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What Size Powder Coating Oven Do You Need?

Powder Coating Oven - Frontal ViewIf you’re looking to buy a new powder coating oven, one of the first things you should determine is how big the oven will need to be. The size of the oven determines what kind of work you can do and how much work you can get done at one time, so making sure you have the right size appliance for your operation is critical.

Most of our discussion in this article is aimed at conventional batch coating equipment, but many of the factors can be applied to automated or constant process situations. (For more information on matching equipment, please visit our Powder Spray Booth Size Guide.)

How Big Is The Largest Object You Want To Powder Coat?

Powder coating ovens can be built to nearly any height, width or depth. When you acquire a new curing oven, the ideal size is dependent upon what you are going to be coating. No matter what you want to coat, the entire object needs to fit inside the oven without being jammed against the ductwork where the heated air enters the oven. Hot air is usually blown into the oven via ducts in the ceiling or walls. You can’t position parts too close to the ducts or the powder can get blown off. The parts can’t touch the ceiling or walls either, and they can’t impede the operation of the doors. If a part touches the oven’s ceiling or walls, the powder is likely to either rub off or flake during curing. When it does, you’ll need to redo the part to get a proper finish.

Also consider how the parts will be carried in and out of the oven. Most parts are hung on rolling racks and there has to be enough room for the rack to fit into the oven once the parts have been hung. If your rack or cart bumps into the walls of the oven, the powder you just applied can get knocked off. Take racks into account when sizing your new oven.

One last thing to consider is the performance of the oven. Some ovens have better temperature uniformity than others, but none are perfectly uniform. Ovens with ceiling ducts are usually cooler at the floor than elsewhere. Ovens with wall ducts may be cooler in the corners, as well as near the floor. Just like you will need to allow room near the walls, ceiling and ductwork, you also need to avoid hanging parts so that they nearly drag the ground. If possible, size your oven so that the biggest parts are still 10” or more off the floor. This helps improve the uniformity of the temperature of the parts, which enables a better finish. It also helps prevent dust contamination, which can occur when the oven’s heat system blows dust and dirt from the floor onto the parts.

IMPORTANT: When sizing, make sure the part you are coating will fit entirely inside the oven without angling. Many new coaters buy 20’ long ovens because they want to be able to coat 20’ lengths of material like handrail or tube stock. To fit 20’ lengths of material into the oven, they have to be rolled in at an angle so they are positioned diagonally inside the oven, or they have to be hung at an angle with one end much closer to the floor than the other. Otherwise, they will touch the doors and/or the back wall. These positions are not very efficient because you can’t fill the oven with material if it has to be tilted to one side or hung at an angle. If you want to cure 20’ lengths of powder coated material, buy an oven longer than 20’.

How Many Parts Per Day Do You Need To Powder Coat?

Determine your production throughput requirements. When we say throughput, we’re talking about the number of parts powder coated during a given shift, day or work week. One of the easiest ways to get the correct amount of throughput is to get the right size powder coating oven to start with. For example, if you are frequently powder coating rims, but only need to coat four at a time, a small walk-in oven will suffice. However, if you need to coat forty rims at a time, a larger powder coating oven will help you reach your production goals with less work because you won’t get bogged down with handling issues as you load and unload the oven over and over again to reach your goal.

Throughput is tied to pacing. One thing that can slow down your operation is if your coaters have to be extra careful moving parts in and out of the oven because the rack fits too tightly into the oven. That delay, even just a couple minutes at a time, can significantly decrease throughput as the parts are moved over and over throughout the day.

How Much Space Do You Have For Your Powder Coating Oven?

This seems self-explanatory, but every year we hear about shop owners or coating line managers that didn’t correctly measure the available space in their facilities. If you need a walk-in sized powder coating oven, you are dealing with an appliance (and installation space) that is larger than it looks, so we always recommend tool-measuring the available space before making any purchasing decisions. You must account for low ceilings, odd roof grades, inconspicuous purlins or trusses, floor issues, HVAC/fire suppression/electrical/air/gas runs, posts or columns, unusual structural steel, lighting or anything else that might impact the installation or operation of the equipment.

In addition to the appliance itself, you will need to account for staging areas. We recommend at least two staging areas for your powder coating oven. First, you’ll need a designated area where the parts will sit prior to being loaded into the oven. This area should have no traffic if at all possible, as any handling or jostling in this area can knock off powder that was just applied in the booth. Second, you’ll need a separate cool-down area once they parts have been cured.

Another thing to keep in mind is that most carts can’t make a true 90° turn, so allow for the turning radius of each cart and don’t place equipment too close together.

Determine The Exact Footprint And Dimensions  – Don’t Guess.

All of Reliant Finishing Systems’ powder coating ovens are sized using the actual interior dimensions. Our popular PCO8825 is 8’H x 8’W x 25’L INSIDE the cabin. The exterior dimensions add an additional 2′ of height for the overhead plenum and insulated roof, plus an extra 1′ to both the width and length because the walls and door assemblies are 6″ thick. So, a PCO8825 is actually 10’H x 9’W x 26’L. In addition, each powder coating oven comes with at least one heat unit and exhaust fan. The heat units have a 4′ x 4′ footprint when erected, and are as tall as the oven. The exhaust adds another 27” to the oven’s overall width or length, depending on mounting location. A typical 8’H x 8’W x 25’D powder coating oven with a rear-mounted heat unit and side-mounted exhauster will require a space that is over 10′ tall, a little less than 12′ wide and about 30’ deep.

IMPORTANT: Don’t forget to allow room for the swing arc of each set of doors on the oven, and remember that local codes may require 3′ of clearance around the entire oven.

Plan For Success By Allowing For Growth!

Nobody ever says, “I should have bought a smaller oven.” We tell anyone considering a new oven to purchase the largest powder coating oven they think they will ever need. Although our ovens are modular in design and can easily be expanded, it is more affordable to get a larger oven right from the start.

Why go big? If you are planning on opening a powder coating job shop, the larger the powder coating oven you get, the more jobs you can potentially take in. A large oven allows you to take on bigger projects, such as coating exceptionally long, tall or wide parts. You can also coat handrails, structural steel or fence sections in bulk. Since you can’t effectively cure a part that won’t fit completely inside your oven, the size of your oven dictates the biggest job you can ever take on. It only takes a few of those big jobs to more than pay for the upgrade to a larger oven.

If you’re a manufacturer bringing your coating work in-house, your coating line’s productivity is going to be closely tied to the size of your powder curing oven. A bigger oven pays off because it allows you to do larger batches of regular-sized parts at the same time. If you are going to be doing parts smaller than about 4’ x 4’ x 4’, it is easy to justify buying a large truck-in or small walk-in oven. But, by installing a larger oven, you can ramp up your production capabilities and dramatically increase your throughput. You can also use the extra oven space to help catch back up if you have problems or encounter unexpected reworks.

Still have questions about the size of the powder coating oven you need? Our systems specialists will be glad to help you get the exact system you need. Give us a call today.

