Walk-in powder booths like this one provide flexibility and fast color change.

Making a Case for Small Systems

When looking at finishing systems, usually the first questions asked are "how fast can the system go?" and "how many parts can be coated in an hour?" The big systems that can handle super speeds and high numbers of finished parts per hour usually result in a large capital investment as well as a large labor crew to support the equipment.

However, a case can be made for thinking small in terms of system design. One of the most obvious advantages of a small system is the capital investment itself. A smaller system provides some additional capacity per hour and in many cases cuts the investment to a fraction of the cost of a big system. Of course, the space required for this system is also smaller, which saves real estate dollars.

A smaller design also means less people to man the system. This is a particular advantage when production demand fluctuates from week to week. The chance of incurring idle time for labor while the job is set up is much less with a small system. The peak demand requirements can be met by working overtime with a small crew. Using a small crew gives the definite advantage of more seasoned workers on the job.

Quality is another advantage of a small system. Because of the shorter oven time, the coated product can be evaluated and corrected quickly. To prove the value of this advantage, ask a coater with a large system how he feels when the first rack of product out of the oven is light in coverage. He knows that there are thousands just like it following before a correction can be made. With a small crew, the feedback is quick and the rejects are fewer.

Another advantage to a small system is that it usually provides the coater with more time to apply the coating. This can be a major advantage when coating parts that have very large and complex shapes. The coater can take time and reach into hard-to-access areas and inspect a part carefully to make sure that there are no misses before the part gets into the cure oven.

Tooling costs for racking is also an advantage. For example, a large line might need 500 racks to completely fill the line, where a small line might only need 50. This tooling savings is particularly advantageous if you run many different parts that require custom racking.

Small systems also allow more flexibility. It is much easier and faster to change tooling or colors for shorter runs in a small system than to completely load a large production system.

In all cases, the system should match the production needs with some room to spare for downtime and future growth. There is no advantage to a system that is too small to do the job it was intended for. Sometimes the advantages of a large system will win out because of the potential for the highest return for investment dollars, but consider a "down-sized" approach as an alternative. If the smaller system fills up, build another one!