The Chameleon color management system is part of the new powder coating system installed at American Products. Sometimes referred to as a paint kitchen, the Chameleon provides quick and smooth changeovers by streamlining and automating the cleaning procedure.
American Products employs approximately 200 employees in four facilities and is a major regional supplier of precision metal stamping and fabrications. Its services include powder coating, product design, assembly, welding and packaging. From concept to prototype, the ISO 9001-certified company strives to provide quality solutions.

American has been through a series of mergers and reorganizations over the years and is now owned by local management. The end result was a mixture of used powder coating equipment that was inefficient and cumbersome. As the business continued to grow, the finishing line at its Strafford, Mo., plant became a bottleneck. Color changeovers took three or more hours to complete with two employees. The color change process was so inefficient, that they could not afford to reclaim. According to Steve Smith, American Products' president, "I threw away over $125,000 in powder alone last year."

If American was to continue to grow, it needed to solve the paint-line bottleneck by upgrading to more technologically advanced equipment.

Achieving quick color change was the top priority for the upgrade, but there also were other goals in mind. The company wanted to realize at least 80 percent powder utilization, lower powder costs, improve film builds and reduce scrap and rework costs. By moving to a fully automated system, American also was looking to relocate several employees off the finishing line and into other roles in the company where they could be more effective.

After researching the many options offered in the marketplace, American decided that the new VortechPlus booth from ITW Gema offered the best solution. This booth has seamless plastic inner structure that resists powder accumulation, which eases cleaning. With the installation of the booth, American was one of the first companies in North America to own this type of system.

An integrated multi-cyclone recovery unit is one of the features of the VortechPlus that really impressed American. Integrating the cyclones eliminates the need for ductwork, minimizing the risk of contamination, and providing layout flexibility by reducing floor space requirements and booth size. Smith says, "I really like the cyclones. At 95 percent, our powder recovery is much better than we ever anticipated, and we're still improving."

American Product's president Steve Smith stands by the OptiTronic Plus control units, which facilitate automatic on/off triggering and in/out movement of the guns and also enable American to store part "recipe" programs for repeatable results.
The finishing line upgrade also included ITW Gema's OptiSystem automatic powder coating system, including ten OptiGun-2AX automatic powder guns, OptiFlow pumps, and OptiTronic Plus control units. Communicating with American's AutoTracker programmable logic control (PLC) and reciprocators, the OptiTronic Plus control units facilitate automatic on/off triggering and in/out movement of the guns and also enable American to store part "recipe" programs for repeatable results.

Vertical and horizontal light curtain part recognition was included in the upgrade to provide American with automatic gun triggering. As a part passes through the photo sensors of the light curtain, its unique profile is read and the information is fed back to the PLC. The system then automatically activates guns within the part zone and only the guns needed to achieve adequate coverage will spray. This feature ensures accurate, repeatable results and a consistently high-quality end product. It also reduces wasted powder and saves money.

Color changeovers in the VortechPlus powder booth can be completed in less than 20 minutes with one operator.

The Paint Kitchen

Another addition to American's finishing line is the Chameleon color management system. Sometimes referred to as a paint kitchen, the Chameleon provides quicker, smoother changeovers by streamlining and automating the cleaning procedure. When it is time to change colors, a push of a button allows the PLC to communicate with the Chameleon, controlling the internal cleaning of suction tubes, pumps, powder hoses and spray guns. This takes minutes off the cleaning process and frees the operator to handle other color-change tasks. Another benefit of the Chameleon is the ability to achieve consistent, uniform powder delivery. If the powder level falls too low, an alarm will sound, reminding the operator to replenish the system's fresh feed powder system.

The Savings

Upgrading its system has provided savings for American Products. In the first two months of 2005, its scrap powder went from an average of 5,166 lb/month to 100 lb/month, resulting in a financial savings on combined labor and paint scrap of approximately $20,000/month. At the same time, American speeded up their line, shut down one conveyor system, and increased the amount of square footage covered by 250 percent. Before the upgrade, it took American up to three hours to complete a color change with two employees, but with the new system they now complete color changeovers in 20 minutes or less with one operator. In the past, they could not afford the set-up time to reclaim, having no choice but to spray-to-waste and throwing away thousands of dollars each year. Now they are achieving 95 percent powder usage or better.

Had American continued with its old system, it would have had to hire more people and add a shift to keep up with production. Instead, it has been able to increase line speed, shut down one conveyor, and move five people off the paint line. Film build levels have been cut in half and the quality of their finished products has improved significantly. Upgrading to a VortechPlus booth, OptiSystem, and Chameleon from ITW Gema has helped American Products achieve its business goals. It now produces a higher quality finish at a much lower cost. This has led to a 20 percent increase in business and a heftier bottom line.

For information about the VortechPlus system, contact ITW Gema at 800-628-0601 or visit www.itw