Powder Coating Gun Comparison

HGS_3903_CropWhen you’re setting up a manual coating line, one of the main decisions you’ll have to make is which powder coating gun system best complements your operation. To help you make your decision, we’re taking a look at the top three manual powder guns on the market – from Wagner, Gema and Nordson – to see what each one has to offer.

Disclaimer: For the purpose of this article, we’ve limited our reviews to these three manufacturers. While there are many other powder coating guns out there, these three brands produce the best available guns in the powder application industry. Since your coating success is ultimately determined by the quality of the finished product, having a powder coating gun that can give you consistent and professional results is vital to your operation.

Powder Coating Guns From the Big Three: Side-By-Side Comparison

All three gun systems are well made and have great track records for performance and reliability, but they have subtle differences.

Here’s a simple chart with some key specifications so you can see a side-by-side comparison. The units listed are the basic vibratory box-fed models without any customization.

Wagner Sprint X Gema Optiflex 2 Nordson Encore XT
Gun Weight 490g 520g 475g
Max Powder Output 450g/min 395g/min 300g/min
Price (approximate) $5,500.00 $6,500.00 $6,000.00
Presets 50 20 20
Warranty 2 years in a one shift operation 5 years 5 years unit/ 2 years cable
Special Operation Mode PCC mode AFC mode

Wagner Sprint X Powder Coating Gun

Manual Powder Coating Gun From Wagner

 

The Wagner Sprint X is the lowest priced of the brand name, premium quality manual application units. Because of its lower price, the Sprint X is extremely popular with first-time buyers, but the consistent results it provides makes it a top-choice for established operations as well.

The warranty is adequate for most buyers and Wagner is noted for having common repair parts available on short notice. Like previous Wagner models, the Sprint X includes both upgradability and backwards-compatibility features that the other units can’t match.

Wagner introduced a new controller design a couple years ago with all of the key functions tied to an intuitive rotary dial. It provides a great deal of flexibility for different types of powder and varied coating situations.

It’s very easy to assemble the gun, plug in the cables and hoses, and start shooting powder using the three main presets. However, if you like to have lots of custom settings for different powders and coating situations, you can program up to 47 more settings into the unit’s memory. With 50 total presets, the Sprint X has more than twice as many available settings as the other guns in this review.

The 450 gram-per-minute application rate is also the most powder output of any of the units reviewed. Although the unit is capable of finely-controlled powder application, it is a natural choice if “blow and go” is your preferred method of powder coating.

Wagner introduced a new gun several months ago with the Sprint X designation. The result is a smaller and lighter design, and you can adjust powder volume on the gun without having to walk back to the main controller. Because of the change to the lighter design, the current gun is a bit more fragile than some previous models. Try not to drop it or over-tighten its plastic screws when taking it apart for inspection or component replacement.

Gema Optiflex 2 Powder Coating Gun

Manual Powder Coating Gun from Gema

The Gema Optiflex 2 is the most expensive of the three gun units reviewed, but that price includes incredible durability backed up with the best warranty provided by any of the major brands. If you are looking for a powder coating gun that will work – and work for a long time – then the Optiflex 2 is a great choice.

The Optiflex 2 powder coating gun is very easy to pick up and start coating with. It is easy to assemble and sprays excellently out of the box. The pump picks up the powder smoothly and has little to no built-in surge when triggered. In our experience, the Optiflex 2 sprays the “softest” of the three units. This can help with multiple coat situations, like when you are spraying candy colors.

The system has a total of 20 presets, which is adequate for the vast majority of coaters. The gun is a bit heavier than the other models reviewed, but it is robust and easy to use. Like the other guns, it has limited controls built-in.

When needed, the 395 gram-per-minute output is more than enough for most applications. The PCC mode helps with Faraday cage areas and tight corners by pulling some of the free ions out of the charge field. This allows operators to get closer to the part in difficult areas and perform detail work without having to change settings.

Nordson Encore XT Powder Coating Gun

Manual Powder Coating Gun from Nordson

The Encore XT is the mid-priced powder coating gun in this review. We were pleasantly surprised by the price since Nordson has historically been the highest priced manual gun option on the market. Nordson is very well known for their high-end automatic guns and spray systems, and we were glad to see their latest model meet their high-quality standards while still being very price-competitive.

The Encore XT model features 20 presets, allowing you to customize up to 17 settings that be saved by the controller. As an added convenience, you can cycle through the settings on the gun itself so you don’t have to walk back to the main unit to make a change. The gun is also surprisingly light and easy to wield.

One thing to note is that the maximum powder output of the Encore XT is a good bit less than the other models. This system seems best suited for skilled coaters who appreciate finesse.

With that said, the Encore XT features an AFC mode. This helps new or less skilled operators by adjusting the electrostatic settings automatically using feedback based on the gun-to-part distance. This mode is especially helpful when dealing with tight areas and Faraday cage issues.

Summary

After carefully reviewing each model, all three of these guns would be excellent choices for any manual powder coating operation. Because they have fairly comparable price points and similar features, here are our recommendations based on our most common customer needs:

For price sensitive buyers, the best option is the Wagner Sprint-X. The Wagner powder coating gun  is the lowest priced model with the most affordable replacement parts.

For maximum versatility, pick the Wagner Sprint-X . With more available setting and much more powder output, the Wagner gun is a great choice for operations coating many different types of parts.

For high-end performance (for high-end fabricators or automotive/custom work), the Gema Optiflex 2 provides a softer spray and a PCC mode that allows you to easily coat items with odd shapes.

For longevity, you can’t go wrong with the Optiflex 2. Gema has a great industry reputation for the durability of their powder coating guns, and the Optiflex 2 will last you for years. The warranty is also the best in the coating gun industry. However, the replacement parts are more expensive, so keep that in mind if price is a factor.

If you are planning on expansion, then the Nordson XT is the way to go. If you want to upgrade to an automatic line in the future, or you’re adding a batch system to supplement an existing automated line, Nordson’s Encore XT is a great complement to their well-respected Encore automatic guns. The parts are fairly interchangeable and your operators will not have to learn a new control system.

No matter which gun you choose, any of the three manufacturers we’ve reviewed will provide you with high quality equipment that will produce a finish you and your customers can be proud of.

Get The Best Finish From Your Powder Spray Booth With These Five Tips

powder spray booth trainingWant to get the absolute best finish possible when powder coating? Whether you just invested in a new coating system or you want to improve the performance of your existing powder spray booth and powder gun, here are five great tips to help you get the most out of your equipment and improve your finish quality.

