Like a polar bear lounging on an ice cap or a camouflaged military jeep humming over desert sands, to see it you have to "look" for it. So it is with the products manufactured at Nystrom Products in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Nystrom manufactures access panels, floor and roof hatches for commercial buildings, military installations, prisons, hospitals, power plants and more. These panels often blend in with the surroundings, making them "invisible" at a glance. Nystrom cannot paint, paper or carpet these panels for each customer, so most panels, except those made from stainless steel, are painted primer gray.
But this cannot be just any primer gray. The coating has to accept all the various paints and wall coverings the customer plans for it.
And customer demand has grown. Seven years ago Nystrom Products had two customers, distributors who sold its products to the building and construction markets. One customer dropped Nystrom; a month and a half later the other followed suit. That is when the company shifted gears and started selling direct. Now it boasts 5,000 to 6,000 customers and one- to ten-day delivery on all panels.
How did this company with two customers grow into a company with thousands? One answer is its finishing line.
"Our production levels got to the point where the finishing line just could not keep up," explained Kurt Harrington, plant manager. The paint line was a batch system requiring extensive labor. "At maximum, if we had two painters going and two men hanging we could do 400 pieces a day. And that was on a good day. We averaged more like 250 a day and our need was 400 to 450," stated Mr. Harrington.
Nystrom had experienced 30 pct growth during each of the past five years. To maintain and enhance this rate, Nystrom needed a new paint system. So, Mr. Harrington went shopping.
The company researched various systems for six months. It considered coating systems: solvent-borne, water-borne and powder. It looked at various application systems, including manual and automatic guns. It reviewed the benefits and drawbacks of conventional ovens, convection, convection with infrared and infrared.
The final system, coordinated by PED Industries, Erlanger, Kentucky, is a conveyorized line with two booths. The manual HVLP guns spray a rust-inhibiting, water-borne coating on the parts, which are then cured in an infrared oven. HVLP guns were selected because of the intricate nature of the already assembled access panels and hatches. Nystrom found that manual HVLP guns allowed them to reach all the crevices and moldings on the parts.
The oven is what sold Nystrom on the system. The oven is compact. The oven walls can be moved in or out, depending on the size of the parts. Parts for the access panels range from eight by eight inches to four by four feet. "The oven walls are moved in and out all day long," noted Mr. Harrington.
Time in the oven varies from four to eight min. Fire-rated parts are run slower because of the insulation, which absorbs the heat. Non-fire-rated parts are run through quickly, in four minutes or less.
The oven is zoned to provide for the part variety. Each bank in the oven has three infrared panels on each side. Each infrared panel can be turned on or off according to the part size, shape and composition. Only the top row of each bank may be powered up or banks can be alternated or any of a number of combinations may be employed. The power level of each panel can also be adjusted.
Although Nystrom uses a water-borne baking enamel from Sierra Products, it has the capability to use nearly any paint a customer may specify. "If a customer requests a solvent-borne paint, we simply run the oven cooler up front and hotter in the back so we do not get any solvent pop," explained Mr. Harrington.
Another reason Nystrom preferred the infrared oven to other styles was that it heats up in less than five min. Also, the oven can be turned on and off throughout the day, lowering energy consumption.
The new line has helped Nystrom increase production to 600 units a day. And that is while running only two to four hrs per day. It has the capacity to run 1,000 to 1,500 units per day. "Because we spend less time hanging and handling parts, some of the painters have become spot welders and shipping people. The personnel do not have to devote their entire day to painting. This has saved a lot of money as far as labor goes," Mr. Harrington stated.
Nystrom is also considering putting its pretreatment system on-line. At present it is still a batch system. However, the company did change its cleaning chemicals, which provide better corrosion protection. The system is a three-cycle wash. The first tank removes oil, the second is a rinse and the third provides etching and a rust inhibitor.
There have been many changes at Nystrom in the past seven years. This year the company will see a 40 pct growth rate. The company is not only producing, but producing quality products as well. The company gives a five-year warranty against rust on its access doors and a 20-year guarantee on its floor hatches. It must be working. I have not seen a rusted one yet!