A new measurement and control technology designed to quickly and accurately measure uncured powder thickness has enabled quality and process engineers in Europe over the past several years to rapidly optimize their powder coating applications. The system has allowed them to minimize the need for the safety margins commonly applied to the powder quantity settings, resulting in large reductions in material consumption. In addition, the continuous measurement of coating thickness immediately after it is applied provides another layer of protection to detect quality problems before the parts are cured. Called Advanced Thermal Optics (ATO), the sensing means behind the system enables for highly accurate film thickness to be measured with a non-contact means on cured or uncured organic powder and powder enamel in a way that is extremely adaptable to the production environment. The data captured by the ATO system is processed with state-of-the-art signal processing to quickly generate very precise film thickness measurement data.
This patented technology was developed by Winterthur Instruments AG (Winterthur, Switzerland), and their flagship product, the Coatmaster, is now being used in a variety of industrial coating thickness measurement applications with over 220 units installed (Figure 1). The nature of the technology allows it to measure almost any type of coating on virtually any substrate, so in addition to powder materials, its application base includes liquid paints, adhesives, lubricants and thermal spray coatings. However, since powder materials are highly sensitive to the heating and cooling effects that are core to the system, the Coatmaster is extremely powerful when used to measure uncured powder film thickness. For example, the latest version of the system can produce a film thickness “heat map” of the uncured powder coating thickness for a 32-inch by 70-inch area only 15 seconds after the powder is applied.