Selecting a Custom Powder Coater

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Custom powder coating companies or Custom Coaters, as they are called in the Industry, are increasing in size and numbers across America. Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM’s), and fabrication companies are becoming more aware of the benefits of powder coating and are looking to Custom Coaters for their professionalism and assistance in bringing this technology to their products.

The goal of any Custom Coater is to provide a value-added service to manufacturers, and create long-term relationships that are mutually beneficial. For manufacturers requiring the services of the powder finishing professional, the increase in the number of qualified companies presents an opportunity to shop and compare value.

How does an OEM go about selecting a custom coater and qualify that company to perform this value added service? The answer is not as simple as it would seem. It is easy for manufacturers to outsource powder coating these days, and many are faced with the task of comparing quotations between two or more coating companies. The actual price comparison is a simple chore, but the simplicity of comparison ends here. Many powder finishing specifications, as called-out by the fabricator or end use customer, only state color and type of finish. Even if two custom powder finishing companies use the same exact powder coating material, their pretreatment processes, finishing processes, and overall abilities will most certainly differ. This translates to a variable APPLIED COST consideration that would prevent any company’s price from ever matching that of another. So investigate closely and compare all factors equally.

The top three concerns for most manufacturers seem to be Quality, Delivery, and Price.

Let’s review these concerns and some other factors to consider when selecting and qualifying a Custom Coater, and how to go about insuring that you are getting the best value.

¨Quality – The key is to define the meaning of quality as it applies to your product. Quality is “a measurable degree of excellence” as defined in the dictionary. Measurable and in most cases negotiable. If quality can be quantified by numerical measurement it is advisable to establish a threshold limit of acceptance as well as a limit for rejection. This is also known as the Accept/Reject criteria. Professional custom finishers should be capable of implementing quality control systems such as Statistical Process Control (SPC) as a means of monitoring Accept/Reject levels as negotiated between the customer and the Custom Coater. Finishing companies that are ISO compliant will already have many of these quality assurance measures in place. They will also have the necessary testing equipment to measure quality as determined in a quantitative value that is non-subjective. Furthermore, the testing equipment must be properly maintained and calibrated to insure accurate readings that can be compared to the predetermined standard or organizational standards such as NIST or ASTM.

¨Delivery – On-time delivery is another big deal for OEM and fabrication companies. Ask the powder coating company if they have the means to finish and deliver the product to you on time, every time. And remember, transportation is an activity that incurs cost, so expect to pay the expense as part of the service provided. Look beyond the finisher’s ability to simply transport the product. The finisher’s system capacity, current customer base, and current workload play a significant role in their ability to deliver on time. Packaging details must also be discussed to insure the product will arrive to the assembly destination without damage.

¨PriceWhat is a fair price? Be prepared to compare price between custom finishers only after a thorough evaluation of the total service provided. Evaluate the complete package of all costs and activities associated with delivering a quality finish on time. Remember that an exact “apples to apples” comparison between two companies producing the same services rarely exists in the real world. Price is simply a factor of Cost + Profit. It is safe to say that no two companies, or finishing systems within the same company for that matter, have the same cost basis. Labor rates, insurance, floor space, transportation, system efficiencies, utilities, materials, and other significant costs differ greatly from one company or system to the next. Do not assume that the price difference is only in the profit margin.

¨Condition of EquipmentDoes the custom finisher have the necessary equipment to do the job right? Is the equipment in good condition and well maintained? Find out if the custom finisher has the right equipment to do a quality job. The current condition of the finisher’s equipment and an effective preventative maintenance program is important to your company, both short and long term. The negative effects of unplanned shutdowns, or equipment failures can be devastating to a manufacturing company operating in a just-in-time environment. A visit and tour of the finishing facility is highly recommended. Professional custom finishers that are proud of their facilities, and confident of their abilities, will be glad to show you around their facilities without hesitation. The time taken to visit the custom finisher will be well worth the effort.

¨Location – The “convenience factor” of a company located nearby may seem obvious, but do not let this issue become the sole issue for selecting a Custom Coater. Professional custom finishers value your business and understand that all customers are not neighbors. Most companies will provide transportation to and from your facility at your request. Understand that this is a cost that must be considered in the price comparison. Location should not be a significant factor with customer support issues. With today’s computer, fax, and digital image technology, sales, customer service, and quality issues can often be handled without the time and expense of a person to person visit. Although the personal touch is important to any business relationship, companies are very interested in maximizing their use of time and human resources. This is true for both the finisher and the fabricator.

¨Technical Support and Problem Solving Aptitude – Review the custom finishing companies overall competence and ability. People not machines run companies, and the company’s structure is important. Check out the organizational chart. Do the quality assurance people report directly to management or production personnel? Does the company have a Mission Statement and a Quality Commitment Statement? Is there evidence of employee training programs? Is learning a function of trial and error? A knowledgeable and professional management staff supported by technically competent sales and support personnel will complement a well-trained finishing system crew. These and other issues can be discussed and evaluated during a planned visit to the custom finisher’s facility.

¨Capabilities – Diversity is said to be the key to success in any jobshop metal finishing company, and powder coating is no exception. Are any of the preparation or finishing process being sent away for outsource processing? Look for the custom finisher to have adequate facility size, quality up-to-date equipment, proper tools for testing and a staff capable of supporting all of the requirements as outlined in the finishing specification. Do not overlook or underestimate the importance of the pretreatment process. Again, a short tour of the finisher’s facility will offer a wealth of information regarding the company’s strengths and weaknesses.

¨Professionalism – Fact: “Word of Mouth” sells more goods and services than any other form of advertising. Professional service companies possess the organization structure and the vision to provide a value added service today with a clear focus on the requirements of tomorrow. Image is everything, and everything a company does, the good and the bad, contributes to its image. Be prepared to answer the request for quotation information that will be required by the custom finishing company before an accurate bid proposal can be submitted. Written quotations that spell out exactly what will be done, for exactly how much, are key attributes to a professional metal finishing company. Anything less is unacceptable!

¨Performance Track Record – Selecting a custom finisher is a very important task and should not be entered into lightly. Dating would be a good analogy to use in this comparison. We are all aware that blind dates rarely turn out to the benefit of both parties. The more information you have about a person, or company, the better off you will be at making informed confident decisions. “Knowledge is power”. So how does a company go about finding out about another company and its performance record? The answer is to carefully evaluate the company’s current abilities and review the history of their success with other companies similar to yours. Treat it like an employee interview. This could include a brief credit check of the company to establish the financial stability and ability to commit long term. Ask questions about handling of rejects, nonconforming materials issues of the past, and current related industries they are doing business with. Ask about their process control and record keeping protocol. Ask how they intend to handle the specific needs of your company, and exactly how they intend to do it better than the “other company”. Do not hesitate to ask essential questions in the beginning of the business relationship.

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