Supporting the Growth of Powder Coatings in Mexico

Posted on Monday, May 9, 2022

By Antonio Figueroa

Powder coating consumption has been on the rise in Mexico for several decades. As a manufacturing-focused country, primarily for the U.S., but also for other regions of the world including Europe and Asia, it is essential that Mexican manufacturers meet the quality expectations of these markets.

Located primarily in the northern towns bordering the United States, maquiladoras are prominent in the Mexican manufacturing sector. According to Manufacturing in Mexico, a maquiladora is a factory that operates under preferential tariff programs established and administered by the U.S. and Mexico. Materials, assembly components, and production equipment used in maquiladoras are allowed to enter Mexico duty-free. Product made can be exported into the U.S. at lower tariffs than those from other countries. In order to comply with foreign quality requirements, every aspect of part production must be scrutinized, from raw materials throughout the entire manufacturing process. As a result, powder coating has been implemented at most companies with products well suited for the electrostatic powder coating application process. Mexican manufacturers have adopted powder coating, not only for its aesthetic benefits, but also for important factors such as durability, corrosion protection, and functionality.

Foreign Investment Spurs Growth
It is well known that the manufacturing industry in Mexico has been picking up and continues to increase due in part to the investment of foreign capital from countries including the U.S., Canada, Germany, Italy, Spain, Korea, Japan, and even China. These foreign investors seek to produce products—typically parts and components for the automotive, aerospace, electronics, telecommunications, household appliance, office furniture, and architectural industries, among others—at competitive costs.

With many manufacturers incorporating the finishing process into their capabilities, it is no coincidence that global powder coating manufacturers have a presence in Mexico. Nearly all of the global paint producers are established in Mexico along with a variety of paint/powder distributors. Therefore, manufacturers in Mexico looking to add or improve powder coating operations should have no problem sourcing powder coating suppliers. It seems every year the various powder coating factories in Mexico increase their production capacity to meet local demand and even export product to other countries at times.

Automation, Robotics and Flexibility
Similar to powder producers, leading global manufacturers of powder coating application and recovery equipment have been present in the Mexican market for many years. Both powder producers and manufacturers of application and recovery equipment are working to implement state-of-the-art technologies in the finishing operations of coaters throughout Mexico.

As a result of the highly competitive market and workforce challenges that Mexico faces, the implementation of automated systems to achieve the attractive manufacturing costs that Mexico offers its investors, while maintaining consistent and high-quality powder coating application, is on the rise. In addition, new part detection and automated 3D application technologies are currently being implemented with the aim of reducing operator intervention while increasing application consistency, savings in powder usage, and the rate of conforming products.

While using robots on liquid painting lines has been a common practice for many years, this has not been the case in powder coating. However, this is changing and today you can find robotic systems that perform retouch work previously done by a person because of the degree of inspection and review involved. While 3D detection technologies and robotics are becoming more popular in the powder coating industry in Mexico, it is important to understand that it is limited to the companies that have the financial capacity to capitalize on these types of investments.

When it comes to flexibility in powder coating, one of the most important factors in adopting the technology has been the capacity and speed related to color changes. Historically, one of the reasons liquid paint users were reluctant to make the switch to powder coating technology was the speed, or lack thereof, to change colors. Color changes with liquid paint application equipment could be done in a matter of seconds to minutes, while powder coating technology required significantly more time, in some cases hours. Recognizing inefficient color changes as an inhibitor to the growth of powder coating, powder coating application and recovery equipment manufacturers significantly improved color change technology and designed fully automatic and flexible systems able to change color in a matter of minutes (15 minutes or less). This marked improvement has reduced the barriers for coaters in Mexico to make the switch from liquid to powder.

Workforce Education
Although powder coating technology and its benefits have been well known for many years by both domestic and international manufacturers operating in Mexico, there is no organization solely dedicated to its promotion and education. While the lack of a powder coating organization presents challenges, it also creates an opportunity for the development of an association that brings all of the players together— suppliers, coaters, and consultants—and provides education focused on powder coating for the good of the industry.

To fill this current void, powder producers, along with manufacturers of pretreatment chemicals, application and recovery equipment, and integrators specialized in the design and installation of powder coating lines, have taken it upon themselves to promote powder coating and educate their customers on how to produce quality powder coated parts.

With no central resource to provide guidance on what to consider when thinking about adding a powder coating line, how to maximize an existing line, how to train staff, gain information on new technologies, etc., powder coaters, and the industry in general, have been able to lean on suppliers for assistance.

Looking Forward
The use of powder coating extends throughout Mexico, from Tijuana in the north to the border with Guatemala in the south. Its use has been constant and progressive in the maquiladoras region that borders the U.S. and in the strongest, most established manufacturing regions of Baja, California, Chihuahua, Nueva Leon, and Coahuila. The center of the country, referred to as the Bajio Zone, which includes Queretaro, Guanajuato, and San Luis Potosi, is home to incredibly fast growth and booming manufacturing, particularly in the automotive and aerospace industries. These industries also have a presence in southeastern Mexico, perhaps to a lesser extent, but are growing every day. If manufacturers continue to educate their workforce with the resources available and stay focused on producing quality powder coated parts, powder coating has a bright future in Mexico.

Antonio Figueroa is general manager/owner of IPS Mexico.