Since its founding in 1948, American
Trim (known then as Lima Tool and
Die) has achieved success by adding
value to the parts it supplies to the appliance
industry. The company’s first customer, a kitchen
range manufacturer, fell in love with the stylish,
chrome-plated handle that company owner Henry
Hawk designed. With the help of the Tennessee
Stove Works, Hawk expanded his company’s
reach into the appliance industry by developing
the capability to manufacture and
then plate appliance parts using an efficient,
Recently, Powder Coated Tough magazine
talked with Steve Hatkevich, director of
research and development, and Dave Rankin,
plant manager for American Trim’s facilities
in Erie, Pa., and Cullman, Ala., respectively,
about the demands for powder coating in
today’s appliance industry. In keeping with
its legacy of adding value, American Trim
continues to provide added value, through
powder coating as well as by offering
services from design and fabrication to
assembly and metal decoration.
PCT: Can you describe American Trim’s position
as a powder coater for the appliance industry?
Hatkevich:Many appliance manufacturing facilities today
have evolved into more like assembly plants, bringing together
larger components that are from a number of sub-suppliers.
So, we are often not just powder coating or just bending metal
or just screen printing, but instead we are growing by managing
a broad range of related processes.
Most of the major appliances in American homes
are powder coated, but many are also a mixture of powder
coating and porcelain enamel technologies. For example, on
a kitchen range, some cabinet parts might be powder coated,
while the surfaces that see higher temperatures are finished
with porcelain enamel. We have developed capabilities to do
both processes for our appliance customers. Then there might
be a control panel that needs to be screen printed after it’s been
powder coated, and we will do that as well. There’s synergy
across these related processes, so it makes sense to be involved
in powder coating, porcelain enamel and screen printing for
PCT: What manufacturing processes has
American Trim integrated for appliance manufacturers?
Rankin:We are adding a good deal of value to appliance
parts. For example, at our Cullman facility, many parts start
off as steel blanks or coil. We partner with the OEM to help
design the part, then we stamp it, coat it, decorate it and even
put a protective film on it for shipment to the range assembly
plant where it is ready for electronics installation.
It’s great when we are invited to help with the
design process. The result is that a part can be designed for
better manufacturability. Often, that means being involved
with parts from start to finish, including making some of the
tools needed to manufacture the part.
PCT: How does American Trim’s involvement in
the design process affect how you powder coat
Good things happen when we participate in the
design process, since we can provide insights and experience
into how different aspects of part design affect its manufacturability.
For example, we know whether a bend radius is too
tight to allow even powder coverage, or how variation in the
mass of a part will affect the way it will cure in an oven.
Working with appliance manufacturers helps
avoid problems. For instance, every part must be hung so it
can be pretreated and painted. Sometimes there is a hole we
can use, but sometimes there isn’t because the designer didn’t
think to add one. If we don’t correct that design we might
have to make a crazy high-tech and expensive rack. When we
are involved early, we can influence the part design because we
think a lot about how it has to be painted.
Yes, take Faraday cage effects for example. You
would think everyone would have that down by now—but,
surprisingly, some designers make a part that will be tough
for us to paint evenly. They may not think about making it
easy to hang, drain, or coat. In general, the better you can
control how to present a part, the more likely you can drive
the cost down.
PCT: What are some of your fabrication
Well, in Cullman, for example, we do roll
forming, heavy gauge and deep-draw stamping, robotic
welding, brazing, sonic and resistance welding, and precision
three-axis laser cutting.
Our roll-forming capability is unusual, since
most fabricators only stamp parts. Stamping requires extra
handling, more time and more people. Roll forming requires
very little handling since we can start with flat piece of steel,
aluminum or stainless up to a quarter inch thick and run it automatically though a series of consecutive rollers that
notch it, and form it into a complex part like the track for an
appliance cabinet. We can do all of that without ever having
to transfer it from one machine to another.
PCT: Can you describe your finishing and
powder coating capabilities?
American Trim works with both powder coating
and porcelain enamel finishes. The technology we use on any
project depends on the required performance of the part. On
kitchen stoves for example, things like the control panels,
doors, and a large number of trim parts are powder coated.
