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 
rollers, three -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