On the Fence about Finishing? Powder: An Ideal Choice

Posted on Wednesday, July 15, 2015

When products are used outdoors in all 50 states, Canada, Central America and the Caribbean, it’s important that they be powder coated tough—able to withstand a range of harsh environments and weather conditions—and look good doing it

Ideal Aluminum Products, located in St. Augustine, Fla., is a privately owned company that manufactures powder-coated fences, gates, railings, guardrails, arbors, louvers and privacy panels. Their products provide aesthetically pleasing safety and security for commercial properties, including resorts, hotels, country clubs, apartments and stadiums; industrial properties; schools; parks; and residential properties, to name just a few

Established in 1998, Ideal was purchased by partners Doug Brady and Michael Siegel in 2010. In just four years, the new owners have turned it into one of the fastest growing companies in the fencing, gates and railing industry.

Known for its breadth of product line and custom capabilities, the company operates under the principle that continuous process improvement and investment in new equipment and technologies creates value for its customers.

Relocation Facilitates System Upgrade

In the not-so-distant past, Ideal Aluminum Products moved its manufacturing north—from Deland, Fla., to St. Augustine. That turned out to be the suitable time for Ideal to replace its 10-year-old powder coating booth with a state-of-the-art powder coating system. According to Siegel, “We’ve always produced quality products, but powder coating technology has evolved and improved dramatically over the past decade. We knew that we could really benefit from faster color changes, higher powder reclaim rates and more efficient powder application.”

Self-described spreadsheet and efficiency enthusiasts, Siegel and Brady began planning for their new powder system more than two years ago, meeting for a full day with their powder and chemical suppliers to review two years worth of production data. Afterward, they constructed a model of what they believed would help them achieve maximum efficiency in their powder coating process. Armed with data and a model, Siegel and Brady presented their ideas and requirements to multiple powder booth manufactures and system integrators at the Powder Coating trade show in October 2013.

“We put everyone on a level playing field by providing them with eight pages of information and detailed requirements” says Brady

After careful consideration, Ideal chose Pneu-Mech Systems, Statesville, N.C.. and Nordson Corporation, Amherst, Ohio, for their system upgrade. “There was a ton of knowledge transfer about the limitations of our old system and the capabilities we wanted in a new system,” says Siegel. “Nordson worked with us to run cost analyses of reclaim efficiencies and color change times as well as multiple scenarios to calculate system payback.”

In the end, Brady says a high confidence level in the financial analysis, the company’s reputation in the industry, and that they could deal directly with them during installation and future service is what won them over.

In December 2014, Pneu-Mech installed an 800-foot oval, monoplane line, including a washer, dry-off oven, environmental room, infrared (IR) booster, cure oven, ColorMax® 2 powder booth; 14 bar-mounted Encore® automatic spray guns; two manual spray guns for touchup; a feed center; an iControl® integrated control system; and a breakaway cyclone. The booth also features a 3' x 9' opening to accommodate Ideal’s fence, pickets, rails, posts and other large products and components.

Prep, Apply, Cure

To achieve the product quality and durability required in the fence and gate industry, Ideal uses a five-stage wash cycle prior to powder coating. First, the aluminum alloy is treated with a phosphate cleaner. Second, it receives a phosphoric acid wash. Step three is a water rinse. Fourth, an acid-based metal cleaner and oxide remover is applied. The fifth cleaning step is a new, reverse-osmosis water rinse. The thoroughly cleaned parts receive their chrome-free, non-phosphate chemical coating and are powder coated with a thickness of 2 to 4 mils, depending on product type.

Ideal uses PPG ARC 2001™ flouropolymer and PPG Newlar flouroethylene vinyl ether (FEVE) powder coatings to deliver hardness and impact resistance, as well as chemical, abrasion and corrosion resistance for their fence, gate and other products.

The company uses four standard colors: black, white, bronze and hunter green, but also offers hundreds of custom color options

Efficiency, Cost Savings

Compared to their previous vertical, cartridge-style power coating system, Ideal Aluminum Products has recorded numerous benefits and advantages with their new system.

The monoplane line allows denser loading and packing of the powder coating line for better utilization and efficiency. The line moves at 10 fpm. The new booth allows Ideal to make color changes in 10 minutes or less instead of the 40 minutes required in the past

“We change colors an average of eight times per week,” says Siegel. “Previously, we had to be very careful with scheduling our color changes. The fast change capability of our new…system gives us much more flexibility in our production scheduling and the ability to change colors for shorter runs and custom colors when needed.”

The spray guns and control system give the fence maker more consistent flow of paint to the parts, and, therefore, more mileage out of their powder. “The sensing technology also prevents the guns from spraying when there is a gap between parts. So, we put less paint in the booth to get the same mil thickness of coating,” according to Siegel.

In just a few short months after the installation was completed, the company recognized significant powder reclaim and labor savings. The 100-employee company now operates one shift rather than two, producing 50 percent more products at a higher quality as a result of the powder coating system’s increased efficiency. Partners Brady and Siegel expect to eventually realize three to four times the productivity of their old system.

Ideal has realized the most ideal outcome. “The quality of the finish on our products was always good,” says Brady. “But now, it’s unbelievable,” says Siegel. “We had pretty tough requirements and high expectations when we entered into this project. The (new) system is even better than we thought it would be. We got the best possible system at the best possible price...the best possible system for our business.”

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