Before You Start Powder Coating, Make Sure Your Parts Are Clean

No matter what you are powder coating, if your part has any residue, grit, grime, rust, oil or dirt on it, your powder coating quality will suffer. Anything left behind on your parts can cause your powder coating to crack, bubble or flake during the curing process, so you need to make sure every part is clean BEFORE you apply the powder. Whether you need a simple detergent wash and rinse, abrasive blasting and wipe-down, or a multi-stage phosphatizing pretreatment option (check the Reliant’s equipment here), don’t skimp on parts prep. The number one thing that assures a quality powder coated finish is parts cleanliness. (For more on getting your parts clean, read Bruce’s article on pretreatment here)

Make Sure The Parts In Your Powder Spray Booth Have Good Ground

Powder coating is easier to do than wet paint, primarily because the powder sticks to the part as it is applied. That’s because the particles from the powder gun are charged, and your part in the powder spray booth is grounded. The powder is attracted to the part and will form a uniform layer if it is applied with a bit of skill. If you find the powder doesn’t want to stick, or you’re having trouble getting the powder to go on uniformly, make sure your parts are properly grounded. We always recommend using a ground rod that can be connected to your rack, hook or directly to the part– and in some locations you may need a ground rod of 8’-10’ to get best results. (See our article on proper grounding for more information.)

Buy High Quality Powder And Store It Correctly

Fresh powder should be fluffy and without clumps. Storing powder in areas that are hot and humid can quickly cause the powder to become moist and clotted, so find a way to keep your powder dry and relatively cool. Reclose open powder containers promptly to prevent contamination. If you have a good ground and your gun is set up properly, you shouldn’t have a bunch of powder hitting the floor while you spray.

Remember, all powders are not created equal! While all powders have a certain amount of inert filler material, inexpensive powders often have much more of it. Just because a powder costs less doesn’t mean it is the best value. If you want better finishes, buy the best powder you can afford and take care of it.

Give Your Painters The Best Light To See Their Work

Keep your powder spray booth’s light fixtures clean and keep them supplied with fresh wide-spectrum bulbs that are designed for paint booth use. If you have bulbs that are burned out, replace them! It’s amazing how many shops have booths with light fixtures that are caked with powder. Instead of coaters working in light that is about the same quality as sunlight, they’re stuck spraying with green or red or blue light glaring out of fixtures that haven’t been cleaned in months. Problems can also happen in shops that use cheap bulbs that have a warm, off-white color that’s very unlike natural sunlight. Spend the money on wide-spectrum bulbs that have a high color temperature and mimic natural sunlight. This gives coaters a chance to more accurately assess and match colors. Keep the booth clean and the bulbs fresh so they can see fine details and turn out better quality work.

Check And Change The Filters On Your Powder Spray Booth Regularly

If your filters are damaged or clogged, you won’t get good results from your powder spray booth. Almost all booths work on the same principle—air is drawn into the booth from the shop, travels across the part, goes into filters, and then is either returned to the shop or discharged into the outside environment. When filters begin to clog, they put more stress on the exhaust fan. The fan doesn’t perform as well, and less air moves through the booth. This can cause problems with visibility inside the booth and can impact the quality of the finish being applied. Damaged filters can cause the airflow through the booth to change unpredictably. They are often the result of improper handling or poor maintenance. Once the booth’s filters are damaged, you’ll probably end up having to clean the booth’s exhaust system from one end to the other to prevent an on-going problem.

Reliant’s recommended filter change schedule will help you keep your powder spray booth in the best shape.

If you are using a Reliant Finishing Systems powder spray booth, you probably have a three stage spray-to-waste filter system that uses a blanket, a set of polyester “cube”  or bag type filters and a set of true HEPA final filters in metal frames. Alternatively, you may have an array of cartridge filters and a set of panel type final filters. In our standard spray-to-waste booths there are three filters you need to check:

A) The blanket filter is the first line of defense and usually lasts between 3 days and 2 weeks. This filter media is very inexpensive. As a general rule, trying to vacuum and reuse the filter is unwise.

IMPORTANT: Never spray the blanket filter with compressed air in an attempt to dislodge powder trapped in it—you’ll damage the filter and ruin the other filters in the booth if you try to reuse it! Just cut off a new section of filter and replace it once it is clogged.

B) The cube-shaped bag filters are located directly behind the blanket filter. Depending on how often you use the powder spray booth, you’ll typically need to change the bag filters once every 2-4 months. They can collect up to several pounds of powder, which will make them distort and stop working properly. Make sure to service them before the wire frames inside them warp and powder begins to go around them and directly into the HEPA filters! You can vacuum out the bag filters to extend their service life, but remember to take them out of the booth first. We recommend that whenever you replace the blanket filter that you remove, clean and then rotate the bag filters 90° before reinstalling them. This serves to even out the wear and will significantly increase the life of the filters.

IMPORTANT: Never spray the bag filters with compressed air in an attempt to dislodge powder trapped in them—you’ll damage the filters and ruin the HEPA filters in the booth if you try to reuse them!

C) The HEPA filters are the last filtration step before venting the booth’s exhaust back into the shop environment. If your other filters have been cleaned regularly, the HEPA filters should last about 1,000 hours – which works out to anywhere from 6 months to a year and a half in most powder shops. These filters can’t effectively be vacuumed without damaging them. It is possible to gently tap a clogged filter’s frame while holding the filter with the intake side pointed down at the floor and dislodge a small amount of powder. This can be repeated a few times to extend the filter’s life slightly.

IMPORTANT: Never spray the HEPA filters with compressed air in an attempt to dislodge powder trapped in them—you’ll ruin them instantly!

In our standard booths that use cartridge filtration there are two filters to check:

A) The cartridge filters are typically cylindrical filters that have a pleated fibrous exterior. They are the first filtration step before venting the booth’s exhaust back into the shop environment, and they do the bulk of the work. All of Reliant’s cartridge systems use pulsed air cleaning to periodically discharge built up powder from the outside of the filters. If it has been set up and maintained properly, the cartridge filters should last 1,000 to 2,000 hours – which works out to anywhere from 6 months to three years in most powder shops. These filters can’t effectively be vacuumed without the risk of damaging them. Also, it is possible to accidentally damage cartridge filters by using compressed air that is dirty, oily or wet to supply the pulse cleaning nozzles.

IMPORTANT: Never remove and spray the cartridge filters with compressed air in an attempt to dislodge powder trapped in them—you’ll probably damage them and you risk ruining the other filters in the system if you try to reuse them!

B) The panel filters capture any dust that gets past the cartridge filters. They help assure that air being returned to the shop environment is clean and powder-free. Depending on how often you use the booth, you’ll typically need to change the panel filters once every 2-4 months. These filters are relatively inexpensive, and, as a general rule, trying to vacuum and reuse them is unwise.

IMPORTANT: Never spray the panel filters with compressed air in an attempt to dislodge powder trapped in them—you’ll ruin them instantly!

For more information on a Reliant powder spray booth, click here, or give us a call today.

Innovative Powder Coating Oven Airflow Leads To Improved Performance

Powder Coating ovens from Reliant Finishing SystemsAt Reliant Finishing Systems, we pride ourselves on providing some of the most energy efficient powder coating ovens in the world. Our ovens reach curing temperatures much faster than many of our competitors’ ovens and at a fraction of the operating cost. If you need a powder coating oven that can provide professional quality results on a daily basis, a U.S.-built oven from Reliant Finishing Systems will get the job done, and it all starts with the powder coating oven airflow.

