Going Big

Posted on Sunday, September 1, 2013

Powder coating very large parts is no small feat. How does this Midwestern custom coater achieve the mammoth task? Read on to find out.

By Sharon Spielman

Not just any powder coater can accommodate a very large part such as a propane transport tanker. Americana Powder Finishing in Salem, Ill., however, has the capability to cater to customers who have very large items that need to be powder coated tough. “We can run parts up to 50 feet long,” says General Manager Geff Purcell, who oversees coating operations at Americana. These particular propane transport tankers are more than 45 feet long and weigh in at 18,000 pounds, he says. The tank barrel is 84 inches in diameter. “These are the largest parts we have ever powder coated. A local manufacturer of propane delivery and transport trucks, JARCO, which was acquired by Polar Corp. in 2010, used us to coat small parts on their trucks. Then, two years ago they approached us about powder coating the propane tanks in order to provide the best coating in the industry,” Purcell explains. Because Americana had experience with some large architectural steel parts that weighed up to 13,000 lbs., Purcell says he thought they could achieve the results that the customer wanted. And he was right. These tankers however, are not the only big parts that Americana finishes. “We coat many large parts for GSI (Grain Systems Inc., a division of AGCO and the world leader in steel corrugated grain storage systems). Many of the hoppers and elevators have very large parts. (See the images of the 10 ft. dia. bucket elevator wheels on the next page.)

In fact, Americana has had such success with coating very large parts that the custom coater has decided to add an 80 ft. long by 20 ft. wide by 20 ft. tall blast room to its operations. “This will allow two operators to blast simultaneously and has upper catwalks on both sides to facilitate blasting tall objects,” Purcell says.

When Size Matters

Finishing these mammoth propane transport tankers is no small feat. Purcell says that Americana brought in their powder vendor, IFS Coatings, an architectural coatings supplier, to achieve the appearance and durability requirements. Pretreatment vendor, Troy Chemical, rounded out the team setup to help develop the process. After months of the team testing different powders and chemical pretreatments, a process was refined that works every time, Purcell says. “This coating process has been tested in Americana’s in-house salt fog cabinet and achieved over 10,000 hours without failure using the ASTM B117 test method,” he explains.

One at a time, the tanks are loaded onto special carts with hi-temp rubber wheels that can withstand blasting and the oven temperatures. The tanks are transferred into the blast room and blasted with steel grit to white metal, Purcell explains. After blasting, they are transferred to a wash bay and cleaned with a hand-held spray wand system using 165°F heated Troy Chemical 2817 Spray Wand Phosphatizer. This solution is rinsed with deionized water and then the Troy Chemical 2805 sealer and rust preventive is sprayed and allowed to dry in place to prevent any surface corrosion from developing, Purcell says. The tank is then transferred to Americana’s 50 ft. long batch oven where it is allowed to dry and preheat to about 300°F. After transfer to the paint booth, it takes four operators about 90 minutes to spray 3-5 mils of IFS zinc-rich primer onto the entire tank using Gema OptiFlex 2B guns. The tank is put back into the oven to flow out the zinc primer and then transferred back to the paint booth where three operators take 120 minutes to apply 5-7 mils of an IFS super durable polyester. “IFS Coatings is also an industry leader in low-cure powders, which was key to achieving a successful coating of such a heavy part,” Purcell points out. Once the topcoat is applied, the tank is put back into the oven and all of the coatings are fully cured. Purcell says that they use FLIR cameras to ensure that every part reaches full cure. (See below.)

Earth-Friendly, Community-Minded

Americana’s specialty is to be able to handle very long parts. “You have heard me say that if you can get it on a truck, we can probably powder coat it,” Purcell says. Americana’s facility has nine pitted truck docks as well as the ability to pull flatbed semi-trucks completely into the building for loading and unloading.

Americana’s parent company, Americana Building Products, builds residential and commercial shade products, which include window and door awnings, patio covers, walkway covers and park shelters. The environmentally conscious company makes its products from recycled aluminum and steel, and uses only powder to coat its products. “We chose powder coating for its cost efficiency, durability and low environmental impact,” Purcell says.

Americana prides itself on being able to take on challenging projects for their customers, as is seen in their ability to deliver big. But the company is just as dedicated to their community. In the past, they have coated a large antique church bell that survived a tornado; the steel basketball goal supports for their local school’s gymnasium, using the school’s colors; and the flag poles, foul poles and dugout benches for the local baseball complex. Most recently, they stripped, blasted and re-coated many of the old benches used in the city park.

Sharon Spielman is editor of Powder Coated Tough magazine. She can be reached at 847-302-2648 or via email at sspielman@powdercoating.org