Color Change Critical for Move from Liquid to Powder

Posted on Tuesday, May 1, 2012


When this Oregon, lll., agriculture and turf products maker was contemplating the switch from liquid paint to powder coatings, one of the last obstacles that had to be overcome was that of fast color changes.

Until recently, switching quickly from one color to another was a domain fiercely guarded by liquid painters. Now, in less time than it takes to say “environmentally compliant,” operators at Woods Equipment Company, Oregon, Ill., an agricultural and turf products manufacturing and finishing plant, can switch from Woods Orange to any other color they choose.

Woods’ new color-ondemand capability, called PrimaColor-Select®, is as simple to use as the flick of a dial. And it was the hurdle in a corporate decision to convert from liquid to powder coating in their plant. There were compelling reasons for Woods to install two new powder lines, even during troubled economic times that might have discouraged other companies. But the company’s commitment to quality has paid off for Woods in a number of ways.

Renowned for their durability and craftsmanship, powder coating offers Woods agricultural and turf products the same toughness on the outside as the products are on the inside. “Things have changed since 1946 when our first model rolled off the production line,” says Angela Larson, director of marketing and communications at Woods. “Today’s paint specification looks a lot like an automotive-quality standard.” That’s not surprising since Woods’ cutters, mowers, tractors and implements are exposed to the harshest weather, most caustic chemicals, and battering conditions a finish could be asked to endure. “Woods raised the bar through self-imposed standards, positioning us as a leader with this stateof- the-art system,” says Jerry Johnson, president of Woods Products division.

The undertaking to replace Woods liquid paint lines began in 2010 when a small team began to evaluate powder coating and equipment suppliers. The group had inherited a powder system that served as an in-house lab to develop the new process. “We quickly agreed that powder offered a lot of advantages,” recalls Tim Fulmer, a manufacturing engineer that helped design the system. “No Comparison. Powder gave us a much more appealing look, with a more consistent surface, free of any drips or sags,” says Fulmer. “And the final coating is tougher, more resistant to abrasion and scratches.”

Color retention increased twoand- a-half times over the old wet spray, and the powder coating process provides better paint coverage, especially on hard to reach areas—the nooks, crannies, and welds that make up the complicated steel assemblies. While powder makes the visible surfaces more attractive to dealers and end users, it also lasts longer underneath, invisibly protecting the entire machine against the destructive effects of rust and corrosion.

Mowing Down the Problem

“But for all these strengths, our move to powder would not have happened without solving the color change problem,” says Jeff Rorbeck, operations manager for the Oregon facility. With 10 standard colors and occasional custom requests, Woods could not afford significant downtime to switch from one color of powder to another. After visiting a half dozen suppliers, the answer came from nearby Elgin, Ill., where Wagner Industrial Solutions engineered a quick-change color system that allows Woods to switch between any two colors in 20 seconds flat.

“It’s mesmerizing to watch,” says Rorbeck. “You see a part being sprayed orange. The operator reaches over and turns a dial on the wall, and the next part is bright green.” With barely a single empty hook in between parts, the fast change color ability keeps Woods from having to batch colors and allows them to continue to offer fast turnaround and delivery times.

The PrimaColor-Select powder systems use some of the latest powder equipment technology, with high-efficiency downdraft Prima® style powder booths outfitted with combinations of manual and automatic spray guns. What resembles a high-tech paint kitchen for powder is connected to a selector dial that allows operators to switch between different colors on the fly. The first system, a manual spray gun system for the Woods turf products (like mowers and backhoes) was installed during late summer and by the end of the year, another system for coating cutters, attachments and implements was up and running as well.

The second booth features two automatic spray stations (each with six guns mounted on electronic reciprocators) along with two manual touch-up stations. Both systems take advantage of the high-efficiency C4® Wagner spray gun technology and DigiTech® gun control package. A light curtain array, located just upstream of the powder booth, automatically calculates the part size and recalls a preset recipe as the part enters the spray booth. The system controller signals the spray guns to move to their proper position, triggering only those guns needed for each particular part, and only for as long as necessary to achieve a uniform film build. This computerized ability to fine tune the powder application parameters saves powder cost by minimizing wasteful overspray.

“We don’t miss liquid painting one bit,” says Gary Bally, a paint line supervisor. “Sure, things work differently with powder than with wet paint, but the learning curve was fast, and by the time the second system was up and running, everybody had learned a lot about powder coating.” Gone is the rework. Gone are the solvents, rags and mess associated with liquid coating. And in a locale where there are more parks and rivers then there are factories, being a responsible corporate citizen has long been a part of the Woods corporate culture.

“What you might not notice immediately,” says Fulmer, “is the reduction in our carbon emissions, energy use, and hazardous materials use in our plant.” The improved air quality eliminates the need to exhaust air from the plant, but rather to recycle it. There are no VOCs or hazardous waste disposal issues to deal with anymore. “Woods continues to find ways to lead our industry in quality products, and by reducing the undesirable impact on future generations of dealers, producers, ranchers, contractors, landscapers and home owners,” says Rorbeck.

The payoff for Woods has not only been in making a better product with a cleaner process, but has also contributed handsomely to the company’s bottom line. The conversion to powder has reduced costs in various ways. Warranty costs are lower, as are labor costs since the powder line requires not only fewer hours to actually paint parts, but the plant has witnessed a noticeable reduction in paint-related rework and scrap costs as well.

Sharon Spielman is editor of Powder Coated Tough magazine. She can be reached via email at sspielman@powdercoating.org. For more on Woods Equipment Company, visit www.woodsequipment.com. For more on Wagner’s powder coating equipment, visit www.wagnersystemsinc.com.