rooms and wash stations. We also have experienced powder coating specialists on-staff and offer line audits and on-site troubleshooting. If you need powder coating equipment or expert advice, give us a call today.

Why Powder Coating Is Good For The Environment

Powder Coated Metal One of the key advantages powder coating has over other finishing processes is how safe it is for the environment and for the people who work with it. Unlike traditional solvent-based wet paint, powder coating is considered a “green” technology that doesn’t generate harmful solvents or airborne pollutants. Compared to painting, powder coating reduces finishing line emissions, produces far less harmful waste by-product, and doesn’t pose a significant health risk to your employees or neighbors. Understanding the impact of these green benefits can help your business make the right choice when choosing a new finishing system—and help you gain support from your community.

Powder Coating Generates Negligible VOCs and No Real Air Pollution

A significant difference between industrial wet painting and powder coating is the presence of Volatile Organic Compounds, called VOCs for short. VOCs (like formaldehyde) are released into the air over time, either as the paint is cured or as it ages. VOCs damage the ozone and, if trapped indoors, can cause serious health problems to people exposed to them. Traditional liquid paint emits VOCs. Newer paint technology includes No-VOC and Low-VOC products, but these are often not capable of providing a finish that is adequately robust. By comparison, powder coated finishes are tough and durable, yet cause the emission of almost no VOCs. Powder coating media and powder coating in general is considered non-toxic, which it is why powder coating is strongly recommended if your finished product will be used or installed indoors.

Since powder coating is inert and produces almost no VOCs, applying it does not create harmful fumes or contribute to air pollution. While you will still want to spray inside a booth with a true filtered exhaust including HEPA filtration, you won’t otherwise have to duct the air from your booth to the outside atmosphere. Although powder overspray is considered a nuisance dust, properly filtered exhaust from a powder coating booth is clean enough to breathe, so you don’t have to exhaust the booth outside the shop space. This makes powder coating even more energy efficient because you won’t be wasting heated or cooled shop air by exhausting it to the outside atmosphere.

Powder Coating Produces Significantly Less Hazardous Waste Than Wet Paint

Traditional wet paint lines produce hazardous waste in two key areas: Retouching and Disposal. Because of the chemical composition of wet paint, coating defects often require costly reworks using solvents. These chemicals produce harmful fumes and the used solvents are considered hazardous waste. In addition, stripped and discarded paint may also be hazardous waste and should be disposed of properly – which can be an expensive and time-consuming process that many shops ignore.

Since powder is considered inert and does not require special handling or disposal, powder coating media is much safer to handle and isn’t hazardous to retouch. Fixing a mistake is also much easier (provided you catch it before curing). Instead of using harsh chemicals, if you find a mistake on a powder coated part, you can simply wipe the part clean or used compressed air to remove the uncured powder and reapply it. Any waste powder can be swept up and handled without special safety equipment, and it can be discarded with normal shop trash.

Powder Can Be Recycled

Powder coating is a two-stage process. First, your product is sprayed with powder using an electrostatically charged powder gun. The powder adheres to the part, but must then be cured inside a powder coating oven to melt the powder so that is flows together and locks onto the part. This process creates a strong and very durable bond that lasts and helps protect the metal underneath. (You can even increase this durability with different pretreatment methods – for more information on pretreatment, take a look at our Pretreatment Primer.) But what about the powder you spray that doesn’t adhere to the part?

The excess sprayed powder can be recycled using a process called powder reclamation. This works best when only one or two primary colors are used for your products, as multiple color changes can drive up equipment costs considerably (for more information, see our powder coating gun article here). However, if you are only using spray one or two colors most of the time, then you can see significant savings by reclaiming the powder overspray that gets trapped in the filters or falls to the floor of your spray booth. (For more information on how much powder you can reclaim to increase powder transfer efficiency, click here.)

Powder Coating Already Complies With Environmental Regulations

Because powder coating is considered non-toxic, is inert and produces negligible VOCs, it already meets or exceeds many national environmental protection standards. Although your shop will need to clarify with your local authorities, powder coating is considered safer and will not require the same level of oversight and waste disposal care that wet paint operations do. Also, because powder coating media doesn’t present a spill hazard, you don’t to invest in a paint mix room or storage room.  As long as the powder coating equipment you purchase meets national safety codes, your operation will already meet or exceed national environmental regulations.

All Reliant Finishing Systems’ Equipment Is Produced To Meet Or Exceed National Codes

If you’re looking for safe and effective powder coating equipment, look no further than Reliant Finishing Systems. Our powder spray booths and powder curing ovens are designed specifically for powder coating applications and can be customized to fit your shop’s exact application. Whether you’re a finish line manager seeking a turn-key automated powder coating line, an established powder coater in the market for new equipment, or a fab shop owner wanting to get started with powder coating, Reliant can help.

Have questions? Email us or give one of our systems specialists a call today or visit our Resources page.

