Product consistency is never more crucial to a company’s success than when launching new capital-intensive product lines.

Product consistency is never more crucial to a company’s success than when launching new capital-intensive product lines. When UltraKote Products, a Phoenix, AZ-based coatings manufacturer for the construction industry decided to expand its product line, they hired Anthony Skelhorn to set up an R&D lab and create a variety of new products including paint, caulks, sealers, and patching compounds. Crucial to the development effort was finding a dispersing machine that mixed materials with unerring consistency.

“Consistent dispersal is critical to producing successful new coating products,” said Skelhorn, manager of R&D and Quality Assurance at UltraKote. “Unless the materials disperse at a constant rate and achieve consistent brightness, you’re going to have headaches down the line. Since one brightness formula can be used across 10 or more products, a single mistake could cause inconsistencies resulting in customer complaints and thousands of dollars in repainting costs.”

In addition, Skelhorn needed a disperser powerful enough to mix even high viscosity caulk, which could overload less powerful machines. The disperser also had to be versatile enough to mix quantities small enough for spot checks and large enough for full-scale R&D tests. The disperser had to be fast, so as to trim research time and get new products to market quickly. And finally, it had to be within his limited budget.

“I knew exactly what I wanted when I set up this lab,” says Skelhorn. “With other employers, I’d used dispersers from several different companies. When a previous employer bought a new disperser from BYK-Gardner, I absolutely fell in love with the machine and have never used another brand since.”

Previously, Skelhorn had used a Dispermat AE, a model that measures speed, torque, power input, and product temperature, continuously adjusting speed to keep the mechanical power input constant. Skelhorn called BYK-Gardner, intending to buy this model for UltraKote but the advice he received from Customer Service changed his mind.

“After listening to my needs, BYK-Gardner’s customer service rep saved me a few thousand dollars by suggesting that I buy a simpler version, the LC model.”

Skelhorn had no hesitation about opting for the lower-cost model, which has a powerful 0.4 hp motor that generates mixing speeds up to 15,000 rpm and is ideally suited for dispensing low quantities.

“Even though I bought the lowest cost disperser they sell, in no way is the quality compromised,” Skelhorn says. “The LC model does everything I need right now, and was very cost effective in setting up the R&D lab. For the price, I don’t think you can buy a better machine.”

For a series of tests, Skelhorn used the Dispermat LC to mix pigments such as titanium dioxide into waterborne paint systems, aiming to find the best combination of materials. The machine had no problem breaking down and blending pigment particles as small as 0.03 microns with consistency.

“I am amazed by the instrument’s reproducibility,” says Skelhorn. “Anything I produce on the Dispermat is absolutely parallel to what I can produce full-scale, as far as brightness, tint, or viscosity. It’s truly a pure scale-down.”

Additionally, the disperser has enough power to mix thick caulks, yet can mix batches ranging from a few ounces to a gallon. This enables Skelhorn to run anything from quick checks to full-sized R&D tests on the machine. Its efficient disperser blade reduces mixing time, as well.

“My Dispermat has a true disperser blade rather than the jagged mixing blades of other machines I’ve used,” he says. “The disperser blade puts a lot of energy into the mix, allowing particle-sized pigments to blend very quickly.”

Furthermore, the equipment offers simplified clean up of the easily removable blade and stainless-steel construction. The blade can be removed with a small screwdriver, not the wrench and pliers often required on other machines. Little material adheres to the Dispermat’s stainless steel body and shaft. Skelhorn reports that cleaning the Dispermat takes just two minutes, compared to 10 minutes on other dispersers he’s used. He believes the disperser has significantly boosted the speed of his research.

“Because the Dispermat LC is so efficient, my turnaround time for lab batches is about 25% quicker than other dispersers I’ve used,” says Skelhorn. “Mix times are five to seven minutes with the LC, whereas the industry standard is about 10 minutes to get all pigments in water suspension into a slurry.”

According to Skelhorn, streamlined research helps to launch products faster. He estimates that he could finish 10 batches a day with the Dispermat, compared to about six batches a day with other machines.

Increased R&D productivity, in turn, helps UltraKote get better products to market faster since they’re able to identify the best materials, then begin full-scale production without delay.

Furthermore, the Dispermat is quieter than other dispersers, making work in the lab safer and more comfortable. “Even at 10,000 rpm, the Dispermat’s motor just hums quietly,” he says. “I can easily hear someone on the other side of the lab in normal conversation while the machine is operating, which is important for safety. In an emergency, yelling wouldn’t be necessary to get my attention. It’s also nice not to have to wear earplugs while using the machine.”

As UltraKote’s product lines broaden, Skelhorn sees the Dispermat playing an additional problem-solving role as a quality assurance tool.

“If we have any customer complaints, the Dispermat will help me re-create problem batches to find out what went wrong,” he says. “We keep samples of every lot that comes into this facility. With identical raw materials, I know the Dispermat will produce an identical batch that I can use to solve potential quality issues. “Quite honestly, I don’t think I’d purchase another brand of disperser,” he says. c

For more information on dispersers, contact BYK-Gardner, 9104 Guilford Road, Columbia, MD 21046-2759; call 800/343.7721 or 301/483.6500; fax 800/394.8215 or 301/483.6555; visit www.byk