Diggin' It With Closed-Loop Pretreatment, Powder Finish

Posted on Wednesday, May 1, 2013

By Sharon Spielman

In the land “down under,” this fabricator and finisher of gearboxes for augers and other industrial machinery, has been able to dig itself quite a niche in the market. The company’s growth has allowed them to open a plant in the United Kingdom to service its European customers, and most recently in the United States to service North America.

Founded in 1981, the heart and soul of Australian-headquartered Digga is its manufacturing of planetary gearboxes for augering and screw anchor markets. “Digga produces the most extensive, compact range of gearboxes in our industry, supplying gearboxes not only for our attachments, but for supply to other OEMs for their auger drives, trenchers, road planers, rock saws and a variety of other speciality industries,” says Suzie Wright, Digga’s CEO.

As Digga grew and the range of attachments expanded, Digga built a custom-designed facility, which opened in late 2006. “The current facility in Australia is a stateof- the-art 130,000 sq. ft. facility on 8 acres of land. Exporting to North America and Europe since 1996, Digga opened a facility in the United Kingdom in 1998 to service the European market. Digga uses mild steel of varying thicknesses to produce a range of 32 machinery attachments in Australia and distributes product around the world through OEMs and an extensive dealer network, Wright reveals.

Digga’s head office is a fully integrated manufacturing facility with 168 staff, processing from raw material with high-definition plasmas, automatic steel cutting, 11-axis break press, 15 CNC machining centers, gear cutting, robotic welding, fabrication, paint and assembly.

Digga now has five manufacturing facilities around the world. Three are in Australia, one in the U.K. to service Europe, and now the latest facility in Dyersville, Iowa, to service the North American market. “We have a great belief in delivering quality product fast, and strive to exceed our customers’ expectations. That is why we have invested in local production in each country,” Wright says.

From the Outback to America’s Heartland

Digga has been supplying a local OEM manufacturer in Iowa for more than 10 years. “When choosing a site for the new plant,” Wright says, “we wanted to be central for distribution to the North American market, have a quality workforce, a great community, and be close to our OEM to ensure we could continue to improve our service levels and supply times.” Dyersville was chosen after demonstrating qualities and support that Digga felt best aligned with its own business philosophies.

Business has been a challenge the past three years, Wright reveals, because the company was growing so fast and its plans to expand globally required them to invest in a new ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) computer system. “It took us a lot longer than anticipated to get it operating well enough to take on the new plant in the USA. Markets have been a bit unstable in the past 12 months, but we are on a clear and focused course with our products and the markets we will be serving,” she says.

The Iowa facility is 43,000 sq. ft. on 8 acres of land. “We have a modern, open plan office with the latest in ergonomic furniture and facilities for our people. Fabrication and finishing as well as assembly and distribution are accommodated.”

The line is composed of Global Finishing Solutions equipment that was supplied and installed by ICAFe Inc., a distributor of finishing equipment and supplies, based out of Waukesha, Wis. The manual conveyor system, which has to accommodate parts as long as 14 ft. and diameters up to 6 ft., has a stainless steel manual wash booth, dry-off oven, powder application booth, and a cure oven.

This line was built specifically to accommodate the product range being sold throughout North America, which includes augers, machine mounts, auger extensions and a range of complementary parts for Digga’s screw anchor drive, auger drive dealers and OEM clients. “Our primary range of product is auger drives and screw anchor drives for dealers and OEM clients. Digga also designs and produces custom gearbox solutions for mining, recycling and other industrial applications,” Wright says.

When asked why Digga selected powder for their finishing in the Iowa facility, Wright reveals, “We currently use two part and wet paint in Australia. We chose powder for the USA as we wanted a product that was a high quality, cost-effective solution that had minimal impact on the environment and was safe for the staff to use.” Is Digga satisfied with that choice? “We are very happy with the results of this new paint line and now intend to upgrade the main plant in Australia in the later half of this year.” The Iowa plant will also provide powder coating services to other customers and industries.

Closed-Loop Pretreatment

As anyone involved in any sort of paint or coating application knows, the final finish results are primarily based on the pretreatment stage. Often overlooked or half-hearted attempts in this critical stage can lead to rejects in process or premature field failure of the coatings. Because Digga considers itself and its products to be first-class operations, they will not let that happen, according to Wright.

George Strapko, sales manager, at Riveer (South Haven, Mich.), Digga’s pretreatment equipment maker, adds, “The pretreatment of any substrate is very critical to the primer and topcoat used. This is true for powder and wet coats on any substrate. Testing in the coating world proves that a properly cleaned and prepared substrate will greatly enhance the appearance and longevity of the coating.” He continues, “In the past there were wet coats that were ‘good enough’ for industrial coatings, but with the expectations of long lasting coatings on everything produced today, the push for durability is pervasive.” Strapko says that they know from working with all the major pretreatment providers and coating providers that the process of pretreatment in concert with the coating system has a synergy that creates exceptional durability.

“For many industrial customers, the method of old was a simple wipe with a solvent and then coating that was the right color, nothing beyond color in the shop really mattered. There are many industrial applications where the parts are exhibiting coating failure to the trained eye before they are even shipped. When the quality of the part is circumspect from the moment it’s delivered, the cost of the coating suddenly becomes less important. The research by most manufacturers lead them to understand that to make a great finish you have no choice but to invest in the proper equipment that will have a repeatable, measurable, and robust process. That is where we come in.”

ICAFe Inc. and Riveer have had a long-standing working relationship. So, even before the new facility had broken ground, Riveer had the opportunity to be flexible in design parameters and best layout possibilities for Digga’s work process flow.

ICAFe Inc. and Riveer supplied two separate areas in the Iowa plant with a closed-loop option. “This was important as we want to do things right—environmentally and as a cost saving measure-—both in labor and chemical used,” Wright says. Strapko says that the first is a wash booth designed for degreasing all incoming product for rework/rebuild. A concrete wash bay with curtains to contain overspray, using a citrus waterbased degreaser (DuBois Chemical) is applied at 3,000 psi. All the degreaser is recycled in Riveer’s Model RTS 500 process tank and re-used. According to Wright, “These are customer-supplied units that have been in the field for many years and are due for a rebuild. Since our products are used in a vast range of climates and soil conditions, we know the contaminants we need to remove, such as dirt, mud, grease, oil, etc., will vary, and we needed a quick and efficient method of ‘cleaning’ these prior to tear down and rebuild.”

The second unit is a batch-type pretreatment system that utilizes a two-stage process to phosphatize and rinse and air blow-off for dry. Again, they recycle the phosphate for reuse. The filtration system coalesces and removes oils and separates particulate loads down to 10 micron and re-uses the phosphate solution. Strapko adds, “Additionally the rinse function also passes through micron filters before re-use. Fresh water is introduced to maintain quality and make-up for evaporative loss during the operation.” They have a fully enclosed stainless wash booth with lighting, exhaust and manual spray wands. A high-pressure wand applies the phosphate and then they rinse with a separate low pressure wand. “The system works for Digga’s product range, throughput and quickly prepares the parts for the coating process, while keeping us in an ‘environmentally conscious’ state of operations,” Wright says.

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