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powder coating

To meet the increasing demand for its products, Lifetime turned to George Koch Sons LLC for a new powder coating system.
Photo Credit: George Koch Sons LLC

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed daily life for almost everyone. Many people have found themselves working from home, homeschooling children and completely altering their regular routines. One area of life that isn’t as frequently talked about, yet merits consideration in the midst of the uncertainty caused by the pandemic, is recreation. Free time and exercise play an enormous role in our well-being and mental health. Many of the things we might do after work, or on the weekends — from going to the gym to simply allowing kids to play together at the park — have become restricted in one way or another. In short, social distancing has changed the way people play and get exercise.

As a result, spending on outdoor and recreational equipment has seen an uptick in the time of COVID, as people have turned more focus to exercise and pastimes that they can engage in at home. One company that has benefited from this trend toward at-home recreation is Lifetime Products (Clearfield, Utah), a manufacturer of basketball goals, playsets and outdoor equipment. In the wake of COVID, the company has experienced a surge in demand for its products as people seek much-needed entertainment, exercise and distraction from their upended routines.

In March, Lifetime found themselves looking for a powder system to replace an existing one that was more than 20 years old. The company turned to George Koch Sons LLC (Evansville, Ind.) to design, fabricate and install a powder coating system to support increasing business demand. The new system features six-stage pretreatment, a 10 ft. wide x 61.33 ft. long x 14.4 ft. high (rectangular) dry-off oven, integration of Nordson Corp. (Amherst, Ohio) powder application equipment, an overhead conveyor system and a smart control system.

Smart controls

According to Koch, the KochSmart control system features a PLC (programmable logic controller) that is actually a safety-rated processor. When paired with the appropriate IO (inputs and outputs), it is approved by NFPA to monitor and control processes related to burners and motion. It allows the end-user to closely monitor each element of the process and react accordingly when anomalies occur — an improvement over older relay-based systems. The PLC utilizes programmed proportional integral derivative (PID) loops to fine-tune the performance of the burners to increase efficiency, resulting in lower operating costs. When paired with utility meters, trending can be done to calculate actual operational costs and recognize opportunities for savings on utilities.

The system also features an HMI (human-machine interface) — a window into the PLC that allows the operator to actually see what is happening in the process and make changes as necessary through graphic and status screens. A history of equipment faults can be kept and viewed later for maintenance purposes.

VFDs (variable frequency drives) allow operators to vary the speed of motors, in this case fan and pump motors. By optimizing the motor speeds, the user can minimize utility costs while providing the full process requirements.

Remote monitoring can allow the end-user to monitor their own equipment remotely as well as enable Koch technicians to provide remote troubleshooting services. The feature only requires an Ethernet connection to the internet by the end-user.

Meeting increased demand

powder coating, dry-off oven

The new system features six-stage pretreatment, a 10 ft. wide x 61.33 ft. long x 14.4 ft. high (rectangular) dry-off oven, integration of Nordson powder application equipment, an overhead conveyor system and a smart control system.
Photo Credit: George Koch Sons LLC

Installation of Lifetime’s new powder coating system began in April. In some ways, the timing turned out to be fortuitous — in just a few weeks the pandemic had triggered quarantines in much of the U.S., right in the early days of spring when people were itching to get outside. Not surprisingly, the demand for outdoor recreation equipment took off. 

Maintenance and facilities director at Lifetime, Jayson Barnes, describes the work that Lifetime was putting in to meet the demand for its products, “At one point in time some of us were working six days a week to provide playsets, basketball systems and kayaks for people who wanted their kids to be outside. Without those things, depression and other problems escalate quickly.”

Of course, setting up a new powder coating system in the midst of a pandemic is no small feat. Barnes credits Koch’s transparent approach to communication and collaboration as key to keeping the project on track.

“I’ve worked with so many other companies, and between cleaning up messes, issues with parking, and monitoring safety regulations, the installation process can sometimes feel like a nonstop babysitting interaction, that was not the case at all with Koch,” Barnes says.

Due to both the distance as well as COVID protocols, much of the installation planning and collaboration between the two companies occurred over Zoom meetings. Koch project manager, Seth Johannemann, says that maintaining clear and consistent communication was key to an expedient installation.

“We faced an adverse and unprecedented pandemic environment coupled with 1,500 miles separating our locations,” Johannemann says, “Still, communication and conflict resolution were streamlined due to diligence demonstrated by both teams.”

According to Lifetime, the new powder coating system engineering has been transformative in accelerating production rates. The new system allows for a rapid line speed of 18 feet per minute, a 98% uptime performance, and the ability to simultaneously run different parts.

Barnes is proud of Lifetime’s ability to positively impact lives in the midst of social distancing and credits Koch with helping the company meet the increased demand for its products. He says, “The installation process, constant communication and performance of Koch’s system made it possible to fulfill customer’s recreational needs at a time when social events have proven dangerous for physical health and safety.”

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