How to Lower Your Powder Coating Operation Costs
John Cole from Parker Ionics says there are numerous things to look at to lower costs when running a powder coating operation.
Q: What should I look at to lower my costs when running our powder coating operation?
A: “Geez, I really like powder coating; I only wished it cost me more to do it,” said no one ever. In my years of supplying powder coating equipment, I have visited many customers and prospects, and several themes are a constant. Everyone wants to cut costs, although most don’t know what the costs are and don’t want to make the investment it takes to really cut costs.
Powder coating is the forgotten cousin of the manufacturing process. Many times, it is ‘out of sight, out of mind’. Powder and application equipment suppliers are pressured into price cutting to reduce customers' coating costs when, in the end, the greatest opportunities for cost cutting come from within a customer 's operations. When powder and application suppliers are forced to reduce costs, they do it either by lowering margins and profits—necessary funding for new product development and customer service—or, in some cases, by cheapening the product. Neither of these choices are in the ultimate best interest of either customer or supplier.
I want to point out that there are a lot of powder coaters doing things correctly and efficiently. They know who they are and can hopefully further optimize based on the points I will make below. Let’s discuss what options are available when considering lowering costs. First and foremost in my mind is improving transfer efficiency. Yes, while it may seem like common sense to get powder on your parts as efficiently as possible, most miss the mark on this. Let’s look at some ways we can lower the cost of your coating operations.
Get a solid and significant ground to your parts. I’ve gone over this time and time again. You can expect a 10-15 percent or more improvement in transfer efficiency by this simple step alone.
Get training for your operators. Make sure your coaters are compensated adequately for their efforts so they don’t chase that new job for a few cents more per hour. The penalty costs of using untrained powder coaters are high. Make sure they have the right tools and a safe and clean operating environment to work. My observations are that a constant turnover in coaters leads to significant degradation of your powder coating operations through loss of skilled and trained resources. Face it, even with everything going against them, coaters (good and bad) can get some powder on the parts. This is both the beauty and bane of powder coating. Under bad conditions, powder sticks, but efficiency and costs go out the door. A $0.10/lb drop in powder price or a 5-10 percent discount on application equipment spare parts are insignificant when compared to the significant cost of poor operating choices.
Clean and inspect application equipment on a regular basis. Replace worn parts immediately. The cost of getting a couple more days or weeks out of a worn throat pipe is significant. Worn out throat pipes deliver less powder, causing coaters to increase air pressure to get adequate powder flow. This increases gun velocity and the chance of powder blowing by parts rather than electrostatically bonding to the part. Increased velocities also increase wear through abrasion.
Take a look at your booth. Do high velocities exist in the spray zone? Internal booth velocities over 40-50 feet per minute (fpm) will cause powder to be redirected toward the filters and away from your parts. This is indisputable and real. The spray zone should be quiescent and air flows designed to optimize transfer efficiency, not reduce it. Always opt for booth manufacturers who do it right, not cheap.
Spray powder at the highest possible voltage. Voltage drives transfer efficiency. However, in many cases, along with this comes the high current that causes issues with Faraday cage penetration and back ionization (orange peel). Find the happy medium or a quality manufacturer of application equipment. It may be time to update your guns and technologies.
Understand what film thickness you are striving for and why. How does your coater know what his target film build is? Is he following a specification or some random film thickness? I often hear it said that the target film build is 3-4 mils. Did you know that consistently running at the high end of this range results in increased powder costs of 30 percent? Take that to your bottom line. Your coaters are constantly driven to make sure parts are coated thoroughly with no bare metal or thin-coated spots. Without education and film build controls, your coater will almost always overcoat your parts, thereby increasing your costs. This is human nature, plain and simple. Do you know that mechanical and chemical properties of the powder you use are diminished at film thicknesses greater than that specified on the Technical Data Sheet (TDS)? I know this is a lot to take in, but every one of these points is valid and applicable to your success. Be reasonable with line speeds and coaters. All too often I see coaters “fire hosing” parts in an effort to keep up with line speeds. While fire hosing does marginally increase coating speed, it does so at the expense of increased powder consumption due to reduced transfer efficiencies. Do the math and understand the cost of 10-20 percent extra powder consumption and utilities consumed, and accelerated wearing out of parts.
The points above are easy for me to preach and difficult for you to follow. But know this, understanding and implementing the tips above will save you money. There are many other areas of cost-saving opportunities in other areas of your powder coating operations. Watch for these in future articles.
John Cole is president of Parker Ionics. Visit parkerionics.com
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