Bringing powder coating in-house leads to a top quality finish and quick turnaround
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All finishers know the importance of a high quality coating, and for Poseyville, Indiana’s Product Kreation Design (PK Design) they required no less. Yet, what do you do when you can’t get the quality you need, on-time delivery is virtually non-existent and costs are rapidly increasing? Well, this company decided to turn to itself to get the job done.
It’s that quick turnaround time and a top quality finish that is getting PK Design a lot of attention.
Founded in 1995 as an engineering firm, PK Design has evolved into numerous business ventures, including an athletic equipment manufacturer and a custom powder coater. Today, PK Design powder coats anything from athletic equipment to metal fencing and railings to patio furniture to automotive parts. The company is not afraid to take on any challenge and does so head first.
After several years of providing engineering services predominately for the plastics and molding industry, Odis Meredith Jr., president of PK Design, began building athletic equipment for a friend. Soon, that friend flourished into Rolling Stone’s Fitness Trainer of the Decade and business took off. Meredith found himself in need of a brand name for his athletic equipment and that name became Torque Athletic.
Torque Athletic worked in conjunction with the legendary Dave Draper, www.davedraper.com, in designing and building workout equipment. “Torque’s equipment is built like modern war machines, powerful and hi-tech, and includes it all, from utility benches to multi-station cable units” Draper said. Torque needed a finish that reflected the excellence of its products and chose to powder coat. “I had worked with equipment that had been enameled and found it rusted and had flaking problems. So, powder was really the only coating we looked at,” recalls Meredith.
Yet, finding the right powder coater wasn’t as easy as finding the right coating. “We worked very closely with Dave tweaking the products, making sure the equipment was completely up to his standards—and they were thrilled.” Meredith continues. “Then we started getting the coating put on. We were getting bleed through and flaking…we were not happy and we felt the finish definitely hurt the look of our equipment.” Torque was rejecting 40-50% of all parts due to the poor finish and continued its search for the right powder coater.
Eight years and four powder coaters later, Torque finally had come to the end of its rope. “We had a huge show we were exhibiting at. We were shipping the Draper Dungeon [a behemoth all-in-one workout machine] and we needed to have this piece coated three times because the shop never got it right.” Meredith was expecting more than 80,000 attendees to walk past his booth and he needed the coating to be perfect, yet when the Dungeon was delivered to his facility the day of the show, the coating was so thin it appeared green instead of the bright Torque yellow it was supposed to be. So, they sent it back.
“Literally, it was the day of the show. We told them they needed to do it again. We stood at the shop, waiting for them to recoat it. We loaded the parts hot on the truck, letting them cool on the ride up and decaling them while it was unloading.
“That was the last straw,” Meredith said. “Not only was the quality questionable, but we had to wait on the products and the cost was increasing exponentially.”
Meredith either had to continue looking for a new powder coater, which was going to be located more than a three hour drive or start reviewing the cost, time and effort of bringing in its own system to do its own powder coating. “We felt we had used everyone around us and getting the same results, so we went and got our own system.”
Meredith contacted Fluid Air Products, Inc., a distributor and supplier of finishing equipment, out of St. Louis, MO. He was familiar with Fluid Air and figured they were the first step. “I had worked with Fluid Air before and they had always been good to me. I knew they could help us out with liquid, so I called them up to see if they could help us out with powder.” Fluid Air was happy to help Meredith with powder and quickly came to Poseyville to figure out what equipment would best fulfill his needs.
When Fluid Air sat down with Torque Athletic, Meredith quickly realized that his knowledge of powder coating had been vastly off base, which had predominately come from his former powder coaters. He had been led to believe that powder coating was an incredibly expensive process, that everything needed to be pre-baked with only a limited number of parts could be placed on a rack and finally parts needed hours to cool. So, starting from scratch, Meredith and Torque Athletic began the process of becoming a custom powder coating, launching it under the brand name of PK Design.
Fluid Air educated Meredith and the PK Design team about the entire process, starting with a pretreatment step. “We knew pretreatment was important. We knew that the best finish started with the best surface preparation, so we definitely wanted to install our own pretreatment process,” Meredith says.
They looked at several options but ultimately decided on abrasive blasting. “We didn’t want to have pollutants with our pretreatment system. The chemical pretreatments are not only expensive but are hazardous to the environment.” Meredith says. “Our criteria for selecting a pretreatment were that it be environmentally friendly and media is just that.”
PK Design currently uses several kinds of blasting media depending on the type of metal and finish a customer desires. They use silica sand, glass beads, walnut shells, aluminum oxide, baking soda, steel shot and others types occasionally when the customer requests it.
Putting in its own pretreatment system has proved to be valuable, seeing as it on its own has become a source of business. Several local companies do not have their own pretreatment systems and outsource PK Design to take care of that step.
While learning about powder coating, Meredith determined an essential step is grounding. Joe Miller of Fluid Air told him that most of the problems he had previously was due to the company’s lack of grounding. Fluid Air had just started testing ITW Gema’s OptiStar manual gun control unit and thought it fit for PK Design’s needs.
The gun allowed the team to customize and preprogram the unit to their specifications as well as provide complete control over the powder coating since it automatically adjust air settings as well as provides quick color change, which for custom jobs is optimal.
Since the gun was fairly new to Fluid Air and completely new to PK Design, Meredith and his team went to Fluid Air’s laboratory to test the gun and found it to be the right gun, giving them the quality coating they needed as well as the control they wanted.
Being a custom powder coater, PK Design wanted to offer its clients a plethora of colors to choose from and has since began to work with 37 different powder suppliers so customers are never limited by color or characteristics. “We couldn’t display all of the colors on our walls due to space, so we display a few of our larger suppliers and listen to the customers needs, such as a little darker than this, a little redder than that and we go find an exact color match.” Doing so, doesn’t confuse the clients as much but does provide them the precise color they had in mind.
