We sell Victorian style outdoor furniture and lighting products. We buy the casting from Mexico and Bondo the imperfections and then send them to a company that powder coats them for us. We spent $65,000 in one year to have a company powder coat our products. I would like to get a system to finish our products in house. What is the best way to finish cast aluminum from Mexico? What is the difference between powder coating and electrocoating? Where is the best place to teach my employees how to do this and where or what equipment do I need to buy? R.M.
Most all the manufacturers of cast aluminum outdoor furniture use powder coatings on their products. Powder coatings provide the color selection, durability and custom look and feel that are associated with outdoor furniture that electrocoating cannot provide. Often these cast aluminum products come in from Mexico and China. The quality of the castings from these foreign sources can vary widely from foundry to foundry and batch to batch. Most of the problems that we see with these products have to do with the casting quality rather than the powder coating. I first recommend that you try to obtain quality castings from your suppliers before you attempt to have them powder coated. Quality castings will eliminate the need for patching the voids using Bondo and will reduce the incidences of pinholes caused by outgassing. If you must patch the castings, I recommend that you use Lab Metal from Alvin Products. It is an aluminum-based filler material that will not outgas, it can withstand the powder coating cure temperatures and is remarkably more durable than plastic fillers.
As for buying your own powder coating system, there are many things that you must do before you breakout your checkbook. The first thing that you recognize as being very important is learning how to go about this project and how to improve your knowledge of powder coatings. There is an annual trade show for the coatings industry that covers the topic of powder coating very well. This show is either sponsored or cosponsored by the Powder Coating Institute. Their web site (www.powdercoating.org) will tell you when and where the next show will be. While at this trade show, sign up for the conference where there are always a variety of workshops available to obtain the information you seek. The workshop that I coordinate and speak at is “Small to Mid-Volume Powder Coating Systems” where we directly discuss all the steps you must do to “right-size” a powder coating system for your needs.
If you can’t attend the trade show, then I recommend that you purchase the powder coating handbook from the Powder Coating Institute. Entitled “Powder Coating, The Complete Finisher’s Handbook,” this manuscript outlines all the topics on how to select powders, equipment, chemicals and other equipment necessary to operate a powder coating process. It will detail how to “right-size” your system and write a process specification so that you can buy the correct equipment. Written by more than 20 industry experts, this manuscript has won several awards for excellence. I am proud to have participated in the writing and editing of this book and use it often for my own reference.
Lastly, if you can’t attend the trade show or read the powder coating handbook, then I recommend that you hire an expert consultant to guide you through the process of sizing and selecting the right equipment for your powder coating process. There are several companies listed in the PF Online Supplier Directory (www.pfonline.com/suppliers.html) that can help you, including yours truly. Select a consultant company that has the experience and a proven track record of helping a variety of clients, both big and small, to ensure that you get the help you need. Make sure that the consultant company does not sell equipment, powder or chemicals. Otherwise their work will be more of a sales pitch rather than unbiased assistance.