It Starts With The Airflow

Reliant’s innovative design uses one or more powerful direct-fired burners to heat the oven through an overhead plenum. Hot air is injected from the plenum directly through the oven’s ceiling. Each heat unit continually pulls the coldest air from the bottom of the oven back through the burner to be reheated. At the same time, the exhaust is constantly pulling cold air from the floor and enabling hotter air to move into every corner of the oven’s interior. This combination of vertically positioned heat units and floor-mounted exhausts is unique—and just plain better.

Reliant Powder Coating Oven Airflow

Typical airflow of a Reliant powder coating oven with a side-mount exhauster and rear-mounted burner and heating unit.

By comparison, many other ovens on the market use both roof-mounted heaters and roof-mounted exhaust units. We don’t use this design because it makes routine maintenance tasks and inspection much more difficult – the operator has to climb on top of the unit every time anything needs to be checked. Also, top-mounted heat units and exhaust units remove the hottest air from the oven instead of the coldest. Why would our competitors build ovens this way? The answer is that this design is much cheaper to build.

With a Reliant powder coating oven, since we’re taking the coldest air from the bottom of the oven in a constant cycle, the oven air is much more evenly heated throughout the cabin. This has two major benefits. First, the oven quickly reaches a very stable temperature. Second, that constant temperature means you won’t have to deal with hot and cold spots in your oven. By eliminating temperature inconsistencies, the powder can cure evenly and uniformly without the potential for flaking, undercuring, or overbaking. That means a better and longer-lasting finish.

But what does that mean for you? Because our ovens get to temperature quickly and sustain that temperature evenly, they require far less fuel to operate. Typically, our customers using standard models can get their ovens to 400 degrees or more within 10-15 minutes, and maintain that temperature for an entire production day with minimal energy costs. For one of our most popular models, an 8’ x 8’ x 20’ walk-in oven, heating costs are often as low as $3 per hour on average.

Get The Most Efficient Powder Coating Oven From Reliant

Reliant’s superior airflow design is just one of the reasons why we’re so proud of our powder coating ovens. A Reliant powder coating oven is built to give you reliability, fuel economy and top-notch performance at an unbeatable price. Don’t just take our word for it, ask for references so you can talk with our customers about the incredible results they are getting every day with Reliant equipment. Click here for more information on our powder coating ovens and related powder coating equipment, or give us a call today.

Planning Success For Your Automatic Powder Coating Line

Best Powder Coating GunsWhether you are replacing your overworked batch system or bringing your power coating in-house, you’ve decided that a new automatic powder coating line is the way to go. You’ve done the homework and determined a new line will increase your productivity and save you thousands of dollars this fiscal year alone. You’ve placed your order and now all you have to do is sit back and wait for the new equipment to be installed, right? Wrong.

Now is the time to prepare for success with careful planning before the equipment arrives. When putting in a new automated line, there are three key things you can do to make sure you get the best outcome:  Pay attention to details, make good use of outside support and understand the challenges a major facility change may have.

Pay Attention To The Fine Details

Assess all of the factors that could impede the delivery, installation and start-up of your new automated line. Make sure you have the following items or answers before finalizing your plans:

Get detailed drawings of the proposed equipment and determine where everything will be placed.

In the preliminary stages of a project, a rough drawing is used to sketch out a plan for the automatic powder coating line. Now is the time to tighten up the drawings and look for potential obstacles that could impact the location or performance of the equipment. We recommend identifying anything in the factory that might impinge on the equipment – electrical service, air lines, HVAC equipment, sprinklers, ventilation ducts, drains, low ceilings or support beams. You also need to scout for potential facility-specific problems like having sanding or welding stations too close to the coating operation. These areas, which can generate substantial dust and debris, can contaminate your coating area and keep your new line from being successful.

When planning for powder coating, make sure you understand spray & cure times for parts. You’ll need to know how long the cool-down times will be and where the parts will be stored while cooling. You’ll also need to know where the coated parts will be packaged and the untreated parts will be stored. Plan the traffic flow in the facility so you can move your parts safely throughout the pretreatment, coating, curing and packing processes.

Set the date with a project timeline.

Like detailed drawings, a detailed time line is essential for successful line implementation. Allow for flexibility, but set specific target dates when a certain task or component needs to be completed. Make sure that all contractors have access to the initial timeline and have signed off on your targets. If the timeline has to be revised, make absolutely certain that all contractors are aware and have signed off on new deadlines. Remember that if you set unrealistic goals for the performance of your contractors, you’re setting everyone up for failure.

Set a change order budget on the front-side and stick to it.

Complications arise during large finishing line installations. They can lead to unavoidable changes to the scale or placement of the equipment. Often these changes must be performed on the fly. Changes can also lead to staggering expense increases if not carefully managed. Set a realistic change order budget that cannot be exceeded. Make certain a change is really necessary before instructing the contractor to implement a change order, but don’t let good advice go unheeded just because it may increase the installation cost. A wise but costly decision made during equipment installation is almost always better than being stuck with a system that doesn’t work as well as it could.

Plan for BIG success.

Before issuing the first PO, address your potential production needs for 5+ years down the road. Make sure the line is expandable or that you have a plan in place should you experience explosive growth.

Utilize Your Assets: Outside Contractors, Consultants & Inspectors

Due to the size and scope of adding an automated line, you will have to employ or interact with a number of outside contractors to get your equipment up and running quickly.  These are the most important people you will be working with: 

Project Manager

Since this is a complex construction project, there needs to be a project manager who is in charge of all the details.  A project manager can help set realistic time lines for when components of the line should be delivered and installed. While the project manager can be someone in-house (the finishing line manager is the most common candidate), it is more likely that someone from the equipment supplier should be managing the integration of the equipment into the facility. The project manager should be scheduling meetings with all the contractors and suppliers to ensure timely installation and then providing regular reports on the installation progress.

Consultants & Industry Experts

Getting the advice of a true expert can be invaluable when making a major investment. All established providers of automated coating equipment will have experienced technical specialists on staff, but you may want to get a second opinion from a third-party expert before finalizing the layout, purchase and installation of your new coating line. Finishing consultants are not hard to find, and may be a good investment if you are unsure how to proceed.

Powder & Pretreatment Suppliers

Keep your pretreatment and powder suppliers in the loop during the construction and installation process. Consult with them on any line changes or change-orders, especially if the changes would reduce process times, since cure times and cleaning/pretreatment dwell times are extremely important for a consistent finish. If the line changes too much in scale or there are unplanned changes to the line speed, it can negatively affect the quality of the finished product.

