Q. I’m thinking about getting into powder coating. What steps are necessary to get started properly?
A. Great question and I’m glad you want to “get started properly.” We get a lot of calls from people and companies that, for various reasons, want to get into powder coating. I always respond with the initial comment that “powder coating is a process.” It has a lot of moving pieces and all must be managed properly to do it correctly. My first suggestion is to attend a high-quality powder coating training class such as the Powder Coating Institute’s 101 and 202 courses. They are held regularly and one or the other is available every month.
After that, I tell everyone that the two most important people you need to have a relationship with are your powder salesperson and your pretreatment chemical salesperson. You need to have a strong, trusting relationship with both. In the powder coating process, they have a long-term, steady, day-to-day, week-to-week vested interest in your success. Trust me, they will become your best friend and ally. I was very careful and purposeful in saying powder or chemical “salesperson.” The fact is that at the corporate nameplate level, there is not a significant difference among the big players in our industry (I can hear all the powder and chemical companies simultaneously growling at me). They are all great (hope that settles them down). My point is as a startup, you are more likely to be helped by the local salesperson than the corporate office.
On the “powder” side of the equation, I have one bit of expert advice: Be careful what you ask for. All too often, the question asked of powder companies is to lower the powder cost. A few cents here or there is manageable. Beyond this and you are cutting into margins and corporate sustainability. This is a dangerous, slippery slope to go down. Reputable powder companies have outstanding polymer chemists working for them. Challenge them for lower-cost powders (without any other constraints) and they can certainly develop it. Go down this path and I guarantee you will not be happy. The result is almost always a higher specific gravity powder that is harder to fluidize and also covers significantly less sq. ft. of metal per pound. The end result is a higher total cost of coating that affects your company’s profitability.
Whether you are a job shop coater or a captive powder coater, the process is essentially the same. A job shop is one where the coating is being done for outside customers. Generally, job shops do not manufacture anything, but rather simply add value to their customers’ products by providing coating services. Captive powder coating is done by manufacturers in-house as part of their manufacturing process. The main difference is the wide variety of coating processes done in job shops, whereas captive powder coating operations are well defined and vary little from day to day.
I was recently at a captive powder coating shop following the installation of its new wash bay, powder booth and oven. Standing there with the plant manager, he turned to me and asked, what’s next? In my mind, the answer was simple — start powder coating. I quickly realized he had no basis to know what was next and he was asking me where to start. He had taken a training class that I knew to be high quality, but the reality of now being on his own had set in. Fortunately, I did notice earlier they had bought some boxes of powder. I suggested we get the tech rep for the powder company to come in to do some training and run a temperature profile of the new oven. This same customer had also contacted and developed a relationship with the pretreat chemical company local salesperson, so the wash system was ready to go.