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What Goes Up, Must Come Down: How a Shade Maker’s Turnkey Powder Installation Moves Product Efficiently

Posted on Saturday, February 1, 2014

Edited by Sharon Spielman

Rainier’s newly acquired screen and awning production facility was designed so the mill-finish inventory was stored, cut to order, cleaned, and powder coated upstairs. The final assembly and shipping functions were planned to be downstairs in a clean environment. The challenge that the Rainier planners faced was how to transport the powder coated parts downstairs. The existing architecture of the building was well suited for the screen and shade products that Rainier manufactures, with the exception of a good means to transport the powder coated parts down to the assembly area.

Rainier established a small team, headed by Bruce Blunt, a member of the corporate engineering and facilities team at Rainier, to develop a manufacturing plan for the new facility.

The team considered several manufacturing layouts. The upstairs area is about 80 x 240 ft and was the obvious place to put a powder coating operation with an overhead conveyor that would bring parts through a spray booth and into a cure oven. The problem was how to efficiently transport the powder coated parts downstairs to the production area.

Each batch of parts includes several long extrusions that range in length from 6 to 25 ft. The team decided that moving the parts down the existing stairs or around the building was impractical. A concept was developed that required a custom variation of Richards Wilcox’s powerand- free conveyor and a very large hole in the floor.

Most of the system was conventional, but to keep Rainier’s long extrusions stable as the conveyor transported them down to the lower level was the key to making the system efficient. Rainier partnered with Pneu-Mech Systems, a turnkey paint and powder systems supplier located in Statesville, N.C., to finalize the design and construct this innovative system.

Opening Up

The plan required that a large opening be cut through the nearly foot-thick concrete floor. The opening allows powder coated parts to be conveyed from the paint line to assembly automatically. “We had to also build and install a hefty support structure around this opening because cutting out the concrete also meant cutting through a number of structural support beams,” says Blunt. “The process had its fits and starts for sure, but within a couple of weeks, the large passageway was complete.”

A team of engineers from Pneu-Mech, along with engineers from conveyor supplier Richards Wilcox and Rainier’s inhouse staff, devised a unique system that keeps the parts perfectly level as they descend from one floor to the next. The power-and-free system automatically indexes the wide range of aluminum extru- sions from a load station into the powder coating booth, then from the booth to the cure oven, and finally downstairs to the assembly area.

“The team did a great job planning an innovative part handling system” says William Warlick, Rainier’s Statesville plant manager. “With just a few minor tweaks after startup, the system was performing just as we hoped,” he says.

“The team did a great job planning an innovative part handling system” says William Warlick, Rainier’s Statesville plant manager. “With just a few minor tweaks after startup, the system was performing just as we hoped,” he says.

In the Statesville plant, Rainier manufactures retractable screen and awning systems for residential and commercial use. Because these screens and awnings need to look beautiful and work flawlessly despite exposure to the most brutal and abusive weather conditions, Rainier chose powder coating for the finish to help protect their product. “A powder coated finish provides us with unmatched aesthetics and durability,” says Warlick. “Also, as a 110-year-old company that’s always been closely linked with the outdoors and a clean environment, powder fits the company goal to continually look for innovative ways to incorporate eco-friendly materials into their long-lasting products.”

Tip-Top Finish

The finishing process begins when high quality aluminum extrusions are measured and cut to size for each order. These parts are cleaned and all the part surfaces are prepared for powder coating. Careful surface preparation ensures that the powder adheres strongly aluminum’s the metal surface.

The new powder line, installed in 2013 by Pneu-Mech, features a custom- designed powder booth with opposing powder collector cartridges. This de- wall to initiate the color change procedure. The user-friendly controls allow Rainier to make frequent color changes with a minimum amount of time and labor and without fear of cross-contamination. Because each powder also has its own optimum application settings, the operator can select from pre-programmed recipes and/or fine tune the Wagner powder handgun settings right from a digital control panel built into the powder booth wall.

After a full set of parts is coated, the rack is indexed into the direct-fired gas convection cure oven. The oven was designed for maximum energy efficiency inside and out. While the side-wall plenum design provides uniform heating for the range of powder coated parts without stirring up airborne contamination, the oven’s 4-in insulated panels help to contain the heat and keep the floor, sides and top of the oven’s exterior cooler to the touch. Each rack of parts indexes twice inside the oven so that the strong, but lightweight, aluminum parts are fully cured in less than 30 minutes.

The cure oven also features automated entry and exit doors to ensure the oven maintains a uniform temperature profile in the process chamber while keeping the plant comfortable for Rainier’s workers. A centrally located programmable logic controller (PLC) allows supervisors to set key operating parameters and monitor the conditions of the powder booth, cure oven and conveyor system using a simple, graphic, touch screen display.

The dual rail conveyor was engineered to accommodate Rainier’s own custom-designed flight bars. The flight bars are designed to hold the various bits and pieces that make up each set of built-to-order awnings or screens. From a technical standpoint, the racking arrangement also provides excellent electrostatic grounding to ensure that each part can be uniformly coated with consistent electrostatic wrap as the powder coating is applied.

The dual rail conveyor was engineered to accommodate Rainier’s own custom-designed flight bars. The flight bars are designed to hold the various bits and pieces that make up each set of built-to-order awnings or screens. From a technical standpoint, the racking arrangement also provides excellent electrostatic grounding to ensure that each part can be uniformly coated with consistent electrostatic wrap as the powder coating is applied.

“It’s a very simple—maybe deceptively simple—finishing system,” says Warlick. “Like the design of the Rainier awning and screen products we make here, our vision from the outset was to install a powder coating line that was robust, easy to use, and hassle free by doing good planning and by purchasing well-made components from the best suppliers. That decision wasn’t the cheapest up front, but it was one that provides us with a good payback every day.”

Sharon Spielman is editor of Powder Coated Tough magazine. She can be reached via email at sspielman@powdercoating.org.

Author: Elijah