Automated Vertical Parking Garage Leaves Small Footprints (Both Carbon and Size-Wise)

Posted on Tuesday, April 7, 2015

When this automated parking garage maker needed a green, robust finish for its modular, steel construction frame, they chose powder coating to get the job done. 

By Sharon Spielman

Parking garages the world over are subject to the corrosive elements tracked in by vehicles, including dirt, oil, grime, road salt, and anti-icing brines. Traditional concrete garage floors can take the abuse pretty well. But what about an automated, conveyorized vertical parking structure that is made of a modular steel frame? Without the proper finish, the steel would corrode in no time.

This is why it made sense to Andy Callender, U-ParkIt engineering manager, and Robert Enns, a fomer NASA engineer—both of whom were brought on board in 2009 to upgrade the U-ParkIt product and technology— to choose powder coating for the structure’s finish. (See sidebar on below for more on U-ParkIt.)


Callender explains that U-ParkIt NA equipment was designed not only with final function in mind, but fabrication as well. “Laser cut, bent metal construction provides U-ParkIt with durable, cost-effective fabrication,” he says. “However, traditional wet painting methods can add additional handling—and therefore cost—to the project. By having conversations with our fabricators during the design process, we could ensure that both parties could be profitable and provide a quality product that will perform for years.”

Callender explains that the fabricator they used for this project, I & M Machine and Fabrication Corp., in St. Joseph, Mo., uses powder coating for a majority of their customers, allowing them to provide a completed product without moving components off site for final finish. “This helps maintain our budgets and schedule, and reduces handling damage risk knowing that all the processes are under one roof,” he says.

“I & M has process controls and procedures that maintain a consistent, durable finish that will keep our equipment protected and looking great for years,” Callender continues. “On larger parts, we don’t have to be concerned that the paint finish will be uniform or the components properly prepared before finish application. With components being cured on the same conveyor line the finish is applied the chances of the finish being damaged is eliminated. Parts do not have to be moved from a paint booth to a drying area where foreign material can attach or atmospheric changes can affect the paint cure process.”

According to Richard Canaday, estimator/quoter at I & M, the U-ParkIt structure utilizes materials of both gauge and plate on weldments making cross sections that are widely different in their baking characteristics. “We can hang up to 144" x 48" on our loop line and up to 1,000 pounds, taking between 2:15 and 2:45 to complete the loop,” Canaday explains. He says they load and unload manually, leaving gaps in the line for color change, and their batch system can handle to 30' x 10' x 10' and also uses a loop system. “If masking or plugging of holes is necessary, we use Mighty Hook green polyester high-temp tape for masking, and silicone plugs for holes and threads as necessary,” Canaday reveals.

The Process

Canaday says that as they walk a weldment through the powder coat process, they start with a pass through a Wheelabrator, utilizing steel shot. “If necessary, we make a couple of passes. This mechanically removes a great deal of metal scale, weld scale, and laser scale.”

He continues, “On the conveyor continuous loop line, we use many additional steps using chemicals supplied by Galaxy. First, an acid concentration of 2.7-3.1 percent, followed by a neutralizer at 2 percent, then a phosphate cleaner at 3 percent, a soft water rinse, sealer at a pH of 5.0-6.25, followed by a dry-off oven.” The loop line has both automated and manual spray guns. The automated booth is 12-head Nordson, and the manual booth is a Wagner, both currently using Nordson guns. “Generally we can adjust the settings in the booths to reduce any Faraday effect. The loop line ovens are natural gas ITS.”

Canaday says the batch oven line is a simplified line as compared to the loop line. They manually clean the items, and then, if necessary, use 3M’s Scotch Brite or sand imperfections, then seal the weldment using the same Galaxy chemicals. The oven on their batch system is a Reliant, gas-fired.

Canaday explains that on both lines, when they have both thick and thin cross sections, they often preheat the material, remove it from the oven, and then powder coat. “The thinner sections cool much quicker than the large cross sections and therefore are not too hot to coat. Giving the large, maybe 1" thick, sections a head start accomplishes the bonding we need. We often use most of the over bake time allotted by the powder manufacturer,” he says.

Powder supplied to I&M is delivered by as many as eight vendors, but Diamond Vogel and PPG are their most used suppliers, Canaday says. “Being a job shop, we must be able to access RAL colors quickly, and acquire smaller batches than skid loads. We have had good success with the small specialty vendors’ products as well.” He adds, “Experience and a watchful eye is always necessary along with good powder coating processes.”


Leaving Small Footprints

Because the structure is vertical and does not require ramps (see video at www.uparkit.com for how the structure operates), it can save up to 60 percent of the space needed for a conventional car park building, while parking the same number of cars. This means its footprint is smaller than a conventional vertical parking garage.

