We are a powder coater that is able to handle large production as well as small batch orders of metal products. Recently, however, I met with a potentially large volume customer interested in having his medium density fiberboard (MDF) products powder coated. Since we have never encountered such a request, I was hoping you might be able to answer some questions about powder coating wood.
First of all, would our current convection ovens be acceptable for this process or do other types of ovens work better for curing MDF? Do the parts need to be pretreated or possibly preheated? Are there powders that are specifically designed for wood substrates? What kind of success (and failure) has been achieved by other shops that are powdering wood products?
Also, what kind of initial start up costs can I expect to install a line dedicated to powder coating MDF in our facility? My customer is looking for someone to partner with that can handle in the neighborhood of 100,000 parts annually, most in the neighborhood of 24 x 48 inches. D.W.
Let’s take your questions one at a time. Are convections ovens acceptable for powder coating wood, or are other types better for this operation? Convection ovens can work, but most people use IR ovens, sometimes in combination with UV-curing systems, when powder coating MDF, especially since there is no benefit to heating the entire product mass. Do the parts need to be pretreated? No, but they do need to be cleaned with high pressure air (sometimes ionized air) to remove surface debris and wood dust. What kind of success have other shops had when powder coating MDF? Mostly what I hear is that the production volumes and number of potential customers that were expected to use this process never quite materialized. Because this market was initially over estimated, many coaters became disillusioned and dropped the business because it wasn’t worth the effort. What kind of start-up cost can you expect? Equipment costs are dependent upon line speed and product size. A quick calculation of 100,000 parts run 1 high on 5 foot centers yields 4 FPM for one shift. Add some line time for color change and defects (conservatively 50%) and you can get to maybe 6 FPM. A process for this line speed and product size can run between $400,000 to $750,000 depending upon the bells and whistles you buy. But this is just a rough estimate.