Monitoring and controlling a powder coating system by modem linked to a remote computer provides the ability for remote diagnosis and adjustment, reducing the need for on-site service...
Gordon Aluminum Industries, Inc. (Schofield, WI) is a vertically integrated manufacturer of intricately shaped aluminum extrusions. The company's owner, Jack Gordon, along with his son, A.J., the company's president, have worked diligently to keep their facility state-of-the-art, and its ISO 9002 certification is tribute to this effort.
Among the many things that keep Gordon a leader in its industry is an automated powder coating system from Iontech Powder Coating Systems. The automated system not only recognizes varying part packages, changing gun parameters on the fly, but can "phone home" for adjustments to its processor as well. By use of an embedded modem in the control equipment, the system talks to Iontech's computers and, ultimately, to the supplier's controls engineers, where minor or major changes can be made to the system parameters without the need for a plant visit.
Recently, Gordon found it necessary to turn its powder booths 180 deg due to changes in its process. While a field service technician was sent by the powder coating system supplier to assist with the physical part of the transition, it was not necessary to send a controls engineer to Gordon to change the program for spray gun parameters. Rather, a simple phone call to a controls engineer in the supplier's home office initiated a connection between Gordon's PLC and the supplier's RSLinx® communication software.
After the computer link was established, Gordon called the supplier with the new distances from the light banner, which triggers the spray guns on and off automatically, to the automatic guns. At that point, the preliminary new triggering information was entered into the supplier's copy of the system's program. With the link established, the controls engineer went online with Gordon. Then, Gordon confirmed via telephone that the new data for gun triggering was working. The controls engineer only had to adjust this data once more to get the guns triggering correctly in their new position.
The guns' spraying cycles were also observed. Based on that observation, the control engineer adjusted the purge time to reflect the increased powder use, which required more purging. Consequently, the modem and communication software were able to provide Gordon with real-time monitoring of gun triggering and purging. And, if Gordon should ever lose the program in its processor for whatever reason, Iontech could restore them to running condition in a matter of minutes.
Gordon's variety of aluminum extruded shapes are coated horizontally, providing a difficult challenge for any part recognition system as its parts are hung on a slight angle to promote good drainage. Thus, light sensors may see the start of the part but later be confused and believe that no part is present. Therefore, Gordon employed light banners with a resolution of 5 mm to defeat this problem and assure that the proper guns are functioning when they are needed.
Gordon's system includes two PneuFlow™ WideBody automatic spray booths. These units permit touch-up operators inside for ease of access to parts and reduction of operator fatigue. Each booth is equipped with 10 automatic guns and two handguns for use when touch-up is necessary. The two booths allow Gordon to coat virtually any color its customers may choose by operating the booths in an online/offline rotation. With this method, Gordon is able to effectively change colors in about 5 min.
Another advanced feature of the system involves the ability of the guns to automatically clean themselves when they are not busy coating parts. When the light banner indicates that there are no parts present or when there is a break in production, the PLC instructs the guns to purge. At this point, the central controller sends high pressure air through the pumps, hoses and guns to loosen and remove built-up powder. Purging the guns on a regular basis avoids powder spitting onto the parts. Use of the purge system also reduces build-up of powder in feed hoses, which can affect powder flow. This build-up can result in too thick or too thin coatings and harm the high quality standards established by Gordon.
Gordon had evaluated a number of suppliers before proceeding with the project. "We found Iontech to be flexible and knowledgeable. The company worked closely with us to design a system that met our unique requirements," stated Craig Kowatch, Gordon's plant manager.
"One of the things that interested us in the system initially was that we knew they had produced systems for other major aluminum extrusion companies," explained Mr. Kowatch. "Although a system with this level of automation was more expensive than we had originally anticipated, we feel that the performance and control have presented a very good value. We are impressed with its durability and flexibility. The system allows us to coat a variety of colors and shapes automatically with minimal changeover time while maintaining our extremely high quality standards.