Code Inspectors

If you want your installation to go smoothly–no matter where you’re located–you’ll need the cooperation of the local code authorities. Make the building inspector and fire marshal your friends before construction. Reach out to city water officials and state environmental inspectors; informing them of your project beforehand allows you the opportunity to educate them on any unusual processes that they may not be familiar with before permitting deadlines are reached. Your chemical and powder suppliers can help, as can code compliance consultants. Interacting with local Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJs) during the planning stage can pay huge dividends down the road.

Be Prepared For Facility Changes & Possible Challenges

As the construction of your new equipment draws to a close, your facility will be going through a learning period as your staff integrates new processes into their workflow. Here are some common issues to be aware of:

Production Learning Curve

Plan for less efficiency at the launch of your new coating operation due to material adjustments, reworks, and employee learning curve. While powder coating is much easier than applying wet paint, there needs to be grace periods as your coaters learn how to consistently prepare the parts, apply powder to the correct thickness, and get it cured properly without damaging the finish. You’re going to encounter mistakes as your personnel learn to operate and service the equipment, so keep this in mind as production begins.

Schedule Your Preventative Maintenance From The Very Beginning

Make sure you have an employee responsible for a preventative maintenance plan and make your employees stick to it. Your maintenance schedule should include routine cleanings and filter inspections, chemistry checks and gun testing, as well as more involved tasks like burner inspections and bearing lubrication. Review your maintenance routine every Friday or Monday (or both) until it becomes a habit. Adjust service intervals as necessary, but always err on the side of caution. It’s better to change filters a little too soon or spend a little more time cleaning your guns than to rework an afternoon’s worth of bad parts.

Quality Assurance Program

You will need a QA inspector that has the authority to reject defective finishes. Review your QA standards often to make sure they are not too strict or too lenient. Ensure employees are properly trained on testing the finish and that they understand the standards they are expected to meet. When changing to new powders or chemicals, hold a mandatory orientation session where workers can ask questions and experiment with new materials and processes.

Realistic Expectations

No matter what you do, there will be complications. Unexpected construction delays, paperwork hassles, defects from the wrong settings or under-trained employees, costly chemical adjustments, and unanticipated issues of all types can impact your new line every step of the way. The good news is that most of these issues can be quickly solved – if not prevented outright – by careful planning, good advice and attention to detail. Once your new line is installed and debugged, you’ll be glad you made the decision to upgrade your capabilities.

Deciding If An Automated Coating System Is Right For Your Operation

Automated powder spray boothsNow that you understand the selection process for a batch powder coating operation, it’s time to determine if a batch line or automated coating system is the right solution for your operation.

Are you launching a large coating operation from scratch and can’t decide what type of line will work best? Have you been powder coating with batch equipment but need to increase throughput? Perhaps you’re bringing powder coating in-house to finish the products your company manufactures, but you’re not sure how to do it. The decision to install an automated finishing system is a considerable one. Before you make the investment, you need to ask yourself if an automated system is right for your company’s operation style and daily coating requirements.

You Need To Powder Coat More Items Per Day

The number one reason to move from a batch line to an automated coating system is to increase throughput. If your business needs to produce a high volume of powder coated parts on a daily or weekly basis, and these parts are somewhat similar in size, you should consider installing an automated line. Since automated coating is a continual process, you’ll almost always be able to coat more parts in a set period of time than if you coated them manually in small batches. But, many problems with throughput can be resolved with less expensive batch equipment.

If you already have a batch system in place, and your production quota is exceeding your current throughput, determine if there is a bottleneck slowing down your operation. If your bottleneck is at the cure cycle, can you add another oven (https://www.reliantfinishingsystems.com/powder-coating-equipment/powder-coating-ovens/) to improve your capacity? If you’re losing time loading and unloading the parts on racks, is it cost effective to add more employees or build more racks? Evaluate your current system and see if you’ve done all of the simple and affordable expansions to your current operation. Bring in a consultant if you need expert advice. Sometimes a simple fix, like adding another gun or hiring an assistant for your coater, can significantly increase your throughput. If you have already upgraded your batch system and solved all of your bottleneck and speed issues, investing in an automated line is the next logical step to increase production.

You Need To Increase Your Powder Coating Consistency

If you need stringent quality control, an automatic line provides repeatable and consistent finish quality that is tough to match with a manual coating operation. Automatic gun systems from companies like Wagner, Nordson and Gema can be programmed to apply specific amounts of powder at just the right setting for best coverage. The process can be repeated automatically for each part. As long as the equipment is properly maintained, the results are ideal and consistent. If your current manual approach is too erratic because your coater is having trouble keeping up, or your customer’s finish requirements are very specific, an automatic system can provide highly consistent results when properly operated and maintained by skilled employees.

Your Parts Must Meet Stringent Coating Specifications

There are several common finishing specifications that you may be asked to meet in order to capture and retain a client’s business. Some of these finish standards require you to employ a specific pretreatment process to achieve acceptable results. Others may simply require finished parts to pass a durability test. Depending on your industry or your end-customer uses, your powder coated parts may need to meet national specifications before they can be used in the field.

One group of standards includes the AAMA (American Architectural Manufacturers Association) 2603, 2604, and 2605 aluminum specifications. Here is a link to a chart with a comparison of the three standards:http://www.aamanet.org/upload/file/2603-2604-2605_Comparisons_4-6-11.pdf

Each standard requires more extensive pretreatment and powder quality processes than the lower one. For example, the 2603 specification can be passed by a manual operation, but the 2604, and definitely the 2605, require an automatic pretreatment process (usually of 4-5 stages or more). Dip tanks can work for specialty parts, but if you are looking at part counts of 1,000-2,000 per day, manual solutions are just not practical. Hanging parts on an automatic line is the most efficient way to prepare large quantities of them consistently. Knowing your production requirements and parts specifications makes your system decision process much simpler.

You Need To Reduce Labor Costs

Cost management is an integral part of efficient production. Reducing labor costs on a per part basis can propel a company forward. Automatic lines can almost always reduce the amount of labor required when compared to their manual counterparts, but there is a minimum of how few employees it takes to run an automatic line.

Typically in a small automatic line you will need someone to load the parts, another person to run the automatic spray booth and perform manual touch-up of problem areas, someone to inspect/unload the parts, and a finish line manager who makes sure the employees are doing a quality job and the equipment is running properly. At least one person needs to know how to adjust the pretreatment section and how to maintain the equipment so that the line remains operational. A minimum of 3-5 employees is recommended for even a small automatic line.

You Don’t Need A Great Deal Of Versatility

Automated lines are sized based on the largest, densest parts that will be coated. The pretreatment and curing processes are often calibrated to get premium results with specific parts. Shops that routinely deal with parts that are in the same general size and density range are the best suited for automated coating lines. If you have parts that are substantially different in size and density (such as 10’ long sections of 3” wide railing, heavy 15” by 15” by 20” machine parts and thin 4’ by 4’ by 4’ pre-assembled frames), an automated curing line may not be practical. Although a single automated system can be set up to accommodate all of these parts, the costs to buy and operate it may be prohibitive.

