Data-Driven Coater Uses Technology to Improve Finishes

Iowa’s Co-Line is a Top Shop that uses analytics to improve efficiencies.


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Some may look at liquid paint equipment as a part of the application process, but Eric Brand takes a more diagnostic approach.

The vice president of Co-Line Manufacturing in rural Sully, Iowa, has been using his new spray guns and mixing system that he installed in 2015 as more than just a way to spray coatings.

“Our driver in the new equipment was updating to an automated 2K mixing system,” Brand says. “We knew we had to increase efficiencies, and that there was better technology out there that could make us better.”

But when Brand started digging deeper into the available equipment on the market, he was intrigued by a system that delivered a treasure trove of data analytics that accompanied the spraying process, enabling Co-Line to see hard numbers on its efficiencies.

That system—Binks’ Global Electronic Mixing Solutions, or GEMS for short—provides real-time information such as spray gun utilization, production run rates, average flow rates, and color-change times. Using a 7-inch touchscreen, the system is also designed to assist operators with fault troubleshooting rather than just alarm codes.

“It simply shows us on a very easy-to-read display of where our costs are going when applying paint,” Brand says. “Having that information on top of better analytics has been a real breakthrough for us.”

Total Fabrication Facility

With a soon-to-be 300,000-square-foot complex, Co-Line provides a total metal fabrication system for its customers, from design to finished production, including application of liquid coatings. Its services include 13 metal stamping presses with capacity from 60 to 800 tons; 2D and 3D laser cutting up to 1-inch, 3D tube laser cutting up to 10-inches in diameter; manual and robotic welding; automatic saw cutting; CNC automated machining and turning with five-axis capability and multi-spindle CNC Lathes; CNC tube and flat bending, design and engineering; tool and die; and in-house finishing services, including two electrostatic liquid paint systems capable of multi-part advanced finishes and an upcoming powder coating line to be installed in the spring of 2017. 

Co-Line is a private, family-owned company where the owners are involved daily in the entire operation. Dale and Tana Brand started the company in 1979 when they opened a welding repair shop. Because their business was located on the Jasper-Mahaska county line, they named it County Line Welding, later shortened to Co-Line.

In 1988, Co-Line developed a proprietary gate system for residential, commercial and livestock gates called Sure-Latch, which launched them into high-volume manufacturing. The company has undergone several significant expansions in facilities and equipment through its 37-year history. Co-Line is also the sole manufacturer of Goalsetter Basketball Systems, a premier height-adjustable basketball goal for residential and commercial use. They currently have about 150 employees serving customers in various industries.

Over the years, expansion and additional customers caught up with the Co-Line painting operations process, and Eric Brand began the task of looking at upgrading equipment and systems to better serve customers and increase efficiencies.

That led to Brand speaking with Justin Hooper, the product manager of mixing solutions and accessories for Carlisle Fluid Technologies (CFT), which owns the DeVilbiss, Ransburg, MS, BGK and Binks brands of liquid and powder coating applications.

GEMS Analytics

As Brand spoke with several vendors about replacing the guns and mixers, something kept driving him back to the Binks GEMS products that CFT sold.

“When it comes down to it, most of the liquid paint equipment on the market is pretty similar and all works at a very high level,” Brand says. “The thing that stood out for me working with CFT was the additional analytics that the Binks brand brought to the table.”

The GEMS setup audits the paint resin and solvent usage while also helping to reduce solvent waste for up to five colors and two spray guns. It is capable of storing data for unique production jobs, where it can record spraying times, color changes, as well as A/B material and solvent usage.

Hooper says that when coatings are “hot potted” or pre-mixed, there are several considerations:

  • How much time does it take to measure and mix?
  • What if the coating is over/under, or not catalyzed?
  • What if too much/not enough coating is mixed?
  • What if the mixed coating is not consistent?
  • What is the cost of supplies such as cups, stirs, cleaning solvent, rags, liners, strainers and gloves?
  • How is pot life managed?


“With the GEMS products, the costs and risks are minimized for those questions,” Hooper says. “The waste savings are maximized while solvent usage, mixing time, and color-change times are greatly reduced.

For example, the GEMS has a timer on the spray guns that monitors when the trigger is pulled and liquid paint is atomized and sprayed. Co-Line and CFT set up the GEMS to monitor how long the trigger was pulled, how often and then tabulated the total amount in a work shift when the employee was spraying material. The system is smart enough to know when the gun is being used for atomized coatings and when it is used to flush.

Improved Spraying

When Co-Line first set its baseline on several painters, it analyzed the data and saw that on an average 10-hour shift, they were spraying for a total of about two hours. That sent them into looking at operations and processes, and after tweaking a few procedures, got the spray time up to around 2 hours and 45 minutes per day, a significant increase.

“When we first started looking at the data, we and the Co-Line people began to realize that painters do a heck of a lot more than just spray paint all day,” Hooper says. “But what Eric and his team do well with their employees is working with them on owning these improvements, so it is both the employees and management working together to improve efficiencies.”

Brand simply asked his employees: Do you think you can trigger the gun more often? What resulted were painters and other employees coming up with ways to move products more efficiently around the plant to keep the people doing the spraying in the booth ready to apply coatings.

One improvement was made regarding the respirators that painters wore. It took time and effort to put the breathing equipment on and off when painters moved parts in and out of the spray booth; the employees decided to limit the amount of time the painter left the spray booth, and instead had other employees load parts into the booths, or bring them closer to the doors so that it cut down on the time needed to put on and take off the respirators.

“It had nothing to do with improving the equipment, it was all about improving the process,” Hooper says. “The data challenged Co-Line to develop quite a simple solution of having another person pull the parts in for the painter, which resulted in a big difference in their overall efficiencies.”




Training Aid

Brand says it is the painters and supervisors who examine the numbers to see trends or problem areas that need to be fixed.

“It’s great in that the numbers give great feedback, even to the point that they can better provide our estimating department with more detailed info on what the cost of jobs really are,” he says. “But overall, the painters like the data because it truly demonstrates how effective and efficient they are.”
Brand says the analytics have been especially helpful in training new painters.

“We are able to see things that we couldn’t if we were in the booth with a new painter,” he says. “Things such as how they are pulling the trigger, how much paint they are spraying, and even their cycle times.”

A new painter and his supervisor were able to review the data and pinpoint issues with his trigger usage and spray cycles.

“We would have spent quite some time figuring that out, but we were able to see the numbers and correct the problem right away,” Brand says. “The numbers say a lot.”  

For information on Co-Line Manufacturing, please visit colinemfg.com. For information on Carlisle Fluid Technologies, visit carlisleft.com.



Originally published in the November 2016 issue.