The final piece of equipment PK Design needed to purchase was the oven. One philosophy of Meredith’s is to get the best finish, you need the best equipment. “If we couldn’t afford the highest quality, we held off and waited until we could,” Meredith explains.
PK Design wanted the largest oven it could fit in its shop. It didn’t want to have to turn away parts because of capacity. So, Meredith installed a 35×15×12 ft oven. The largest part they have had to date was 34 ft in length and he hasn’t had to say no to a single part due to size yet.
Fluid Air invited Meredith and his main powder coater to their facility to put them through a two-day training seminar. They came back home to train the rest of the PK Design crew and their initial run-through was a success. Meredith remembers, “The first test batch we ran, we figured we would have paid $3,800 for the amount of parts we coated. I figured out my cost—powder, gas, labor and all—probably $600. The quality we got off our very first rack was better than anything we had seen before.”
Since installing its powder coating unit, PK Design has had several learning experiences. One particular problem that Meredith remembers was coating powder over chrome. The company quickly had several orders that involved chrome parts, which the company was unfamiliar with coating. They asked for some scrap parts to practice on, since the last thing Meredith wanted to do was mess up someone’s parts. “When we started coating the chrome parts, we ran into two problems. The first was an adhesion problem, which we quickly solved with an adhesion promoter. The second problem was what looked like orange peel.” Meredith had formally been involved in liquid paint and was familiar with orange peel.
He looked into the pressure and several other factors; he could not figure out what was wrong since everything appeared to be fine. Meredith called Miller for help. “I called Joe and explained what we had showing up. He laughed and said it was a chrome part and the ground was so intense that we were getting a bounce back and that was causing a ripple effect.”
Miller suggested a corona tip to put on the gun, which would disperse the powder and give an even flow. They also told PK Design to orientate the parts in a particular way on the racks. “Those two tricks took care of that problem and now we are getting a nice glass-like coating over the chrome,” says Meredith.
Meredith is currently being asked to powder coat a plastic part, which he figures he will eventually figure out with enough practice and time, but he sees it all as part of the learning process for him and his company.
To ensure a top quality finish, Meredith has challenged PK Design’s employees to be an integral part of quality control. There are certain checks, for example the person who does final packaging is responsible for a quality check, as well as the person bringing components to packaging. Each employee is responsible for quality and everyone has the ability to reject a part.
One way that Meredith ensures top-of-the-line quality is by hiring the best. “Everybody here has worked with me for quite a while. They are all top quality employees and have the best interest in the company. They are as critical as I am on parts.” He continues, “They have stopped everything that I would have stopped from going out the door. Everyone is responsible for quality.”
PK Design also wants to work with each customer, making sure deadlines are met and quality exceeds customer expectations. “We got into powder because we couldn’t get quality at all, we couldn’t get delivery to speak of—taking 2-3 week turnaround on products. We wanted to make sure we provide the best service possible,” Explains Meredith. “We pride ourselves in the ability to turn a job in a ‘matter of minutes’ when it is essential to our customer.”
News of PK Designs high quality and their customer service spread and the customers began lining up. Meredith recollects one particular customer that is a nationally-recognized manufacturer of ornamental fences and railings for several universities, residential projects and government buildings. “I felt sorry for this one company. They built beautiful ornamental railings and six month in the field, their products were rusting and fading. They had a very negative opinion of powder coating.”
PK Design worked with the company, discovering that their product was not being treated properly, there was not enough coating on their product and the fading was due to a lack of UV resistance in the powder. PK Design convinced the company to give powder another chance, asking to do the coating themselves to prove the benefits of powder. “We walked them through, what powder could do, what it couldn’t do.” Meredith continues, “They haven’t had any quality problems at all since we’ve taken over coating their parts and our prices are better.”
PK Design prides itself on providing the same top quality finish for every customer. “We figure that every part—from an old tractor to a $100,000 frame—has someone taking pride in it. So we do the same.” He asks employees to treat every product with the same care.
Recently, PK Design was tested on this philosophy. “We had a guy show up who had a friend needing an 18-ft cross to be powder coated. He wanted it to be silver veined.” Meredith happily coated the part not thinking much of it but giving it the same top quality finish as any other part. After PK Design delivered the part, the client asked Meredith to come visit his shop. Meredith says, “I thought surely he can’t make a business by making a lot of crosses, but I went to visit and unbeknownst to me, it was Tim Engler, who builds fuel injection systems, custom made pulling chassis, gears, shafts, specialty CNC products, racing engines and some custom machining. (www.englermachine.com) Tim has been involved in tractor pulling and holds 13 national titles in that sport, he no longer pulls himself but, has been influential to the success of many other pullers through his advice and building capabilities. Meredith inquired as to why he came to PK Design. “Tim wanted to give us something that we wouldn’t recognize because he wanted to see what our low-end would look like. He figured that the cross would be a part we wouldn’t be too excited about.” Tim was overwhelmed and impressed by the quality and service PK Design provided and has asked Meredith to powder coat all its parts.
It has been eight months since PK Design started powder coating. Meredith states, “The system has justified itself on quality. I know my customers are getting an excellent quality finish. I know my products are getting the best finish possible. I can honestly say there isn’t anyone out there, coating any better than what we are providing.”
Looking to the future, Meredith sees the challenge of low-temperature powders and powder-on-plastics as the next obstacle to overcome. He’s always enjoyed finding solutions to unanswered problems, and his custom coating business never is short on unique parts needing a special coating.