Quality is of critical importance for customers of manufactured products. As a result, a long list of quality-related certifications and verifications is available for manufacturers to illustrate their dedication to producing a quality product to both existing and potential customers.
In the world of powder coating, certifications and verifications run the gamut and include those offered by powder manufacturers, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), and associations like the American Architectural Manufacturers Association (AAMA) and the Powder Coating Institute (PCI). Perhaps the most well-known and widely used quality certification is ISO.
As a custom coater or an OEM that powder coats inhouse, it can be a challenge to determine which to pursue and why. Michelle Payden and Rick Gehman, with PCI 3000 Certified custom coaters ABITL Finishing, Inc. and Keystone Koating, provide some explanation of the various certifications and verifications, as well as the importance of PCI Certification to their businesses and the industry at large.
We are ISO Certified. Why Do I Need PCI Certification?
Over the last 100 years, international business has grown at exponential rates. Today, large companies, as well as mom-and-pop operations, are manufacturing, assembling, marketing and selling product on a global scale. In 1947, The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) was founded with the intention “to facilitate the international coordination and unification of industrial standards.” Using ISO standards, one might say businesses around the world follow the same play book.
ISO 9001:2015 is one of the most flexible quality standards and can work in conjunction with other standards. This quality management system (QMS) allows for businesses in any industry to conform to one standard, meaning an American custom coater can be certified to the same standard as a Japanese bottle manufacturer. ISO 9001:2015 sets an all-encompassing infrastructure within the certified company with standards that encourage risk-based thinking and a proactive approach from management regarding the business as a whole. This infrastructure establishes a system for continuous improvement, customer focus, staff buy-in, evidence/data-based decision making and a process approach across the board. Using the ISO 9001 QMS, the Japanese bottle maker and American custom coater have a level of comfort in doing business with each other. The partnership between companies is streamlined because each party operates according to the same standard, regardless of the product offered or manufactured.
While ISO certification is a widely-used overall business operation standard, the PCI Certification program is highly specialized. PCI offers two types of certification. PCI 3000 is a certification for the custom coater and PCI 4000 is for OEMs that powder coat in-house. While PCI certification borrows a few common-sense principles from ISO, its primary scope is the coating process itself. Brandon McCaslin, plant manager, explains, “ABITL Finishing chose ISO 9001:2015 as our QMS to improve how we do business. While working on our ISO certification we saw that PCI 3000 Certification could bring continual improvement by focusing on the details of just the coating portion of our business.”
PCI Certification evaluates key aspects of the powder coating process including pretreatment, ovens and curing, application area, quality control, training, maintenance, process control, and loading, unloading and packaging. All of these process components are integral to producing a high-quality powder coated finish. The PCI audit addresses all these things regardless of the powder manufacturer or oven designer.
PCI has incorporated industry best practices into its program, which benefits the coater as well as the powder coating industry as a whole. The audit ensures that all parts of the coating process are not just evaluated but enables coaters to see where there is room for improvement. As a result, PCI Certification helps eliminate “accidental quality” and equates to consistency, repeatability and the ability to produce a high-quality powder coated finish. Richard Hopper, director of marketing for ABITL Finishing Inc. adds, “The PCI 3000 Certification sets us apart from the competition. While our customers recognize the certification, it really represents dedication to quality coatings for our end user.”
The ISO program is a great system that drives continuous improvement of overall performance and creates a framework that enables sustainable growth and future development. The PCI program is a highly focused system that ensures an organization has the ability to produce powder coated finishes that meet the highest industry standards. PCI Certification provides an additional benefit to ISO certified coaters because it qualifies as a method of continuous improvement, which is required in the ISO standard.
Being an ISO-certified company is a solid foundation for growth, but PCI Certification provides what ISO cannot: efficiency in the coating process and the recognition that the coater has the processes in place to produce high quality powder coated parts. PCI Certification is an essential addition for a custom coater or OEM that is serious about creating quality, not just hoping for it at the end of the line!
When Your Goal is Powder Coating Done Right
Keystone believes in Powder Coating Done Right. PCI 3000 Certification is designed to differentiate job shop powder coaters who want to do it correctly from those who think they are doing it right. PCI Certification is the beginning of the journey towards standardizing powder coating expectations, not only between the customer and the job shop, but also the industry. Powder coaters are faced with a variety of expectations that can differ significantly from industry to industry. To aid in meeting those expectations, PCI 3000 Certification holds job shop powder coaters accountable to the performance of their powder coating process.
Keystone has earned and values certifications and verifications from powder manufacturers and customers, such as Axalta, TCI, IFS, JLG, and AAMA. However, they differ from the PCI Certification program. Not surprisingly, supplier and customer certifications tend to have a narrow focus on their products. This is what one would expect. They do not extensively evaluate the entire powder coating process like the PCI Certification program. For example, AAMA’s verification for powder coaters focuses specifically on coating aluminum. However, job shop powder coaters tend to be multi-metal. What is considered an exceptional powder coating process for aluminum will be different from an exceptional powder coating process for steel. Therefore, the AAMA verification certificate cannot validate both processes.
The PCI Certification program encompasses the entire powder coating process. The audit specifically evaluates all key aspects of the powder coating process and is not a generic quality audit like the ISO program. ISO leans more towards, “Do you know what you are doing?” while PCI Certification looks at it from the perspective of, “Is what you are doing meeting the industry needs and expectations?” Both have their place, but Keystone strives to not only provide quality powder coated products to its customers, but to be part of advancing the powder coating industry as a whole. PCI Certification helps to address customer needs and a third-party opinion of our operation and processes helps ensure that happens.
Whenever Keystone hears of powder coating failures, it raises concerns about about how the general public views the powder coating industry. In order to strengthen the reputation of powder coating, we all need to work together. Getting PCI Certified is a major step toward Powder Coating Done Right.
To learn more about the PCI Certification program, visit www.powdercoating.org/certification.
- by Michelle Payden, quality manager at ABITL Finishing, Inc. and Rick Gehman, president of Keystone Koating.