When Hytrol Conveyor Co., Inc., Jonesboro, AR, decided to switch from liquid paint and galvanizing to powder coating, it heard rumblings from its distributors. "They were very reluctant at first," said Bill Hawthorne, Hytrol's vice president of marketing. "After all, nobody likes change." However, as the favorable comments from customers poured in, the distributors quickly changed their tune. For Hytrol, the switch to powder coating has meant rising customer satisfaction, lowered costs and a better bottom line.
"Basically, we can make any kind of conveyor or conveying accessory you want," stated Mark Sutterfield, Hytrol's manager of assembly. That includes powered roller bed conveyors, live roller conveyors, zero pressure conveyors, gravity conveyors and made-to-order specialty items. Hytrol's customers range widely too, from Fortune 500 giants such as Nike, Motorola and Ford to mom-and-pop firms. Hytrol had used liquid paint to coat its products for years, but the company found it was paying a price in quality control and customer satisfaction. "With liquid, the mil thickness tended to be very light," said Mr. Sutterfield. "Plus it didn't give us good coverage on the conveyors we made, so they scratched easily."
When products were shipped, the jostling from the trucks, the packing and unpacking and installation took a toll on the finish. Hytrol had to send along a supply of paint with a customer's order so the new conveyors could be touched up before they were put into service. "We found powder coating much more durable," explained Mr. Sutterfield. "With powder coating, you can store the products, fasten them down, ship them and then do the final assembly. The products come through with virtually no scratches, looking as good as when they left our plant."
That high quality garnered the kind of customer reactions that quickly won over the distributors. "When we went to powder, I think we were the only conveyor company in the world treating its entire production line with powder," said Mr. Sutterfield. "We knew we'd get a positive response from customers, but the response we got was unbelievable." Hytrol is also using powder coating on metal parts that once were galvanized. The powder coated parts show less dulling, corrosion and deterioration than galvanized metal.
There are other benefits as well. Hytrol saves money because it doesn't have to comply with the environmental regulations on liquid paint. The regulations require companies to maintain an in-house water treatment facility so no hazardous waste leaves their facilities. Switching to powder coating has eliminated fumes from the galvanizing process and saved Hytrol the costs of air discharge permits and disposing of waste in a controlled landfill. "With liquid paint, we had to have air permits. We had to get our system checked regularly," Mr. Sutterfield reports. "With powder, those permits aren't necessary, which lowers our costs."
Powder coating has cut Hytrol's costs in another way too. "Before we went to powder," stated Mr. Sutterfield, "almost every unit we made was touched up by hand in a separate booth to get the coating ready for delivery. Now, the full coating process is done in the powder booth, usually with no need for touchup. That's a real cost-saver." Hytrol estimates that the payback on the powder system was approximately 5 years.
Hytrol uses a powder coating line staffed by ten people on two shifts. The line includes three paint booths. Two are automatic and use 20 spray guns per booth. There are four load/unload stations on the line. Operators select the proper booth, depending on which color the parts are to be coated. Hytrol uses binary code readers to track parts through the line.
Hytrol has more than 30 colors on hand. It can spray 101 different colors by getting the formulated colors it needs from its powder supplier. The availability of a wide range of colors has been important. Mr. Hawthorne reports that customers often want to match exactly their official company colors or blend in with existing machinery or complement the parts they will be moving. "We've proved we can match whatever color they want. That's been a real competitive advantage for us," said Mr. Sutterfield.
Powder coating's multiple advantages have paid off in a major way for Hytrol. According to Mr. Sutterfield, the company's output before it switched to powder coating was about 2 million lb/month of steel. It is now up to 3.2 million lb/month. "We thought powder would be the best choice for us, and it's proven itself," stated Mr. Sutterfield.