The other consideration that may make an automated system impractical is if your company does not operate in a fairly consistent way from day to day. Specifically, if jobs are frequently being leap-frogged in line ahead of other work or your operating hours vary widely from day to day. It takes a while to get an automated system up and running, and it takes longer than batch equipment to shut down at the end of the day. Shuffling parts around, changing set-ups and re-starting the line can quickly offset the benefits that make an automatic line effective. Automated powder coating lines get the best results when they are used in a consistent and routine manner.

Comparing the Benefits Of An Automated Finishing System Versus A Batch System

If you can satisfy your production and cost requirements with a batch system, you are better served with the flexibility and lower cost of a well-made batch system. However, if your production quotas or part specifications require it, an automated line may be the obvious solution. We always recommend that you have a clear understanding of your production goals before making a system purchase.

If you’re still debating whether you need an automated powder coating system, here’s a summary of  the benefits and drawbacks of an automated line, as compared to a batch system.

Automated Finishing System Benefits:

  1. More parts per shift
  2. Repeatable finish quality
  3. Better pretreatment options
  4. Reduced labor per part
  5. Efficient use of labor due to constant process
  6. Lower powder cost per part  (especially if reclaiming powder)
  7. A single automated line is more energy efficiency than multiple batch appliances
  8. Consistent, high-end finishes are possible with a quality system

Automated Finishing System Drawbacks:

  1. Less flexibility: Parts have to be hung on line in a specific way. Parts are also limited to a certain height, length or width. Changes to any aspect of the coating process can cause costly downtime.
  2. Substantial cost increase: The capital equipment cost is significant greater, usually 3-5 times that of a comparable batch system
  3. Color changes are more difficult: Reclaim booths are usually for just one color unless you buy a cyclonic or equivalent type powder recovery system. Even then, changing colors is not easy in a reclaim operation. A spray-to-waste booth positioned in line immediately after a reclaim booth is not uncommon, but this increases the total equipment cost as well as the footprint of the installed equipment.
  4. Increased training expense: Automatic equipment requires better educated, well-trained employees to operate it. Employee retention is important after they have been trained because of potential downtime when dealing with new hires.
  5. Increased maintenance: Automatic lines must be vigorously maintained or they won’t function correctly. Poor maintenance practices can lead to lost production time and wasted labor waiting on the line to be fixed.
  6. A problem anywhere is a problem everywhere: Unlike batch systems, where the processes are isolated, a failure in one area of an automated system causes a backlash throughout the line. If a coater has a serious problem in the powder booth of a batch line, other parts can still be prepped and cured while the problem is addressed. If there is a problem in the spray booth of an automated line, the other processes will also come to a halt as soon as the conveyor is stopped.

Careful cost analysis should be performed before deciding on an automatic finishing system. Automatic lines can be very beneficial and improve profitability but their functionality is very specific. They are simply not as versatile as manual batch systems. Pretreatment stages, amount and type of powder to be applied, curing schedules and cool down times must all be calculated before the equipment is manufactured. If you’d like to learn more about the various types of powder coating media, the common steps in chemical pretreatment, and other helpful information that must be taken into account when specifying an automated system, check out our other articles by visiting our Resources page.

Choosing Your Powder Coating Equipment

Custom Coating EquipmentIn previous articles, I have talked about selecting a system or process before choosing your powder coating equipment. After you have established your process and have a rough idea of the timing of each step, you can select equipment to meet your production requirements.

Setting up a powder coating shop involves many variables besides powder or pretreatment. The size of part to be coated, layout of shop to be used, labor, parts per day requirement, staging of racks or parts in process, loading area, and unloading area are all factors that must be addressed when designing a work area.

What’s The Largest Item You Will Be Powder Coating?

The first factor to consider when sizing your equipment is the size of the parts you’ll be coating. Determine the size of the largest part you will be routinely powder coating and use that as the base size for your equipment. If your typical part is small, instead decide how many you want to coat at one time and how large the rack(s) will be to accommodate your throughput.

Once you have those measurements, you’ll need equipment that is appropriately sized for your application. For the powder spray booth, typically you will need 2-3 additional feet around the part so the operator can easily apply powder to the part without walking or spraying outside the booth.

The powder oven (checkout one from Reliant) can usually be smaller than the booth, but you still must account for the size of the rack(s) in the oven. If you are using multiple racks, you will want enough space inside the oven so the racks do not bump against each other and the doors can still be completely closed.

For example: If your rack of parts is four  (4) feet wide, five (5) feet tall, and six (6) feet long, you will want an eight (8) feet wide by ten (10) feet long booth with at least an 8 foot ceiling. This will give you two (2) feet all the way around the part, so the operator does not have to move the rack while powder coating. The additional height above the rack will allow the powder to go around the parts and not get deposited on the ceiling lights. This same rack can go in a six (6) feet high, six (6) feet wide, and eight (8) feet long oven. The smaller oven helps to bake the parts more efficiently.

Shop Workflow and Layout

Exterior dimensions of the equipment need to be known so that you can plan a good shop layout. Make sure you have enough room in your shop for not only the equipment, but adequate turning space for your parts or racks, and staging areas for parts moving into and out of your pretreatment, coating and curing areas.

Powder Coating System Layout Sample

Sample powder coating system layout with curing oven, powder booth, blasting booth and wash area shown.

When laying out your shop, be certain you have enough space to satisfy your local safety code requirements. Code varies from place to place (and I strongly encourage you to make the local code inspector your friend prior to a large equipment purchase) but a good rule of thumb is to make sure all components are at least three (3) feet away from each other and the shop walls or structures. Roof height is also an issue. You want at least three (3) feet clearance above the components and you do not want sprinkler systems (unless rated for 350F) or air hoses running over your oven. Your roof supports can sometimes be closer, but you will need to determine that with your local code authority.

Walkways, emergency escape routes, and staging areas for racks are other factors to consider when planning your shop layout. Be sure and have good access to utilities such as gas and power for the booth and oven. Water should be run to the area where you plan to have pretreatment and cleaning processes. Drains or water capture alternatives are also important; depending on your finishing process, you should plan these well in advance.

How Many Parts Per Day Do You Need To Powder Coat?

Another key factor for equipment planning is production requirements. In a batch system, you are only as efficient as your slowest stage. Typically this stage will be cure time.

Since the average cure time for polyester is metal temperature reaching 400F for 10 minutes, this usually means a 20 minute dwell time for gauges around 18-16 gauge. Quarter inch angle iron can take 30-40 minutes and some castings can take 45-60 minutes to reach the part temperature of 400F for ten minutes. Of course, powders vary in cure cycles as do metals in time it takes to reach their required cure time. I recommend running an oven recorder regularly to set your dwell times to reach optimal cure times.

