Plant Tour

Powder Coating Magizine - April, 1994
By Matthew Knopp, Assistant Editor

Small line is answer to job shop's big-time growth

Sometimes you have to think small: After operating two plants designed to coat 30-foot-long extrusions and 6-foot-long panels, a Phoenix powder coater adds a third plant to handle small parts in large volumes

When Jerry Greitzer hired Angel Castellano in 1974 to work at his anodizing operation, neither man guessed he would eventually become a partner in the largest powder coating job shop in the Southwest. But ever since the two decided to leave anodizing business in 1986 to start Phoenix-based, Perma-Finish, their job shop hasn't stopped growing.

The idea for the powder coating job shop began 9 or 10 years ago when Greitzer noticed that more and more of his customers were asking for paint and powder coatings instead of anodizing. Greitzer know about powder coatings, but he wanted to find out more. He visited several captive powder coating operations in California, and what he found pleased him. "It really was a marvelous finish," he said, referring to the powder coating he saw there.

In closer talks with his customers, Greitzer found several who would support a new job shop. "Customers from the anodizing business were actually asking us to power coat," he said. "They wanted us to get into powder because it would help them get business." The customers-aware that powder coating was environmentally safer and offered more colors than anodizing-were so enthusiastic, in fact, they supplied letter to commitment to help Greitzer secure financing. One even loaned him $ 150,000. We had a lot of help," he acknowledged.

Company succeeds with first two lines

Unlike many first-time powder coaters, Greitzer and Castellano didn't start small. After all, most of their first customers would be from the old anodizing business, and that meant they needed a powder coating system that could handle long aluminum extrusions.

So they leased a 32,000-square-foot building and installed a system that included a 600-foot conveyor capable of carrying 30-foot-long extrusions, a spray booth equipped with eight automatic corona-charging spray guns on reciprocators, and a computer-controlled convection curing oven. The system also includes a crane for moving loads of up to 1 ton in and out of the surface preparation system, which includes five 30-foot long dip tanks.

Although this may be a large line for most powder coaters just starting out, Greitzer and Castellano have 60 years experience in the finishing business. "It was a gamble," Greitzer said, "but it was an educated gamble."

The gamble had paid off. Perma-Finish repaid its $ 150,000 loan in a year and a half and opened a second line in the neighboring building in the fall of 1988. The second line was installed after the company realized that work for its large, high-volume finishing operation was limited. The second plant was designed to handle shorter panel-shaped pieces and extrusions that were impractical to coat at Plant 1.

The line in Plant 2 has a product profile to accommodate the parts 15 inches wide, 6 feet high, and about 6 feet long. It includes a 600-foot closed-loop conveyor, a three-stage powder spray washer with deionized water rinse, a 56-foot-long dry-off oven, a 12-foot-long spray booth with four corona-charging manual guns, and a gas-fired, multiple-pass convection curing oven.

Even with this extra capacity-working 5 days a week over three shifts-new work soon overran the company. So batch spray booths were added to both plants, as well as a powder spray washer in Plant 1 and a large convection batch oven in Plant 2. But Perma-Finish still couldn't keep up. "We had a handful of months in 1993 when our customers picked up their orders, because we couldn't get to them fast enough," recalled Castellano. Said Greitzer: "We actually had to recommend someone else. When you start having to give away accounts you'd better think about expanding or giving it up. We figured we'd expand.

Company searches for a smaller system

This time, though the expansion wouldn't be different. The new line wouldn't be designed around short extrusions and panels as in Plant 2, and it wouldn't have the capacity to coat 8 million pounds of aluminum a year as in Plant 1. The new plant would coat smaller items destined for the electronics industry, a specialized market with smaller lot sizes but better profit margins. "We'd rather run 500 pounds (of metal parts) for a dollar (each) than 7 million pounds for a dime," Greitzer said.

As luck would have it, another 10,000-square-foot building was available next door to Perm-Finish leased it and began its search for a line that would increase efficiency. The new line was to be the fasted and most flexible yet. "We wanted something that would work 10 times betters," Greitzer said.

The features they wanted on the new line were a small product profile to boost efficiency for coating small parts and a fast curing process to increase production. A small product profile would boost efficiency because the profile would correspond more closely to the part size and the profiles in plants 1 and 2. And fast curing would naturally lead to faster production. To achieve theses two goals, Greitzer and Castellano focused on the curing oven. They sent out bids to several equipment suppliers, who responded with plans and quotes for curing systems.

The first bids cam from suppliers of convection curing systems, and Greitzer and Castellano said they were surprise: The ovens seemed too large for a 1-foot-by-2-foot product profile they wanted. Said Castellano: "On the blueprints, they came back with a 9-foot-high oven. I already had a 9-foot-high oven, and I was curing 6-foot-high pieces in it. Wouldn't you think the oven (for Plant 3) would be just a little smaller?"

Greitzer added: "We couldn't get them to change anything. Two or three people told us that it was impossible, that we would never make it work. We didn't believe it." So they continued their search.

Company examines unfamiliar technology

Soon afterward, a local sales representative called on them and described a small-profile oven that use infrared elements combined with circulating hot air to cure parts. Though neither Greitzer nor Castellano had much experience with IR technology and weren't familiar with the oven design, it got their attention. The salesman then took them to a nearby powder coating operations to show them the oven at work.

