Value-added services help fledgling Winona Powder Coating win and keep new business. A sophisticated washer control system helps ensure quality.

Anew powder coating facility has opened up in Elkhart, IN, with a self-described new philosophy in the powder coating job shop business. "Service and added value are the keys to customer loyalty," says Phil Kelly, vice president of operations at Winona Powder Coating Inc. In addition to coating parts, they also offer machining services, engineering, packaging and other methods to add value to the basic contract coating work. With a wide range of services and a commitment to Total Quality Management (TQM) concepts, Winona Powder is keeping very busy.

Launched in April of 2003, they have enjoyed immediate success and a continuous line of customers seeking their services. "We have been surprised how good business has been," says Fred Fribley, Winona's president.

"We have put together a good team," Kelly says. With the right people in place, Winona is enjoying immediate success in the job shop coating business. They are running products for indoor use and outdoor use from a variety of industries, including general metals, automotive, recreational vehicles, medical appliances, springs and castings.

The system features a five-stage washer, a seven-minute dry-off oven, two manual powder booths and a five-minute, straight-pass cure oven. The enclosed track conveyor operates at six to seven fpm but is able to go to 10 fpm. The equipment for the powder system was purchases used and then refurbished and installed in a configuration that suits the broad variety of parts that Winona has contracts to coat. All of this is installed in a 48,000-square-foot facility with room to grow.

They are able to apply epoxy, polyester, hybrids and some acrylic powders. They have eight color modules to help them reclaim stock colors while lower volume colors are sprayed-to-waste. Color changes can be accomplished in 15 to 20 minutes

Successful job shop coaters know that the pretreatment process must be reliable and flexible. At Winona Powder, the washer is capable of handling a variety of metal substrates, including aluminum, steel, castings and extrusions. The washer has a fairly typical five-stage arrangement that provides cleaning and iron phosphating.

To provide exceptional treatment for the aluminum, a sixth stage can be used to apply a dry-in-place (DIP) nonchrome seal rinse. The DIP provides excellent adhesion and corrosion resistance on aluminum concerns that come with a chromate process or chrome rinse.

Another important feature of the washer is the control system. Winona Powder uses a system controller called "Webmaster." The system is a Web-based, automated controller that uses a powerful multifunctional microprocessor with an embedded Web server to measure and control the washer. It employs a digital communications package that allows the system operator to change set points, manually activate pumps and valves, upgrade software and receive alarms or functional feedback from any PC with internet access. No proprietary software needs to be installed on the PC, only a Web browser.

With four direct sensor inputs, the Webmaster is capable of measuring pH, conductivity and chemical operating parameters. The electrodeless, toroidal conductivity sensors are not affected by tin coatings that impair conventional sensors. Digital and analog inputs can be used to monitor other plant signals, such as temperature, turbidity, flow rates and tank levels. The controller can log data and events, verify feed-pump operation and automatically generate reports or alarms to an e-mail address or other source.

Signals and alarms are displayed on a back-lit LCD display. The status of each control relay is indicated by an LED on the front panel. Access keys provide manual control relays and sensor calibration. System configuration, operating parameters, data and utilities can be accessed via an RS232, Internet, LAN or telephone connection. A summary overview screen provides real-time readings of the operation.

The benefits of the Webmaster system are numerous.

  • Safety-There is no need for manual chemical adds. Handling of chemicals is substantially reduced. Once a titration is performed, the operator simply changes the set point to maintain the proper concentration (conductivity).
  • Time-There is no time spent making manual chemical adds. Fewer titrations are needed.
  • Bath quality-The bath is maintained in a consistent manor at the proper concentration.
  • Lower rejects-With steady control of the bath, there is always enough chemistry to provide adequate treatment of parts in the washer. The alarm system will provide immediate notification if the bath parameters approach an unacceptable level.
  • Accurate system data-The Webmaster's internal data logger records the history of the bath, with concentrations, conductivity and other operating parameters recorded for review.

The control system is just one component in a comprehensive effort by Winona and its supplier, Ondeo-Nalco, to maintain a reliable pretreatment process and control the cost of the chemistry. Understanding how critical pretreatment is to successful powder coating, Winona has worked effectively with its supplier to identify, measure and control the bath's operating parameters for consistent results.

"Ondeo-Nalco was very helpful to us in the design phase of the washer and they gave our people excellent training in what to look for and how to control and understand the process," Kelly says. "They have done a good job of guiding us to get the right pretreatment process."

In addition to the chemical issues, close attention is paid to rinse-water quality to ensure that parts have no residual chemistry or soils when they exit the washer and enter the dry-off oven.

Like most job shops, Winona uses a variety of tooling, from simple hooks to custom-made racks. They experiment with different ways to rack parts and select a method that is cost-effective and efficient. If they are able to develop better tooling and reduce application costs, they will pass the savings along to their customers.

Winona is currently working three shifts to keep up, and a second line is being installed to provide needed additional capacity. The second line will have automatic application equipment to allow them to produce more volume. This system, which will have two automated powder booths, is due to go into operation in the very near future.

With the new system and the automatic application equipment, Winona expects to provide exceptional turn-around times for its customers. In the competitive climate we live in today, it takes a strong commitment to service and quality to succeed. It looks like Winona Powder Coating is on track.