Powder Coaters Hope Second Time is the Charm
Steve Grass and his partners at STP Performance Coatings in Phoenix have been in business for 30 years, but that still doesn’t mean they’re immune from butterflies and nerves when it comes to making a major business decision.
Especially if that decision includes sinking money into a new facility that formerly housed one of the largest powder coating operations in the Phoenix area, a shop that went out of business last year.
“They were our biggest competitor,” says Grass. “We moved in and are leasing the facility, and taking over about 90 percent of their equipment.”
Which begs the question: When a larger competitor couldn’t make it work, what made them think they could pull it off?
An STP worker applies a coatings to a wind energy part.
Leap of Faith
“It’s a leap of faith, sure,” says Grass, who signed papers on the lease in November, just two months after the former owners closed the doors and turned out the lights.
Grass represents the S in the company’s name; partners Todd Didlo and Pete Mathews round out the STP name.
“It was a large decision for all of us, and not taken lightly,” Grass says. “Finishing in the Phoenix area has been rough the past few years. We were really surprised the former tenants went out of business.”
By December 2012, STP was coating some parts to get up to speed on the equipment and the facility, but the company is now running at capacity as it expands its business into one of the fastest-growing regions in the U.S.
STP went from 15,000 sq ft in its original plant to more than 30,000 sq ft in the newer location, although both shops are open and operating.
The new facility has powder coating, paint, chem film and screenprinting, giving STP a bigger menu of services to provide its customers.
“We’re doing a little bit of everything,” says Grass, who helped found the company in 1983 with his two partners.
In addition to the conveyorized powder and liquid paint lines, STP offers Mil-Spec coatings, yellow chem film per MIL-C-554, silk-screening on flat and curved surfaces, pad printing, plastic media and aluminum oxide, high and low pressure sand blasting and precision masking.
At the original shop, STP has three cure ovens, a 20-ft oven for wet spray, a 42-ft oven for powder and a small batch oven for high-temp cures. It also has two large, wet-application spray booths, which allow priming and painting in line, and a large powder booth.
STP coats products such as these metal steps.
STP also performs conductive coatings such as electromagnetic interference, radio frequency interference, electrostatic discharge and heat shielding, mostly for the aerospace and electronics industry in Arizona and the Southwest.
Grass says the advantage of conductive coating versus other common shielding processes like nickel acrylic, zinc arc spraying or electroplating is that it costs less and is more environmentally friendly.
EMI and RFI shielding using conductive coating is gaining in popularity in industries such as wireless and telecommunications, electronics, medical, military, computers, test equipment and aerospace.
Grass says the conductive coating works well as a vapor barrier for protecting moisture sensitive marine, military, electronic and telecommunications equipment.
“One plus is that we also have our own in-house tool shop which lets us work closely with our customers to develop the optimum configuration and density to get the job done right at a competitive price,” he says. “We also have the ability to apply masks to areas in a very tight tolerance.”
99 Percent On-Time
STP Performance Coatings started back in 1983, and has grown slowly but surely over the past three decades. In 2000, the company added a larger conveyor coating line and new ovens to its facility, but then outgrew that shop and headed into a 15,000-sq-ft plant in July of 2003, which provided even more capacity and throughput.
A worker pulls coated parts to the oven.
Grass says through all the transitions and building additions, the high-quality work for customers remained consistent, averaging close to 99 percent in monthly timeliness and customer quality ratings.
“It’s a challenge to stay on top of your game when you are trying to expand and adding capacity,” he says. “But we put the effort into meeting the requirements from our customers, and still being able to grow.”
Customers include major defense and electronics contractors like Motorola, Nortel, RFS Celwave, TRW and Simula. Grass says they are going through the approval process for other major suppliers such as Applied Materials and Raytheon, which is why the partnership took the dive into acquiring a larger facility to add to their stable.
One person who has been a help for STP has been Bob Daiker, national sales manager for Cardinal Paint and Powder, located in Los Angeles, but with district offices all around.
Daiker has worked with STP Performance Coatings for several years, and was instrumental in helping the company ramp up for its building acquisition late last year, including getting supplies in the shop and completing testing on the equipment.
“The biggest thing in my mind was to help them keep growing and moving forward as they were serving more customers with various needs,” says Daiker. “Technically, it wasn’t that hard to get the new lines up and running, but we just wanted to make sure their customers were getting what they needed and that everything was running smoothly.”
Daiker, who has been in the coatings industry since 1989, says having known the STP personnel and some of their customers beforehand was instrumental in getting the project at the new facility up and running quickly.
“You tend to know what some of their customers are asking for, and you know how the STP guys like to approach their projects,” he says. “It all comes down to getting a good adhesion, even on cast parts. Once we tuned into the pretreatment and the proper specs, things came together very quickly for them.”
Two of the biggest changes in the transition were that the chem film line was moved from the original plant to the new one, and that STP installed a new, automotive paint booth at the new location, one that is much cleaner than the one they used before.
Once those technical arrangements were worked out, it was time for STP to open its doors for current and prospective customers.
“We’re known throughout the Phoenix area as probably one of the highest-priced shops in the city,” Grass says. “But we can justify the price with the quality, service and delivery. So if we tell you it will get done, it will get done.”
That’s why STP’s finished products have been sent to such places as Russia, Canada, China, Japan and Iraq, among others. Grass says the shop is continuously working within ISO and AS9001 standards, and it’s their goal to be certified very soon.
For more information on STP Performance Coatings, call 602-276-1231 or visit performancecoating.com. For information on Cardinal, visit cardinalpaint.com.
Powder coating is one of the most durable finishes that can be applied to industrial manufactured products, and offers excellent corrosion protection and is very safe because of its lack of volatile organic compounds.
Simply heating up the substrate does not cure the coating. There are many variables to consider when choosing the best cure oven for your application...
Metal fabricators that laser-cut with oxygen take steps to prepare parts better for powder coating.