The oven cured parts quickly and effectively and could be easily adjusted to suit different powder coating jobs, Greitzer said. Each of the oven's 21 IR elements can be set to run at full power, two-thirds power, or shut off completely. "It's like a range on your stove," Castellano said. "You can use all four ranges and cook four pots at one time, or just use one range." With its walls mounted on rollers, the oven can be narrowed or widened depending on part size saving energy and improving curing. These features provided the flexibility lacking in the convection ovens they'd examined, Castellano said. They had found their oven.

System designer provides turnkey setup

The company then signed a contract with the system designer and supplier, who contracted with another company to install a complete turnkey system. They system includes a 300-foot monorail conveyor, two spray booths, two manual corona-charging spray guns and controls, a three-stage power spray washer with deionized water rinse, a dry-off oven, and the curing oven. Installation began in November 1993. Perma-Finish maintenance workers were on hand during installation so they would know how to make repairs.

Spray booths. The two spray booths on the new line are temporary and were originally designed for used on wet paint lines. Perma-Finish didn't want to invest in a powder booth because there wasn't one that had the flexibility it wanted. Castellano said the company wanted a booth that would reclaim powder and have fast clean-out so it would be practical to reclaim powder even during short production runs. Castellano plans to design a permanent powder booth later and have company workers build it. The booths now in use don't have any reclaim system, but they are easy to clean, making color changes fast.

Washer. The washer is also a little unorthodox. Instead of conventional electrical motors in the spray washer, the company uses air-operated motors. "We just turn the regulator on," Castellano said. "We don't have this big monster electrical panel mounted on our spray washer. And we don't have to worry about blowing fuses or relays or transformers." Besides, said Greitzer, "The compressor is running all the time anyway."

Payback. The company paid about $ 200,000 for the Plant 3 line and expects to recoup that amount within 2 years. "A lot of other people probably wouldn't have done this," Greitzer said, "but we're trying to become experts in each one of these fields. We don't want to pull all our eggs in one basket. We have a specialty in each plant."

Company adapts work methods to faster line

Curing. With the system installed, Perma-Finish mad some trial runs. Thin parts coated with black powder-which absorbs IR waves quickly-were cured in less than 2 minutes. Thicker parts coated with white powder-which reflects more of the IR-took somewhat longer, about 6 minutes. On the average, curing times were in the 4- to 5- minute range, about five six times faster than the curing times in the convection oven in Plant 2. At full line speed at 16 feet per minute, a production run on Plant 3 line takes just 25 minutes from racking to unracking, while on production run on the Plant 2 line takes about 70 minutes.

So how does the company like working with IR? "We're learning," Castellano said with a chuckle. "It's a different animal. "The biggest difference between IR and convection ovens, he said, is the curing speed and the trade-off that comes with that speed: If the parts left in the oven a little too long, the powder coating may become discolored or even burn. In Plant 2, stopping the conveyor for 30 to 40 seconds isn't a problem. "With the IR you don't dare stop it or you can burn the paint," he said. "If it's white, it comes out almond."

Racking. With the fast line speeds now possible on the Plant 3 line, increasing the racking speed has become the plant's next goal. In Plant 2, workers can use paper clips to hang panels and extrusions directly from the conveyor. But the configuration of the Plant 3 line and the smaller size of the parts make that impossible. So there are still some details to work out. "We have to design the racks so the rackers get a little more efficient," Castellano said. Ideally, he said, one worker will rack parts on a top tier, while another racks a bottom tier. That ways all the workers in racking area remain in place and don't try to step along the line to keep pace.

The company is currently using a 3-foot-wide, three- or four-tier rack with welded hooks. The welded hooks enable workers to use one hand instead of two to hang a single piece, which allows them to work more quickly. One strategy now under consideration is placing the parts on rollers so they're readily available to the racker and easy to pick up. The goal, Castellano said, is to reduce a four- or five step racking procedure to one or two steps.

Faster line leads to more work and maybe another plant

Most of the parts on the Plant 3 line are about 10 inches long and 5 or 6 inches wide. These items-usually in lots of 400 to 1,000 pieces-had previously been set aside so the larger extrusion work could be handled on the Plant 2 line. "We don't like treating people with a back-seat attitude," Castellano said. The new line enables the company to serve these accounts more quickly and to maintain the company's reputation for quality. The increased efficiency also leads to higher profits for the company while providing an IR-cured finish that is just as good as the convection-cured finishes from plants 1 and 2, he said.

The new plant has been operating one shift of six workers since January as the company becomes more familiar with the line and learns how to adjust it to handle different parts. "It's just the little things you'd expect," Castellano said. "We went through the same things on the other lines." So far, Plant 3 handles just 20 percent of the company's business, with Plant 1 accounting for 50 percent. Powder usage in plants 1 and 2 was about 225,000 pounds in 1993, and Perma-Finish employs about 60 people across all three plants. Sales were about $ 2.5 million in 1993.

Greitzer said he is already looking toward the future when Plant 3 is running at full capacity on three shifts a day. "We may not be done yet," he said. "If the market is good we'll build Number 4. Why not?" The way Perma-Finish has grown why not, indeed.


 Perma-Finish, Inc. 74 North 45th Avenue Phoenix Arizona 85043 (602) 278-1733 Fax: (602) 278-4671

"Your product isn't finished until it's perma-finished."