Figure out your slowest cycle time, I’ll assume curing, although it could be metal preparation. A typical cycle time would be 20 minutes. That gives you 24 cycles times in an 8 hour shift, if you run everything at 100% efficiency. For example, if you do muffler tubes and can rack 100 tubes per cycle, your maximum daily production rate will be 2,400 muffler tubes. If you need more production, you can add more ovens till something else becomes your lowest cycle time, or bottleneck. When labor cost starts to increase too much by adding multiple ovens or booths, then you can look at automatic solutions.

Many beginning powder coaters think of automation right away, but I would almost always recommend trying to achieve your production goals with batch systems first. That way you learn the process and what it takes to achieve a good finish. Batch systems also give more flexibility and adjust to different powders, metals, thicknesses, and process better than automated lines. Now if they have to have 10,000 parts a day, automation is probably the way to go.

Selecting The Right Powder Coating Equipment Checklist

Purchasing the correct equipment can be a little overwhelming, but by identifying the key factors, the equipment purchasing decision gets easier.

Preparation: Am I blasting and/or washing? If yes, then you need a blast booth and/or wash booth.

Preheat/Dry: Do I need to preheat my parts due to pretreat drying, process or out gassing? If yes, then decide whether an extra oven is necessary or if you have capacity with your cure oven.

Size Of Parts And Racks: This determines the size of your equipment and necessary workflow requirements.

Available Area In Shop: This determines the amount of equipment you can fit or whether you need additional shop space.

Parts Per Day: Determines the amount of booths and ovens you will need to achieve your current and future production goals.

 

Knowing Your Powder

Powder For Powder CoatingNow that we have discussed the advantages of powder coating and the benefits of bringing your coating system in house, it’s time to talk powder. There are a number of different kinds of powder available, and selecting the right one is a key component to your finishing operation.

 

The Base Powder Coating Resin

When we talk about powder quality and performance, we always reference the powder’s base resin. The base resin is what the powder is made of (polyester, epoxy, etc) and will greatly impact two things: the final coating quality and your pretreatment process.

Depending on the specific performance criteria of your customer or your parts, there are multiple base resin qualities to be considered. We always recommend researching your requirements and deciding on your powder quality prior to purchasing equipment so that you don’t buy the wrong size oven or the wrong pretreatment solution.

Polyester Powder Coatings

The most widely used base resin for powder coating is polyester. Polyester has great exterior durability, good hardness, excellent chemical resistance, and is fairly easy to cure. Most start-up powder coating operations use a form of polyester due to its performance, affordability, and ease of application.

Polyester powder comes in many varieties. A couple of the most common are:

Low-Cure: Can be cured at 325F-350F. Lower cure temperature helps with some under powered ovens or quick cure applications. The downside of low cure is shelf life reduction and reduced performance.

Super-Durable: These polyesters have specific resins for longer retention of gloss and improved color fade resistance. They are used for exterior equipment applications such as high end tractors and trucks. They also use specific pigments that are designed to be UV ray resistant. This improvement comes at a higher price and may have tighter application tolerances.

TGIC-Free: Most polyesters are made from a TGIC resin. Certain architectural specifications require TGIC-Free polyester powder coating. They are usually a little higher in price and have tighter application specifications, but they may be less sensitive to cross-powder contamination.

Example product sheet: http://www.tcipowder.com/pdfs/product-literature/tru-illusion-product-flyer.pdf

Hybrid Powder Coatings

Hybrid powder coatings are a mix of polyester and epoxy resins. Most of your special effect coatings are this quality due to the pliability of the formulation. River textures, metallics, base coats, veins, and other effects are possible with this quality of powder. They are primarily for indoor applications since the epoxy part can degrade with exposure to UV radiation. Some formulations allow polyester clear coats to be applied after the hybrid coating for exterior quality. Hybrids are usually less expensive than polyesters and usually have lower cure temperatures.

Example video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d1cIz1pj_yI

Epoxy Powder Coatings

Epoxy powder coatings are used for parts that need superior chemical resistance but will not be exposed to sunlight. Under hood car parts, pipelines that are buried, and interior lab components are some common applications for epoxy powder coating. Powder primers are typically made from epoxy resins due to their affordability and extreme salt-spray performance. They usually are cured at lower temperatures than polyester and can be partially cured in the case of primers.

Example data sheet: http://www.tiger-coatings.us/fileadmin/user_upload/downloads_us_new/product-data-sheets/tiger-drylac/interior-applications/TIGER_Drylac_Series_69_Interior.pdf

Urethane Powder Coatings

Urethane powder coatings are used for high end parts that need great flexibility and exterior sunlight exposure performance. Typical applications for urethane powder coatings are marine exterior components, tight tolerance automotive parts, and impact-resistant surfaces. They are usually much higher in price than typical polyesters and are for specific applications that need them. Application is fairly normal with cure times similar to polyesters.

Example data sheet: http://www2.dupont.com/Powder/en_US/assets/downloads/tds/Channel_Green_AFG507S7.pdf

Kynar™ Powder Coatings

Kynar™ powder coatings are used primarily in aluminum applications on the outside of high-rises or anywhere that requires a ten year warranty against gloss loss and color fade. They are extremely expensive and difficult to apply correctly. They require specific pretreatment and applicators must be certified by the powder supplier with extensive testing be fore the powder coater is even approved to use the powder.

Example data sheet: http://www.ppgideascapes.com/getmedia/7ea7c346-46ac-4572-a91a-1123dcbc1554/DuranarPowder.PDF.aspx

Choosing The Right Powder For Your Process

Using this guide will help you determine the powder you need for the most common powder coating applications. However, if your process is very specific, you may also use acrylic coating, high-temp powders, and/or blends of the above resins for certain specialty purposes. Again, we always recommend researching your customer’s requirements (longevity, gloss, salt-spray resistance, etc) prior to making your powder or equipment purchase as it will determine the cure time, pretreatment required, and the application amount of the specific powder.

Once you’ve determined exactly what sort of powder and pretreatment you need, it’s time to plan your powder coating system. If you need assistance in planning please give one of our systems specialists a call.

Cleaning & Pretreatment Primer, Part One

Get_better_powder_coating_results_with_clean_partsBefore the first coat of powder ever gets applied, you have a decision to make: “How are you going to prepare your metal?

To get the best powder coating results, the surface you will be coating must be clean. Depending on the quality and type of metal, there are different levels of cleaning and pretreatment for powder coating to consider. You should also account for your customer’s requirements and how long the part should last in the field.

With all of these factors you may be wondering where to start, but it is as simple as asking:

What’s the best way to clean my metal?

What kind of pretreatment should I use?

What requirements does the finished product have?

The Best Ways To Clean Your Metal Surfaces For Powder Coating

First, determine what you’ll be coating the most often. If you are coating sheet steel, for example, you will usually only need light oil cleaning. Angle iron or castings often need sand/shot blasting to remove scale and surface rust. Aluminum is prepared differently than galvanized or regular steel; the oxidation layer of aluminum must be removed, which requires certain chemicals that provide a good etched layer for paint adhesion. Identifying which type of cleaning is right for your process is the first step in long-lasting, quality results.