U-ParkIt NA’s mission is to give back one-half to two-thirds of the major parking lots in urban, downtown locations for the public to enjoy as public parks. This is part of the reason their tagline is: A Green Parking Solution.

The company also wants to leave a smaller carbon footprint, so environmental factors were taken into consideration during the design and fabrication phases, as well. The U-ParkIt system significantly reduces pollution because cars are turned off as soon as they enter the system. EPA data shows that this technology implemented for a 500-car garage would save more than 6,000 gallons of gas annually as well as eliminate 1,000 pounds of hydrocarbons and 3.5 tons of carbon monoxide every year. The structure’s design also allows for maximum collection of storm water runoff. And the electricity supply requirement can be as low as 63 amps.

According to Callender, “Because one of the benefits of the U-ParkIt system is reducing pollutants, it only makes sense we try to maintain a green attitude toward the fabrication and finish of our equipment. Powder coating has negligible VOC emissions and hazardous air pollutants (HAPs), so maintaining a relationship with fabricators that can minimize their impact on our environment fits with U-ParkIt key benefits.”

About U-ParkIt

The original automated U-ParkIt system was created by New Zealand-based Ahu in 2003. In 2006, Ahu, with the trade name U-ParkIt, set up an agreement with Kansas City-based U-ParkIt North America (NA). U-ParkIt NA was set up to be the sales and distribution arm of New Zealand’s U-ParkIt, serving potential opportunities anywhere in North America. In 2009, U-ParkIt NA purchased the entire portfolio of technology and distribution rights from U-ParkIt (Ahu) with the agreement that U-ParkIt NA would have ownership throughout all of North America. Once ownership was transferred to Kansas City in 2009, U-ParkIt NA hired NASA Engineer Robert Enns and Mercedes Benz and Tesla Engineer Andy Callender to upgrade the product and the technology.

To further support the growth of the company, in 2011 U-ParkIt NA hired Retired Admiral James Whittaker as president and CEO.  With a strong resume in administration, Admiral Whittaker spent the next three years working with private entities, municipalities and other potential users, explaining the system and the green benefits that the U-ParkIt garage provides.

By 2014, with the technology upgrades of Enns and Callender completed and the administrative leadership of Whittaker, U-ParkIt NA was in a position to bring its fully upgraded system and green technology to the Automated Parking Garage market.  Whittaker and CFO Tom Rost then hired Kevin Macdonald and Budd Busceni as sales and marketing representatives. The goal of the addition of a new sales and marketing team was to strongly promote the product through a combination of U-ParkIt NA technology details and green benefits. Because of nationwide parking shortages, space limitations, safety issues and environmental concerns, the company correctly determined that the time to sell the concept was upon them.

Advantages of the automated, vertical garage include the following:


Portable. U-ParkIt is built using a robust steel modular construction frame that can be dismantled and relocated.

Modular.  All cells are built to specific dimensions capable of being expanded for the addition of more car parks as required.

Efficient. The modular nature enables assembly on location, resulting in short installation and commissioning times.

Effective. U-ParkIt can be installed underground, on reasonably flat surfaces, within existing structures, on the side or on top of buildings.

Space Saving. U-ParkIt can save up to 60 percent of the space needed for a conventional car park building, while parking the same number of cars.

Excavation Saving. U-ParkIt can save more than 60 percent of the excavation needed for a conventional ramp garage.

Cost Effective. U-ParkIt can park up to three times the number of cars that can be parked on a conventional car lot.

Time Saving. Patrons no longer have to waste time looking for an empty parking space.

Secure. Cars can only be retrieved by those with appropriate authorization. There are no places for robbers to hide.

Protective. All cars are stored undercover thus protecting against harsh weather conditions such as hail storms, heavy rains, extreme heat and sun exposure and snow. Cars are not accessible to the public eliminating minor incidents such as dents, finger dings, paint scratches and head/rear light breakage.

Reduced Maintenance Costs. U-ParkIt uses interchangeable electromechanical motors giving it a significant advantage on competitive systems that use hydraulics.


As of February this year, the company is constructing the world’s first U-ParkIt NA automated parking garage. The system is being built on The Fields Group Auto Campus located in Northfield, Ill., a Chicago suburb.  The expected completion date of the project is early June 2015.

To see a video of how the structure operates, visit www.uparkit.com. For more information about building a structure, contact Kevin MacDonald at 847-650-9139 or kevinremax@yahoo.com, or Budd Busceni at 312-771-6327 or bbusceni4@gmail.com.


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

For more on companies mentioned in this article, visit their web sites.




Galaxy Chemical Corp.



Norsdon Corporation



Wagner Systems Inc.



Mighty Hook



Wheelabrator Group Ltd.