Powder Coat Finishing Turnkey Systems
Former communist countries like Russia present new opportunities for North American powder finishing suppliers.
Operating a metal products manufacturing plant with a powder coating shop is tough in today’s environment. Doing so in Russia is even tougher.
In the new Russia, the rocky transition from state-owned production to the private sector is underway and one company that is positioning itself to take advantage of the free market system is Promet, a Moscow manufacturer of security safes and metal office furniture.
For suppliers to the powder coating industry, companies like Promet and countries like Russia are opening new opportunities. In Promet’s case, ITW Gema and Pacline Overhead Cconveyors are among the North American suppliers involved in the transition from a manual to a fully automated powder coating line.
Promet is just one of the many private companies springing up across the country, led by a new establishment of entrepreneurs that are educated and motivated. Success can come quickly for those that have some financial backing and a few good ideas. Costs are still low as workers themselves move into private placements. Just a couple of years ago, factory workers earned $10 US per day. Their wages have now risen to $30 per day for those with the skills and work ethic, a good wage for the average Russian. Homes and apartments formerly owned and supplied by the state were turned over to their occupants at no charge. Gasoline and domestic cars are inexpensive.
Business still poses challenges. For a company such as Promet, formed in 1991, competition doesn’t seem to be the main focus of the business strategy at this early stage. All its domestic competitors are in a similar situation – new ventures, upstart capital requirements, growing pains. Promet’s major focus is on improved production methods for machinery, facilities and the infrastructure that needs to grow with the company. In Russia, companies that want to build new factories must often supply their own roads, hydro connections, and water supply.
Promet, an ISO 9001:2000 certified manufacturer, was formed as a supplier of foreign furniture but in 1998, it decided to build production facilities in Russia and in 2000 its new plant was up and running.
Promet realized early on that its customer base has an appetite for high quality goods, much like its European neighbours. Goods formerly manufactured in state-owned factories left much to be desired and hence the opportunity became apparent.
Promet initially chose to purchase economical production machinery and raw materials, but now its focus is on buying the best and fastest machinery and methods available. Justifying the new higher priced machinery became easier when their demand dictated 24 hour a day, 7 day a week operation. And making a good profit didn’t hurt either.
Promet’s CEO, Evgeny Petrov, has been on many trade missions of late, purchasing laser cutting machines and powder coating equipment from Switzerland (ITW Gema), robots and raw materials from Sweden, CNC punch presses and automated welding machinery from Finland and overhead conveyors from Canada (Pacline Overhead Conveyors). These improvements have allowed Promet to produce products that rival the best in Europe, and at substantially lower prices. Though export sales are not desirable at this time due to a spike in domestic demand, Petrov cannot rule this out as part of his medium term strategizing.
Product finish was a major focus of the production improvements. (Powder coating and pretreatment suppliers are Russian). The company moved from a home-made wet spray system with a synchronous I-beam conveyor backbone to a flexible, multi-booth powder coating system with one fully automated powder coating booth and two manual operation booths, and a power and free non-synchronous overhead conveyor supplied by Pacline Overhead Conveyors.
The new power and free conveyor system has provided a number of advantages to the operation, says Karl Scholz, PACLINE’s General Manager, including:
“The conveyor was installed at an unusual height of 13 feet to the underside of the rail to allow more items to be hung vertically. Quite often, the shelves of an office cabinet will be hung 3 pieces high, some 8 feet high in total. This enhancement has reduced the quantity of conveyor carriers in the system, while allowing greater throughput”, says Scholz.
Scholz adds that the conveyor has added flexibility to the line because products can be routed to one of three powder coating booths through a coding system in each conveyor carrier. It has also improved line speed.
“Automatic powder coating is somewhat of an art form, requiring variable speed to apply the proper quantity of powder. The power and free conveyor is designed with a separate drive through the auto powder booth area to allow variability without affecting other areas.”
Promet’s finishing system was designed to allow the painting of all of their products on one common conveyor line. This would allow certain efficiencies and gains to be achieved, as well as improving capital purchase justifications. The former finishing system was somewhat disjointed, requiring manual powder coating booths with batch ovens for the painting of safes, while business furniture was sent through a synchronous line with a washer/ dry-off/ wet spray/ cure oven. This setup would not allow Promet the opportunity to combine washing, drying or curing and was not as economical as it could have been.
Promet needed a flexible turnkey system that would allow operators to paint safes manually, but use an automatic system for high volume metal office furniture. Promet combined the washing, dry-off and curing of safes with the office furniture automatic finishing line.
A 30-meter long washer uses a wastewater conditioning and recovery system. Water is a precious commodity in Russia and cannot be wasted.
The dry off oven operates at 105° C (220° F). The dry-off time is variable and can be changed per product type. This is accomplished by holding the conveyor carriers in the oven until the desired drying time is met. The power and free conveyor facilitates this by “close packing” the loads in the oven, essentially accumulating them sideways rather than lengthwise. Since product width is substantially less than length, more loads fit inside the oven and they can be “slowed” down while still maintaining the throughput of the system. The system was designed with a separate conveyor drive to allow the speed to differ from the painting operation. Pneumatic devices for switches and stops within the oven were installed outside the hot chamber to improve reliability in the harsh conditions.
At the heart of Promet’s new high-end automatic finishing operation is ITW Gema’s “Magic Cylinder” powder system. This is essentially a round powder coating booth with automatic reciprocating guns that adjust to the dimensions of the product being sprayed. A photo sensor array at the end of the booth “cubes” the products entering, affecting the start and stop of the spraying, as well as the number of guns to be activated. The guns are stacked five-high on each side of the spray booth and reciprocate vertically as the conveyor carries product through the booth, providing proper overlapping powder coverage. Conveyor speed is monitored and optimal settings are maintained per product, finish type and colour type. Powder is automatically recovered with little waste.
The curing oven is very much like the dry-off oven, except that it is 40 meters (131 ft.) in length and the temperature is 210° C (410° F). The curing time can also be controlled by holding conveyor carriers (close-packing) for a period of time before releasing.
Product released from the cure oven is routed to several unloading areas. Depending on the cooling time and product type, operators working on two levels can unload product at the appropriate station. Conveyor carriers can be accumulated or released to the loading stations without interrupting the other finishing line operations. The automatic line runs at 26 ft/min, except through the powder coating booth, where, monitored by ITW controls, it runs at 13 ft/min to ensure complete powder coverage.
Product quality is exceptional says Promet’s Petrov. The company plans to extend the conveyor system to incorporate delivery of the painted components to their respective assembly operation, as well as loading the unfinished safes and furniture components at point of production.
This combined approach to material handling and finishing on one system is likely to catapult Promet to new highs in productivity and world-class standings!
By Karl Scholz, General Manager PACLINE OVERHEAD CONVEYORS
Published in Coatings Magazine, September 2004
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