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.

About Bruce Chirrey

Reliant Finishing Systems Applications Specialist Bruce Chirrey has been in the industrial finishing industry for 25 years. He has held positions such as Field Technical Service, Applications Lab Manager, and Technical Sales Representative. For the past 15 years he has been instrumental in the implementation of several finishing lines, both liquid and powder, for such industrial clients as Kubota, John Deere, Masonite, Kelley Manufacturing, Albany Marine Base, and many others.

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