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.

Beginner’s Guide To Powder Coating Equipment

powder coating applicationIf you want to powder coat but aren’t sure where to start, our Beginner’s Guide to Powder Coating Equipment is intended to help anyone learn about the business of powder coating. Whether you’re just curious about professional powder coating or ready to install your first coating line, this brief overview will give you the basic information you need to get started.

What Is Powder Coating?

Powder coating is a multi-step finishing process. In the first step, a product (usually a metal part) is cleaned and prepared for coating. Next, it is coated with a fine powder. The powder covers the part’s surface. In the final step, the part is moved into a curing oven. The product is then heated in the oven, allowing the powder to melt and flow into a uniform coating that adheres to the part. This creates a very durable and attractive coating around the product once the melted powder cools and hardens.

What Sort of Equipment Do I Need For Powder Coating?

There are three different types of equipment you must have to perform professional quality powder coating:

Pretreatment (Where Your Product Is Cleaned Prior To Powder Coating)

Application (Where The Powder Is Sprayed Onto The Product)

Curing (Where The Powder Is Cured Into A Durable Finish)

Pretreatment For Powder Coating

To achieve the best results with your powder coating process, your product needs to be clean—free of dust, debris, oil, rust, old paint or finish material. Anything left on your product prior to coating will affect the powder’s adhesion and durability. That’s where pretreatment comes in.

Pretreatment equipment is used before your product is ever powder coated and is designed to make sure that your product is as clean as possible before powder is applied. (For more information on pretreatment, start with our Pretreatment Primer.)

Operator Inside A Blast RoomIf the product you want to powder coat has a lot of debris (rust, laser scale, preexisting paint), then you will likely need a Blast Room. A blast room is an enclosure where you use compressed air to propel abrasive material against the surface of your parts. Depending on the situation, you would typically use either an appropriate blast media (grit) or steel shot to blast all the unwanted debris off your part until it has a clean metal surface that’s ready for powder coating. Blast rooms are especially useful for job shops that work with raw materials that aren’t pristine, such as plate steel or tube stock that has areas of oxidation or welding residue. (For more information on getting the right blast room, go here.)

 

pretreatment-for-powder-coating-with-manual-spray-wandIf oils, solvents or chemical residue covers any part of your products’ surface, you’ll want to consider a Wash Station. A wash station is where you spray your parts with a detergent and/or chemical pretreatment agent, such as iron phosphate. Using hot water or steam to clean and then chemically prep parts is quite common. A wash station helps you increase powder adhesion and improve finish quality, even if the parts have already been blasted. Some wash stations require you to apply the chemistry manually using a spray wand. Other washers are automated and the parts travel through the cleaning, rinsing and prep stages on a conveyor.

In some operations, pretreatment requires the use of a Dry-Off Oven. This is commonly an appliance similar to a curing oven, but where the just-washed parts are heated in order to evaporate any water or chemistry still on them. This step can also help parts reach an optimum temperature for powder application.

Pretreatment equipment is incredibly useful for your operation and can make a big difference in the quality of your work, but an elaborate system isn’t always required for powder coating. While we can’t stress how important it is to have a clean surface before you apply powder, expensive pretreatment equipment isn’t mandatory for entry level coating operations where hands-on cleaning (such as with a tack rag and solvent) can be employed as needed.

Application: Powder Guns and Powder Spray Booths

powder-coating-gun-and-controlsPowder coating application is almost always done with a special Powder Spray Gun. In order for powder coating to work effectively, the powder must be electrostatically charged. The only way to apply this charge is with a spray gun designed exclusively for powder coating. Compressed air moves powder through the gun from a hopper or directly from the box the powder is stored in. The compressed air blows powder out of the gun as a tightly formed cloud. As the powder leaves the gun, it receives an electrostatic charge. Once charged, the powder cloud envelopes the part and the powder sticks to the surface of the grounded part (which is one of the reasons why powder coating equipment is so easy for new operators to use).

If you want to powder coat, you need a powder coating gun. There are many types of powder spray guns available on the market. We always recommend investing in a professional-grade powder gun, as they are more reliable and provide better results.

