Many OEMs apply coatings to their products in their own facilities. This provides them with control over quality and production scheduling. Another large coating application sector is the custom coaters, or job shops. The custom coater provides a valuable service to manufacturers by offering the OEMs an opportunity to have their specific colors and types of coatings applied on short notice without having to create the space and investment required to own and operate their own coating systems. The custom coater is playing an increasingly important role in the manufacturing world.

In recognition of the importance of this group of coaters, DuPont Powder Coatings has created the Star Coaters program. This program was created to provide certain services to this unique group of coaters that will help them pool their resources and knowledge and strengthen their business.

As one component of this program, a small group of Star Coaters traveled to Europe to visit shops in France, Belgium and England and see firsthand how their European counterparts run their coating facilities. The technology, processes and products that were shown were different in many ways than the average job shop in the USA. The Star Coaters were able to witness very large vertical powder coating lines that were coating architectural aluminum, powder coating on plastic materials and unique designs for material handling and pretreatment. It was an extraordinary trip and everyone involved learned something of value about possibilities in powder coating.

The success of this program and the European tour point out some things that are important to all manufacturers and coaters here in the USA. First, the business climate is changing. Manufacturing jobs have been leaving America for 50 years as developing nations establish themselves in the stream of commerce and offer quality goods at lower prices. This has created an ongoing evolution of improvement in efficiency and focus on technology that will not change in the foreseeable future.

Second, the only way to survive and prosper in this changing world is to develop new skills and alliances that make us stronger and less vulnerable to competition. Companies that recognize these issues and actively develop the needed techniques and lessons will prosper. Companies that wait for answers from external sources may not survive.

Industrial Paint & Powder is committed to bringing you the best in editorial comment and ideas that can help you keep up with the evolution of technology and processes for a strong competitive edge. We traveled with the Star Coaters to Europe to see the facilities on the tour and to learn from the custom coaters who traveled with us. To say that it was enlightening and rewarding would be an understatement. We have many stories to share with you about the way things are done "over there" and how we might be able to use these ideas here.

Worldwide, a large percentage of architectural aluminum is powder coated, with Europe leading the way at around 18%. In the USA, around 6% of architectural aluminum is powder coated. We lack the infrastructure for vertical coating systems for this work and we do not have the acceptance as a viable alternative by the consumers and those who specify these products. This is a great opportunity and we should begin work to eliminate these obstacles. We also have very limited use of powder on MDF and plastic. These are other areas of opportunity that should be further developed. With articles in this and upcoming issues, we will tell you some of these stories and encourage Americans to get involved in pushing technology and building new systems to meet demand for new and better ways of doing things.