A Colorful Collaboration

Manufacturer adds color with powder coating, nearly doubling finishing throughput.


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Great Lakes Case and Cabinet in Edinboro, Penn., is a leading manufacturer of racks and enclosures for the data, communication, broadcast, sound and security industries. With clients in a wide variety of industries, the company prides itself on designing and manufacturing custom solutions accompanied by world-class customer service.

So, when many of its clients began asking for custom colors on their enclosures, the company sought out a finishing solution that would efficiently meet their needs.

“We have a robust line of standard products, but requests for custom products—mainly colors—have grown about 40 percent in the last three years,” says Fred Cooke, director of technology for Great Lakes. “Traditionally, black was the dominant color in our facility. But now with our growth in the industrial and NEMA market, we are seeing a number of special requests for custom colors.”

Cooke says that in traditional data center spaces many customers are turning to white because it looks cleaner and reduces lighting costs. “Others are beginning to see the advantage of color-coding enclosures for network identification.”

With an automated powder coating booth that was 10 years old and so engrained in black that it was unusable for color changes, the company had to manually coat any other color. The spray-to-waste manual process was costing Great Lakes in powder material and productivity.

“Our goal was to invest in a new system that could automatically coat black and colors in the same booth,” Cooke says.

After researching their options, Great Lakes turned to Nordson Corporation, Industrial Coating Systems for a new system that would meet their quality and throughput objectives.


In an average month, Great Lakes processes well in excess of 1 million pounds of sheet metal with production runs that are ever-changing. As a result, Cooke and the company’s powder coating and assembly manager, Rodney Dies, sought a powder coating system that not only incorporated fast color change, but one that would also accommodate varying work heights with ease.

They settled on Nordson’s ColorMax3 powder spray system, which has a modular booth design that ensures layout flexibility from 55 inches to 86.5 inches high, with a width of nearly 40 inches.

“The system suits Great Lakes perfectly,” says Frank Mohar, Nordson powder system specialist. “It is specifically designed for lean production, but also has innovative features to ensure fast color change and maximum line speeds.”

The booth is constructed of Nordson’s proprietary Apogee canopy material, which the company says has the least amount of powder attraction of any material on the market today. As a result, it makes routine cleaning quick and easy, enhances color change speed and eliminates the possibility of cross-contamination.

Other features of the system that Cooke and Dies say maximizes powder efficiency and fast color change include:

Open-face canopy design and external manual touch-up stations improve first-pass transfer efficiency with full and easy access around part;

Automatic floor blow-off that moves powder to the extraction plenum and ensures minimum powder-in-process;

Single plenum along the center of the booth to reduce contamination risk,

Access doors in cyclone and extraction plenum for easy cleaning;

A high-density powder, low-volume air pumping technology that continuously returns powder back to feed center for peak recovery efficiency.

The Great Lakes system also includes Nordson’s iControl integrated control system with 255 programmable recipes and 16 Encore automatic spray guns. The ColorMax3 booth houses 12 Encore guns on reciprocators and four fixed guns. Two additional Encore manual guns are now used only for touch-ups, one before and one after the automatic guns.

“We use the fixed guns to really get into the Faraday areas, or reach above and below very wide products,” Dies says. “The guns provide a nice, even mil thickness. We are seeing a noticeable improvement in finish quality as well as huge increases in our productivity.”

The new system eliminated the need for manual coating of colors, and operators no longer have to stop the line for parts with large surface areas. Since installing the system in late 2011, Great Lakes is enjoying a throughput nearly two times that of its previous manual system for powder coating colors.

“With white enclosures, we can do 120 in a 10-hour day, where we used to only do about 70,” Dies says. “Even with black, we’ve gained about 1.5 feet per minute and we’re still improving.”


Great Lakes is one of the most automated sheet metal shops in the Northeast region, staying on the forefront of technology to ensure the best for its customers. As a result, the company expects no less than the best from its own suppliers.

Cooke and Dies say they are happy with the support from Nordson on their new system. From consultation and installation to ongoing technical support, they say the company has delivered as-promised and on-time.

“We didn’t lose any painting capacity during installation, and that was important to us,” Dies says. “And now, we have direct access to spares, training and customer service whenever we need it. We didn’t realize how lacking our former supplier was in this area until we worked with Nordson.”

In the past several years, Great Lakes invested more than $15 million upgrading systems and equipment. Before the powder coating installation, all the investments were in the front of the shop—laser processing, material handling and robotic forming to name a few.

“Now we have a world-class paint line to match the outstanding technologies we have in the front end of our shop,” Cooke says. “We show our powder coating booth off during all our customer tours. It’s the pride of the plant.”

For more information from Nordson, call 440-985-4000 or visit nordson.com/powder. For more information from Great Lakes Case and Cabinet call 814-734-7303 or visit werackyourworld.com.



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