Once you have your powder gun, you’ll need to have a place to use it. Whenever you spray powder, some of the powder will end up on the floor and in the air instead of on your products. This leftover powder is referred to as overspray. Keeping this overspray out of your workspace is one of the functions of the Powder Spray Booth.

powder-coating-application-inside-powder-spray-boothThe powder spray booth is designed to keep the rest of your shop clean while providing a well-lit area for you to apply powder coating. All powder spray booths will have one or more exhaust fans. The exhaust will use filters to capture at least some of the overspray. If the exhaust works properly and the filters are maintained, the airflow in the booth should keep the overspray inside the enclosure and enable the painter to see what he’s doing. If your shop environment includes welding or blasting areas, filtered doors on the spray booth can keep airborne contaminants out of your powder coated finish.

rack-and-powder-gun-in-powder-spray-boothNumerous booth configurations are available, and getting the ideal booth depends largely on what you’re coating, your floor space availability, and your workflow requirements. Powder spray booths can be open-faced or have doors on one end. They can also be tunnel style enclosures with the filtration built into the floor or wall(s). If you have space constraints, a Powder Spray Wall may help you get the airflow and filtration you need. A spray wall is just a large filtration system—essentially a spray booth without walls or a roof.

If you want to recycle your powder, you need to make sure your powder spray booth is built with a reclamation system. Usually this system will rely on pleated cartridge filters. These help you recover some of the overspray and reuse it. This can be very cost-effective if you are planning to use only one color and type of powder for your coating. The spent powder is trapped in the filters and then dislodged into a recovery bin for reuse. In more advanced systems, the powder is automatically reconditioned, mixed with virgin powder, and then returned to the supply hopper feeding the powder gun(s). If you are planning to reclaim a variety of colors, a set of removable filter modules is required. Unfortunately, the cost of buying multiple reclaim modules can add up quickly because you can only reclaim one color in each filter module.

No matter what type of booth you decide on, you’ll need a powder spray booth if you want to get quality results and maintain reasonable throughput from your coating operation. (For more information on what size powder spray booth you might need, click here.)

If you have stringent finish requirements, you may also need a Clean Room (also called an Environmental Room). This is usually a climate-controlled room built around the powder application area. The purpose of a clean room is to eliminate airborne contaminants and control the temperature and humidity during powder application to prevent any sort of contamination, clumping or consistency issues when applying the powder. Clean rooms are often recommended if your shop environment is particularly dirty or your products require an exact specification for adhesion or salt spray tolerance. (For more about requirements, click here.)

Curing: Powder Curing Ovens

Batch Powder Curing Oven - Doors OpenAfter your product is powder coated, the final step is to place it inside a specially designed Powder Curing Oven. They usually operate between 325° and 450° Fahrenheit. Once the oven is up to temperature, the temperature stabilizes. The coated products are exposed to precisely heated air for a set period of time. Once the curing process is complete, the parts are removed and allowed to cool before being handled.

Some ovens use infrared emitters to heat the surface of the coated parts, but these types of electric powered or gas catalytic ovens can be costly to buy and expensive to maintain. More commonly, ovens rely on electric heating elements or a natural gas or LP-fueled heat system. These more conventional ovens typically rely on heated air moving over the parts for convection curing.

The time it takes to cure the powder varies greatly depending on the size, shape and thickness of the parts being coated. A small, light-gauge bracket can take as little as ten minutes to cure completely, while a 20’ section of heavy-walled pipe may take over an hour to cure properly.

Powder Coated Parts After CuringIf you want to powder coat at a professional level, the type of oven you choose is critical.  Not only are brand-name powder curing ovens designed specifically to generate premium coating results, they are also highly efficient appliances in terms of fuel usage and energy costs. It’s likely that you’ll be using your oven several hours per week, so the cost of an inefficient design can quickly sap your profits.

Similar to powder spray booths, powder curing ovens come in multiple sizes and configurations. (For more information on what size powder coating oven you will need, click here.)

Professional Powder Coating Systems Layouts

There are two basic configurations for any powder coating line: batch or automated.

general use-powder coating equipment batch configurationA Batch Powder Coating Line is usually a system where the parts are prepared, coated and cured in batches of multiple parts, with operators handling up to dozens or hundreds of parts at a time. The products are usually hung on metal rolling racks, which move with the parts throughout the coating process. (Remember: high-temperature or metal casters for your racks are very important!) With a batch line, parts are usually moved from stage to stage manually, and the term “batch coating system” is also commonly used to describe operations where large objects are coated individually after being moved by hand or with machinery.

Automated Finishing SystemsAn Automated Powder Coating Line uses basically the same appliances as a batch system, but connects many or all of the stages via a motorized conveyor that moves the parts through at a constant rate. The products are usually loaded onto the conveyor at a set location and move through each stage, where either manual operators or automated devices clean and prep the parts and apply powder to them. Once coated, the parts move through the curing oven and then cool as they travel along the conveyor to a point where they can be unloaded.

