One of the most important parts of the OEM coating process occurs before any paint reaches your substrate. Without a surface free from contamination, your coating will be destined for adhesion failures, blistering, or other defects. Your OEM paint line should have proper surface preparation to ensure your substrate is clean and ready to receive the coating. Inadequate cleaning puts the entire process at risk. Consult with your paint supplier to design your surface preparation process around the configuration of the substrate and productivity requirements.
Identifying the right cleaning chemistry can be challenging. The cleaner must be compatible with the substrate and must address the types of contamination found on the substrate. For example, ferrous alloys with oils, waxes, and greases can utilize an alkaline cleaner, while oxides and other inorganic contaminants often clean better with an acidic cleaner. Solvent baths, blasting, and other alternatives may also be considered, depending on the substrate and contaminants. Regardless of the cleaning method you choose, be sure to perform small-scale pilot simulations using real parts before beginning real production to fine-tune your cleaning process.
A paint finish is only as good as the equipment used to apply it. When you set up your coating line, you likely set parameters for regular equipment maintenance. This includes changing filters and spray tips, flushing air lines, and ensuring pump seals remain strong enough to withstand full system pressure. Unfortunately, we often see those detailed plans collecting dust in a binder and not being carefully followed in practice.
For example, specifications from your industrial coatings supplier might require spray tips be changed at a certain volume or time threshold, while your operator might wait until an issue arises to install a new tip. While this practice might save time and stretch equipment dollars short term, waiting for problems to arise on your line will end up costing more in the long run due to the rework and unplanned breaks in production associated with coatings application failures. Regularly audit your process to ensure these steps are being followed.
Once you’ve worked with your industrial coatings supplier to create your process, how will you know if it’s really best for your operation? Production reports and spreadsheets don’t always tell the whole story. The operators and technicians working on your paint line hold valuable, first-hand information on how your process is working. Hold regular process management meetings to go over any irregularities they are experiencing on the line. These meetings often uncover unnecessary additional steps in the process that can be avoided to increase throughput. Too often, we find technicians assume inconveniences in the process are necessary evils when they are actually unnecessary additional steps hampering productivity. Maintaining an open dialogue will advance continuous process improvement.
Customer expectations, production requirements, and regulatory compliance are constantly evolving. Consult with your coatings supplier about how adjusting your formulation can help you navigate these challenges. Too often, we see manufacturers addressing increased demand by attempting to speed up their process. For a paint line, this usually involves either reducing dwell time or increasing bake temperature for bake coatings. Taking these measures without understanding the effect they will have on your paint’s chemistry might have a disastrous effect on your product’s finish.
When circumstances change, your paint supplier should be able to provide a number of production or formulation alteration recommendations to accommodate those changes. For example, if you identify your coating’s cure time as a bottleneck, your formulator should know whether the paint’s chemical makeup could accommodate process adjustments to speed up the cure time. If not, your formulator should adapt the formulation for the changes. This can involve something as simple as incorporating drying additives into the formulation, or something as significant as a complete overhaul of the formulation with a new resin system.
What does your organization do to ensure continuous process improvement on your paint line?