However, parts like the oven cavities, and range tops that are
exposed to high cooking temperatures, are porcelain coated
since porcelain enamel holds up especially well to high heat.
But since powder and porcelain are both used on many
projects, there is a lot of attention to color matching.
if it’s “just white,” there are dozens of shades of white. At
times, we manage over fifty different shades of white to meet
our customer expectations. Beyond the basic powder coating
colors, we also need to closely match a wide range of colors.
On the porcelain side, 95 percent of appliances parts we coat
are some shade of white or black. For the small proportion of
porcelain parts that require other colors, the appliances are
first coated with a white or black powder base coat, and then
finished with a wet porcelain enamel top coat.
Although porcelain enamel provides a somewhat tougher
finish than powder coating, powder is more efficient.
is less handling for powder coating since everything can be
done in one booth, with the same application equipment. For
porcelain parts where we first apply the powder base coat,
and then the liquid porcelain top coat, there’s more handling,
and a lot of time and effort needed to mix the liquid porcelain.
The process temperatures for porcelain are also much
higher - between 1450°F and 1500°F. So, we have to run
parts through both powder cure ovens and high temperature
furnaces for porcelain pieces
Since 1996, American Trim has also operated
an integrated e-coat/powder coat line that supplies a finish
with both the corrosion resistance of e-coat and the UV
protection and cosmetic appearance of powder. So, we have a
large toolbox of processes including traditional chemical pretreatment,
e-coating, powder coating and porcelain enamel to
offer the industry.
PCT: Are there any processes you perform
after powder coating?
We have decorated parts after they have been
powder coated. For instance, control panels need to be
screen printed. After powder coating, our operators set the
control panels into an automated screen printer that applies
the thermoset or UV-curable inks. We also do metal decoration
on flat stock like stainless steel prior to forming.
Actually, American Trim is one of the largest
screen printing on metal companies in the U.S., producing
tens of thousands of decorated appliance control panels every
day. In addition to screen printing we also offer roll coating,
brush coating and laser marked components.
PCT: What are some of the benefits that your
vertical integration brings to your customers?
Well, first, when it comes to quality—we can
own it all the way. There is no finger pointing if something is
not right. In fact, one of the reasons we first brought powder
coating in-house was
because of coating
quality issues a
customer was having
with a job shop
after we had e-coated
the parts. Bringing
the entire process
that problem. It just
makes sense that each
time a part is handed
off to another supplier
there is an opportunity
for something to go
also accustomed to
high quality requirements.
We do not
do a lot of coating
for general industrial
parts, but we
do a lot of coating
of automotive parts
such as instrument
panels, consoles, and
other interior trim. Automakers are accustomed to rigorous
expectations when it comes to finish quality, so working
with the automotive sector has raised our capabilities. That’s
welcomed by large appliance OEMs and other leaders in
the appliance industry who look to eliminate imperfections,
blobs, and scratches in the finish.
Also, if we are involved in the early stages of
the design process, we can usually find ways to reduce the
production schedule. Lead times can be reduced from five
weeks down to two, and we can squeeze down the working inventory. To meet our customers’ demand for reduced
inventory we have integrated assembly operations and
synchronized our process to the OEM’s scheduling. It also
costs more to send a part to five different locations for five
different stand-alone operations. Our plants are well located.
For example, Cullman is close to Atlanta, Birmingham and
Nashville, and we can serve a number major North American
appliance manufacturers from this location.
PCT: What have been some of the benefits of
this integrated approach for American Trim’s
Creating more value has been an important
focus for us. If you just want somebody to powder coat a flat
panel door white, we are probably not the best fit for you.
Our goal is to provide a total solution. Today, we are a supplier
to most of the major manufacturers of washers, dryers and
cooking stoves. Our management and sales teams are talking
with leading manufacturers about how designing for manufacturability
improves quality while saving time and money.
Our facilities, technology, and labor force seem positioned for
Paul Mills is a marketing and business development consultant
to industry chemistry and equipment suppliers. He has been a
writer for the powder coating industry since 1994. Paul can be
reached at 440-570-5228 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
You can visit American Trim online at www.amtrim.com