(For more information on whether a batch coating line or an automated coating line is right for your business, follow this link to learn more about the advantages and disadvantages of each system.)

Powder Coating Equipment From Reliant Finishing Systems

Hopefully this Beginner’s Guide to Powder Coating Equipment has answered your basic questions about what powder coating is, how it is done, and what you need to start your first powder coating line. If you would like to learn more, please give us a call at (888) 770-0021. Reliant Finishing Systems’ specialists can help! We’ll guide you through the process of setting up a powder coating shop or adding coating capabilities to your existing fab shop or manufacturing facility. Whether it’s your very first powder coating system or you’re upgrading to a complete automated line, you can trust Reliant to provide you with sound advice and affordable, high quality equipment.

Free On-Site Powder Coating Workshop

Spend $30,000 or more on any new powder coating equipment and receive a free powder coating workshop when you purchase before December 31st, 2016!
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Learn From An Industry Expert

Our Advanced Powder Coating Workshop is taught by our resident powder expert, Bruce Chirrey (who has written a host of helpful articles on powder coating, including here, here and here). Bruce’s 25 years of experience and extensive powder coating knowledge will be at your disposal for up to 12 hours of on-site, hands-on powder coating training. Bruce will cover:

  • The Basics of Powder Coating Application
  • Understanding Powder Coating Gun Settings
  • Tips & Tricks For Better Coverage
  • Advanced Coating Techniques
  • And much more!

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Hurry! This offer is only valid until December 31st, 2016 and is valid on ANY* purchase of $30,000 or more on new capital equipment.

*Advanced Workshop offer available in the contiguous US. Not available with any other offer.

Powder coating machine installation and services

An Introduction To Powder Coating Quality Control Testing

Once you’ve completed a powder coating job, your next step is quality control testing. Whether the coating has to withstand harsh environments or resist normal wear and tear, you – and your customers – need to know what to expect from your coating work.

Profitable job shops make sure they meet their customers’ coating specifications. Successful manufacturers also perform rigorous testing to ensure that their powder coated products meet pre-set standards. If you want to retain customers and expand your powder coating business, you need to focus on the quality of your work. The same attention to quality is critical if you want to keep an in-house coating department on the right track.

Flexibility, color, gloss, adhesion, corrosion resistance, chemical resistance, durability, film thickness, proper curing and overall appearance are all things you can test for as part of a quality assurance program.

Practical Quality Control Testing Methods

No matter what you are coating, there are a few tests you need to add to your daily process. The most common areas to test for basic powder coating functionality are:

  • Film Thickness
  • Uniformity/Proper Curing
  • Adhesion
  • Appearance

Because proper quality control testing is so important to your success and reputation, we recommend these tests be performed daily, or at least once with every batch of products–and any time you change your coating products or processes.

 Powder Coating Film Thickness Testing

powder-coating-gauge-for-quality-control-testingA film thickness test determines the thickness of the powder on the part once it’s been cured. This is generally confirmed with a Dry Film Thickness gauge. These gauges are fairly affordable and easy to use.

A common range to look for is 2-3 dry mils (thousandths of an inch). A coating of 2-3 mils usually provides complete coverage of the powder over the metal.

Remember: Make sure that if you powder coat both steel and aluminum, you purchase a gauge that will measure both ferrous and non-ferrous metals.

If you are getting less than 2 mils, you are at risk of not providing full coverage on the product. If you are over 5-7 mils in a single coat, you could be wasting powder or causing surface appearance defects like “orange peel” or runs. In either case, adjustment of the powder coating application is needed.

Powder Coating Uniformity/Cure Testing

mek-solution-for-powder-coating-testingWhen we talk about “cure” in quality control, we’re talking about the correct temperature and dwell time that allows the powder to achieve it’s formulated hardness and chemical resistance properties. When testing for cure, you want to make sure that there aren’t any areas of overbake (where the powder has cured in a dry and brittle fashion) or underbake (where the powder has not completely cured).

A cure test is easy to perform. Proper curing is confirmed by rubbing a methyl ethyl ketone-soaked cotton swab lightly over a cured panel or part (in an inconspicuous area if the part is to be used if acceptable). Application of 20 double rubs (back and forth over the same spot) is a common standard for checking cure, but you will usually see failure after about only three or four passes. If the finish deteriorates to the point that you expose bare metal, your cure is lacking or the powder is defective. If the coating softens but then recovers, you are fine. Some color may transfer to the cotton swab, but that is normal, especially with hybrid powder coatings.

If your parts are failing their cure tests, temperature in the oven or dwell time in the oven may need to be increased. Be careful when adjusting your process not to overcure, as that can cause issues like adhesion failure; dulling of gloss; or yellowing and browning of the color, especially if you are coating white.