 

Dealing With Unhappy Powder Coating Customers

powder-caoted-part-with-coating-contamination

If your powder coating has chips, bubbles or has contamination (shown above) your customers won’t be pleased.

As a job shop owner, powder coating specialist or coating line manager, you’ve probably dealt with unhappy powder coating customers. Dissatisfied clients can have a number of complaints: some customers are sensitive to price, others may be sensitive to turn-around times or coating mil thicknesses, others may be unhappy with overall finish quality or other issues. Unfortunately, you may not know why a customer is unhappy until the very end of the project or after the order has shipped. Whether they complain face-to-face, you hear about their remarks from someone else, or you see a negative review online, a dissatisfied customer can be frustrating to you and disruptive for your business. What’s worse, if you ignore them, it’s likely that a problem customer will only get worse. Business experts agree that when it comes to dealing with mad customers, there’s only one “right” way to react: Contact them, take some kind of action to address their grievance, and most importantly, act quickly.

What angers already-irritated customers most? Being ignored or left waiting too long for a resolution to their problems. By responding to a customer’s complaints, you validate their need to be heard. Let them know your business is willing to listen. Approach your customers with genuine concern. View customer complaints as opportunities to demonstrate your shop’s commitment to customer service. A positive, friendly outlook will likely win over frustrated customers – as long as they have realistic expectations.

Reliant Finishing Systems builds and sells powder coating appliances. They deal with customers from around the world through various websites and conventional resellers. Their staff monitors digital media constantly to provide quick responses to customers who publicly voice their dissatisfaction. They also actively contact buyers within days of providing equipment so they can learn about potential problems before they get out of hand.

When dealing with their customers, powder coating shops can assure customer satisfaction by using a similar approach. Don’t use the “No News Is Good News” approach. Have an employee or third-party company proactively reach out to all of your customers to find out what they really think about their experience with your company. By documenting all of the comments–not just the good ones–you can get a better picture of what you’re doing right and where you need to improve. Some problems are truly isolated cases of miscommunication or poor performance, while others may be part of a larger issue.

One area that powder coating shops can immediately increase customer satisfaction is through improved quality control. Many of the complaints you are likely to receive will be due to a perceived lack of finish quality, whether that is poor coverage, uneven application, bubbling, or other coating issues. By adding a rigid and consistent quality control regimen to your process, you can catch many mistakes long before they reach a customer, saving you time and increasing customer satisfaction. (For more information about adding quality control to your process, check out our Introduction to Powder Coating Quality Control Testing.)

Grow Your Business With Increased Customer Satisfaction

Michael Schuerer, President of Reliant Finishing Systems, believes that attention to customer service has helped the company’s rapid growth. “It’s important to constantly listen for negative feedback and approach it rationally when you encounter it. We’ve found that it’s easy to get defensive or discount what a particular customer has to say, but that doesn’t help you grow your business or improve your brand. Sometimes you just have to pause and look at the situation with a fresh perspective. Successful companies treat their customers with respect, even when that proves challenging. Reliant wants to make sure our customers are pleased with both the equipment and the support they receive from us, so we try hard to assure that our customer service decisions are fair and thoughtful.”

Reliant recently had a frustrated customer post something negative about the company on Facebook. Within a few hours of his post, the company called to resolve the issue. That level of awareness and responsiveness can help you grow your reputation, but it takes consistent effort. It also takes patience to remember that you’re dealing with real people who can be very emotional once they’re unhappy. It may be difficult to address a customer’s complaints, but it’s worth it in the long run.

Even if your shop’s budget prevents you from hiring a PR firm or performing elaborate customer satisfaction surveys, there are three things you can do to help keep your reputation intact:

BE AWARE. Go to business expos and civic meetings that your customers attend. Listen to what’s being said. Try to interact with customers in a way that makes it easy for you to learn just how happy or unhappy they are. Set up notifications on your Facebook page and any other online outlets you use to interact with customers or sell online. Check your pages and your customers’ blogs or forum comments routinely to make sure they are happy with your company.

BE ACTIVE. Reach out to frustrated customers immediately. If nothing else, let them know you’ve received their complaint and you’re company is working to resolve it. Problems are usually much easier to work out if the customer gets a personal touch. A face-to-face meeting is better than a phone call, and a phone call is better than an email or private message.

REMAIN ENGAGED. Keep in touch with unhappy customers to resolve their issues and, when appropriate, offer compensation for their time and trouble. Sometimes a simple apology is all that is needed. At other times you may need to consider reworking bad parts or offering a discount on future orders. By staying involved with your customers, you help assure that their complaints are resolved—and that you have the opportunity to do work for them in the future.

By staying engaged with problem customers and proactively reaching out to your existing clients, you can not only help solve their issues – you can help identify areas where your company does need to get better. A company that is known for helping to solve problems, reacts positively to critique and works to actively improve their relationships is a company whose reputation will grow and whose business prospects will increase.