High End Finish for High-End Wheels

Posted on Friday, August 1, 2014

Headquartered in Livonia, Mich., Formula 43 is a dedicated manufacturer of OEM and aftermarket automotive wheels. “Using years of experience in the automotive wheel industry to manufacturer the highest level of modular and mono-block wheels for the racing and sports car industry, Formula 43 is able to produce the latest wheel designs with exclusive updates that result in improved strength, stiffness and weight savings,” says Ralf Guennewig, president of Formula 43. “These new features will enable the most discerning sports car enthusiast and pro-race teams the benefit of quicker lap times, greater steering response, improved fuel economy and ultimate durability,” he says.

Not only is the wheel’s performance important, but they have to look good, too, and they have to last.

“These wheels cost roughly $1,000 each and they are going on cars that cost at least $100,000,” Guennewig reveals. Formula 43 was having its custom-built wheels anodized by an outside vendor in Detroit. “They only offered two color options: clear and black. Other colors in anodizing are not UV stable,” Guennewig explains.

Because Formula 43 wanted to expand its color options to customers and have the ability to speed up the finishing process by moving it in house, they did what anyone else does these days. They researched the subject of powder coating on the internet. “One issue we were concerned about was the temperature needed to cure the wheels at as the material is AL6061-T6 and used on pro-race applications on some of the finest sports and racing cars in the world,” Guennewig says. Exceeding 350°F for an extended amount of time can begin the aging process and make the aluminum too hard. That was a risk that the company was not willing to take.

Their first contact was with Chuck Jarvis at Tiger Drylac. “We met with him and he explained the new technology in powders and that it can cure at much lower temperatures than what our initial research revealed,” Guennewig explains. After more online research, the wheel maker found that Parker Ionics was nearby, so they arranged a meeting with Parker’s local sales rep and company president, John Cole. After a demo at their lab in Westland, Mich., the two companies began the process of developing the method for powder coating and baking the wheels. “They had a small demo booth that was the perfect size for our needs, so we determined the GX7500 with hopper would be the best for our application,” Guennewig says.

Fabricating the Wheel Substrate

Before the wheels can be finished with powder coating, they are custom made using the Spin-Form process, developed by Formula 43. It is a specific method in spinning 6061 aluminum circular sheets into two-piece rim-halves. The computer- controlled German spinning machine uses four rollers to form the inner and outer rim-halves on tooling designed in the shape of each rim-half. The Formula 43 method is a three-step process:

  • Spinning the part,
  • Heating and aging the 6061 rims to T6 condition, and
  • Re-calibrating the rim-half.

Hence, the process as well as the company that fabricates and finishes these wheels is known as Formula 43 (four [4] rollers, three [3]-step process).

Crossing the Finishing Line

Guennewig explains how the high-end wheels, once through the Spin-Form process, are finished. He says it all starts with “a simple and easy to use five chemical cleaning station/ process, which was set up by Mark Miller from Torch Surface Technologies.” The wheels go through the cleaning process and then dry in an oven. “After they’re cleaned, dried and cooled off, they are masked in certain critical high tolerance areas that we cannot get powder on. After masking, they’re hung on Mighty Hook racks or carts and are ready for powder coating.”

Formula 43 uses a Parker Ionics Q-Flo spray booth with stainless side walls and polycarbonate ceiling and front. They also use a GX7500 spray gun unit with Pulse Power, 60L liter hopper and three Prismatic 5lb small hoppers. “We also purchased a used Wisconsin oven that is used for drying, curing and aging the wheels from AL6061-T4 to AL6061-T6. The oven brought another process in house that we were outsourcing as well,” Guennewig explains.

In addition to Tiger’s powders, Formula 43 also uses Prismatic. “Both have great products with a wide range of color options, and we can purchase smaller amounts as our customers ask for very specific colors and only need three to five pounds. Purchasing 40 pounds of, say, Chevy Orange for one set of wheels would not be cost effective for us,” Guennewig explains.

“Up until the spring of 2012, were only able to offer clear and black on our wheels, and the finishing process took a lot of time,” Guennewig says. “Since bringing the powder coating process in-house, we are able to offer our customer virtually unlimited color option, and we have dramatically increased our production time and quality—not to mention our gross profits have increased as well.”

Sharon Spielman is editor of Powder Coated Tough Magazine.  she can be reached via email at Sspielman@powdercoating.org