Powder Coating Adhesion Testing

Adhesion testing measures how well the powder sticks to the part once it is fully cured. As with the cure test, your adhesion test results can be affected by overbake or underbake.Generally, adhesion testing kits are available for specific testing requirements.

You can perform a simple adhesion test on your powder coated products using some common tools you likely already have at your shop – but remember, the adhesion test is a destructive test. Do not do this on parts you want to use because this test will ruin the finish.

Adhesion Testing Supplies For Powder Coating Quality Control TestingTo perform the adhesion test, you will need some sticky clear tape and a utility knife. You will also want at least one test panel that you have already coated and cured.Make sure the part or test panel is clean and dry.

Again, this is a destructive test, so make sure you test adhesion on a part you won’t mind throwing away or completely reworking.

 

Next, using the utility knife, scribe a section of the part five times one way and then again 5 times perpendicular to the first scratches.This will give your part’s coating a grid-like appearance. Make sure you cut through the coating to the metal.

powder coating grid for adhesion testing

After making the cuts, put a piece of tape over the grid and smooth out any air bubbles. The tape should completely cover the grid. Pull the tape off aggressively and look at the tape and the part. An acceptable result will show only a little of the powder coming off from the grid cuts. If a square or two of coating is removed, adhesion can be suspect. If your coating comes off in a sheet, then you have adhesion failure.

Adhesion failures can be caused by several factors. One of the first places to look is metal preparation. If the metal is too slick or oily, powder will not be able to stick to the surface. Make sure the substrate is clean and etched/abraded. Overcure can also cause the powder to become so brittle that it will easily pull away from the metal. Old powder may have issues that can cause lack of adhesion as well. Proper process evaluation will lead you to the cause of the failure.

Powder Coating Appearance Evaluation

Powder Coated Parts On RackOne of the advantages of powder coating is how good the finished product looks. All your products should be inspected before shipment to make sure that there aren’t gaps in coverage, bubbles, warping or poor coating application. If your quality assurance manager is actively looking for defects, problems with the powder or the product can be fixed before delivery.

 

The second part of your appearance testing routine involves taking time to communicate with your customers. Every customer should have an idea of what he or she considers to be an acceptable finish, but it may take some discussion to determine what’s realistic and measurable. A finish standard can be as simple as no more than two visible surface imperfections per square foot. Or it can be no blisters or pinholes visible on the primary surfaces. Gloss and color standards may also be included. If a customer has very precise requirements, we recommend investing in a gloss meter/color eye (spectrophotometer or similar) to make certain the customer receives exactly what they expect.

Appearance issues can be caused by many factors. Contamination is usually the biggest problem. Shop dirt, welding debris, sanding dust or other airborne contaminants can get on the parts. These substances can cause the powder to react negatively or simply fail to cover the contamination. Proper cleaning and pretreatment can address these issues.

Unfortunately, improper cleaning contributes to many appearance issues. Ignoring rust or residue can prove costly in the long run. The use of poorly mixed or overly-diluted chemicals, the application of inappropriate detergents, and other pretreatment shortcomings related to carelessness can also cause significant finish problems.

Sometimes water in compressed air lines or high humidity in the shop environment can cause powder to clump and generate unwanted appearance issues. Evaluating your process by eliminating one variable at a time is crucial for discovering what’s causing the issue.

Adding Quality Control To Your Powder Coating OperationInspecting Powder Coating For Quality Control

Generally speaking, the four basic tests discussed in this article should be included in any powder finishing process. Other periodic laboratory tests may be needed. These include salt-spray, UV exposure, QUV, taber abrasion testing, etc. Most of the lab testing can be done by your powder supplier. Be sure to communicate fully with your customer, as well as your powder media and pretreatment chemistry suppliers, to clarify what testing is required and what standards the finished parts must meet.

Need Help Getting Your Line Back Into Shape?

Reliant Finishing Systems manufactures all types of powder coating equipment and offers a wide variety of repair and troubleshooting services for the powder coating industry.

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Need equipment? Reliant builds blasting enclosures, gas and electric ovens for parts drying and powder curing, environmental rooms, powder application booths, spray walls, multi-stage parts washers, and manual wash stations. Our systems specialists have years of experience with the design and installation of powder coating lines of all sizes.pic-4-1

If you already have equipment in place, Reliant can help. Whether you need a line audit to help you increase throughput or simply need to run a Datapaq to diagnose possible hot spots in your oven, our team of experienced technicians can help. Give us a call today.