The most common types of metal cleaning are:

Blasting. Blasting with sand or shot is a great way to clean up metal scale, laser scale, rough welds, or heavily rusted steel. Blasting is also used to strip off previously coated metal for refinishing. While blasting smooths out a lot of surface defects in raw metal, it does not fully clean the metal of oils or other contaminants. However, blasting does create a more adhesive surface for the powder coating after the part has been cleaned of residual soils.

Washing. Pressure washing, dipping, or automatic washing (with a soap specifically formulated for the soils specific to your fabricating process) are the most effective ways of cleaning the metal prior to the next finishing stage. Steam cleaning or hot water helps break down the oils and can reach difficult spots or gaps in the surface. Detergent is the best way of cleaning metal of oils, waxes, polishing compounds, or other substances that will prevent the powder from sticking to the metal.

Wiping. Solvent wiping is another way to clean up the metal of surface oils and contaminants, but it is an inaccurate way to clean. Since the part is manually wiped with rags, the rags can become saturated with the oil you are trying to remove.

Pretreatment For Better Powder Coating Results

Clean metal by itself can be immediately powder coated but that will not give you superior performance and weathering characteristics. A good pretreatment allows the powder coating to better bond physically to the metal, withstand exterior weathering, and prevents flash rust prior to powder coating.  Because of all the benefits associated with it, you should always consider adding metal pretreatment to your coating process.

There are a few of methods of pretreatment. The first one is chemically etching the metal with an acid based product that promotes adhesion of the powder coating to slick or difficult to adhere to metals. Aluminum is typically a very slick substrate, so it needs some sort of surface treatment to remove oxidation and to etch the surface. Etching chemicals are usually more difficult to work with than the next method.

The second method of pretreatment, phosphating, is used to improve the corrosion resistance of the product.  Iron phosphate is the oldest method of pretreatment. It is a great way to improve the adhesion of the powder as well as doubling or tripling the corrosion resistance of powder by itself. In a pure steel fabrication process, it is the most common chemical pretreatment. Zinc Phosphate is a more robust process that results in the best corrosion resistance for steel products that are meant for ships or near coastal areas.

Here are a couple of links to some data pages for iron phosphate and zinc phosphate products:

Iron Phosphate: http://www.ppgtruefinish.com/getattachment/3448357e-3e53-4cf9-bf96-a70b51160dd7/CHEMFOS-146FD.pdf.aspx

Zinc Phosphate: http://www.williams-oakey.co.uk/gardobondz3480.pdf

Besides etching and phosphating, a third method of pretreatment is Zirconium Non-Phosphate pretreatment. In essence, it is a combination etching chemical such as zirconium fluoride in a low solids acrylic sealer that bonds to the metal. This newer process is used for multi-metal operations and also combines well with cleaners for a 1-3 step spray system, depending on the chemical manufacturer.

Here is a more technical description of Zirconium: http://www.duboischemicals.com/pretreatment/links/zirconization.pdf

Meeting Your Customer’s Powder Coating Specifications

Finally, your customer’s specifications will determine the cost and complexity of your pretreatment process. If a tractor-trailer wheel needs to last 5-10 years on the road under heavy use in ice and snow, then the powder coater needs a superior pretreatment process. A decorative base for an interior table would not need the corrosion resistance as the wheel, but might need a good etch or blast profile to prevent powder loss due to being bumped from time to time. An interior fluorescent light fixture would need neither improved adhesion or corrosion resistance, but would still need clean metal for the powder to be applied defect-free.

With all these questions answered, you’ll be able to implement a pretreatment process that produces quality and consistent results for you and your customers.

What Finish Do You Need?

We’ve already talked about the benefits of powder coating over traditional wet paint and how setting up your own system can save you considerable time and increase your ROI. But what do you need to do now that you’ve decided to start your powder coating operation? Understanding what you are going to coat and what your powder specifications are will help you make the right decisions.

Determine What Type Of Powder Coating Finish Your Customers Want

When you start your powder coating operation, you need to know what performance specifications your customers require. This can be as easy as matching the performance of your current liquid operation or using the same powder as your current outsourced job shop. However, if you are in a highly technical industry – like supplying car or tractor parts – then there could be specification on salt-spray resistance, color retention, gloss loss, adhesion, flexibility, or hardness.

Here’s an example: If you powder coat parts for a larger manufacturer, that manufacturer may already powder coat and assemble some of their larger parts in-house. If you are, for example, supplying powder coated parts to John Deere, you will be using the same powder they use for their products. There might be no way to match their pretreat process, but you will need their powder specifications to make sure your parts integrate smoothly with their operation.

The Powder Specification Indicates What Equipment You’ll Need

The powder specification will provide you with a lot of important information, including powder thickness and cure times. This will tell you what type of oven (https://www.reliantfinishingsystems.com/powder-coating-equipment/powder-coating-ovens/) you will need as well as how much powder you have to apply. Is the thickness excessive? If yes you might need to pre-heat the part to get more powder to stick. The specifications should also say what type of pretreat process is required before coating. Iron Phosphate or Zinc Phosphate might be designated. Zirconium is also a common pretreat chemical that is used for multi-metal pretreating.

These specifications will dictate what type of pretreatment process you will need as well as what type of finish process your products will require. Once you have decided that, then you need to figure out how many you want to coat a day.

Choosing The Right Equipment For The Job

Your finish process is very dependent on the type of powder the finish specifications require and your coating equipment must be able to handle the workload in a quick and efficient manner.

For example, if you have to use a super-durable polyester baked at 385-400 F for 10-15 minutes, then you need an oven that is large enough and has enough power to cure the powder in an even and timely process. But if you are coating low cure epoxies, they only needs 8-10 minutes at 325 F for full cure. You wouldn’t need as powerful an oven to cure the epoxies as you would with the super-durable polyester.

If you plan on doing both, then engineer your equipment to the higher end. I always ask manufacturers to look five years down the road for their projected production requirements and possible finish improvements they would like to see.

Asking the Right Questions Before You Get Started

Ask your powder supplier for the curing and application specifics. This will help you decide on the basic system you would like to implement. Not all powders are the same though many are similar. Remember cure time is part temperature at cure time. The heating up of the metal does not technically count as cure time.

Your Process Decides Basic Equipment Selection

Once you know your proposed finish process, you can easily decide which equipment is right for you and your customers. Finishing can be broken down into three basic elements which help inform you on what sort of equipment you’ll be installing:

Metal Preparation – sand-blast, cleaning, solvent wiping, pretreating, and/or drying

Application – hand-spray, multiple coats, automatic spray, and/or possible priming

Curing – batch oven, conveyor oven, and/or IR oven

We have a lot to talk about in future articles, including pretreatment selection, powder chemistry and equipment selection, but suffice to say, having the finishing details first helps with the more expensive equipment decisions later.

Need help? Please give one of our systems specialists a call today, or check out our Resources page for more educational information on coating equipment, powder coating and more.