Posted in: Custom Coating

Keystone's Key: PCI Certification

Posted on Saturday, December 1, 2012

By Sharon Spielman

When Keystone Koating, Lititz, Pa., wanted to refine its process and set itself apart from the competition, the custom coater decided to pursue PCI 3000 Certification through The Powder Coating Institute. “To have a credible international organization perform an audit of the process ensures that our company is equipped to go above and beyond our customers’ requirements and expectations,” says Nelson Zimmerman, vice president and founder at Keystone Koating. The custom coater spent three to four months in preparation for the audit that evaluated the coating process, customer relations, documentation, safety and compliance concerns. “Keystone has felt it valuable to have an outside firm as PCI perform initial and annual audits to maintain a level of competency and excellence,” Zimmerman says.

Company Timeline

According to Zimmerman, Keystone Koating was formed to meet the finishing needs of Paul B. Zimmerman Inc., a manufacturer of agricultural equipment. In the early 1980s, the AG maker saw a need to improve the finish and durability of the coating applied to its line of equipment. After evaluating several finishing options, powder coating was chosen. They proceeded to form a new company, Keystone Koating, to position themselves as a custom coater who could serve the fabricating industry.

Design and construction of a 15,000 sq. ft. building to accommodate Keystone took place in 1985 with the first parts coated in early summer of 1986. The process consisted of four-stage pretreatment, dry-off oven, spray booth and cure oven. Initially, Keystone subcontracted blasting to properly prepare the surface, but then in 1987, Keystone added a 72-inch turn-table steel grit blasting machine.

A few expansions took place in the following years. In 1993, Keystone added 7,500 sq. ft. and remodeled the coating line, adding an infrared (IR) boost to the cure oven, new four-stage pretreatment and a new spray room. In 1998, an inline primer booth was added, allowing two coats of powder to be applied in one pass. Also in 1998, Keystone again expanded to add 15,000 sq. ft. of warehouse space. A batch operation was also added at this time to better process large parts and small runs, Zimmerman explains.

In 2001, Keystone added a second coating facility in Lititz to handle increased volume and work load. This facility included a conveyor line, and a batch line was added in 2005.

Then in 2006, Keystone constructed a third facility Mifflintown, Pa. This 41,000 sq. ft facility was designed to be able to handle complete coating services, including blasting, inline primer and a 7' x 7' x 18' batch booth and oven.

From Start to Finish

“Proper surface preparation has been a priority for Keystone,” Zimmerman says. Blasting services have been an important part of the process. Currently, Keystone has several machines that utilize steel grit blast media. Blasting capabilities include two conveyor machines, two tumbler blasters and a table blast machine plus a 10' x 10' x 24' hand blast room that uses aluminum oxide media. Vibratory tub mass finishing and de-burring service also has been added to provide laser scale removal, edge break and surface preparation of small parts. Keystone offers a full line of coating services, finishing many substrates, including steel, stainless steel, cast iron, cast aluminum and aluminum. “We are able to handle the process from start to finish, beginning with picking up parts at the customer’s location with one of three trucks,” Zimmerman says. Blasting, pretreating and coating in the color of their choice will be done according to the customer’s request. Keystone also offers packaging of product and delivery back to the customer. “If our customer chooses, the product can be shipped directly to the end customer,” Zimmerman adds.

Keystone provides coating for a range of applications, including patio furniture to street lighting poles and lamps, to large volume runs of parts for various assemblies in industries that range from agricultural to medical and machinery. Zimmerman also says that Keystone has extensive masking experience and capabilities, which has allowed them to handle numerous unique and challenging masking and coating applications. Hooks and racks are primarily fabricated in-house, providing flexible and innovative racking.

The Line

The coater uses primarily pretreatment systems, ovens and spray booths designed and constructed in-house. According to Zimmerman, “This has allowed Keystone to customize the operation very extensively to provide customers with maximum value.” Currently, the three production lines utilize eight-stage iron phosphate pretreatment systems. Each system uses the same chemistry, supplied by Chemetall. Alkaline cleaner is followed by two rinse stages, providing good cleaning and rinsing for the most difficult soils. This is followed by iron phosphate and two rinse stages. The pretreatment is finished with a fresh water RO rinse and a dry-in-place sealer. All stages have in-line filters to maintain bath cleanliness. Wastewater is treated and evaporated for a zero discharge system. Following the dry-off oven is an optional booth to apply primers as required by the customer. Zinc-rich epoxy and specialty primers are applied, offering finishes with outstanding corrosion resistance, Zimmerman adds. Both topcoat and primer booths utilize automatic and manual spray equipment. Zimmerman reveals that Keystone is currently using spray equipment provided by Nordson, including two iControl systems. Cure ovens are infrared/convection combination ovens, and infrared emitters are gas catalytic units.

“Keystone continues to adapt to the changing marketplace and is always looking to work with customers to develop and supply them with the best coating performance,” Zimmerman says. The custom coater has a testing lab that offers an ASTM-B117 salt fog cabinet, testing capability for iron phosphate coating weight, boiled water test, and several other test capabilities. Coating quality is continually evaluated to ensure it is meeting the requirements of the customer, Zimmerman says. Quality assurance checks on product include coating thickness and coverage, adhesion, cross hatch impact and MEK rub. Quality assurance persons conduct these tests on product according to quality assurance requirements of both the customer and Keystone. Required test results are recorded and filed with customer’s records, he says. Zimmerman concludes, “In addition to a committed and knowledgeable staff, Keystone also offers on-site consulting and customer service for the convenience of our customers.”

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