Creating Success through Coatings Supplier Partnerships

Powder Coating

David Calabra

Partnership: A relationship between individuals or groups that is characterized by mutual cooperation and responsibility, as for the achievement of a specified goal. (source:

Job shops strive to become true partners of the OEMs and tier suppliers for whom they work. The goal: become an essential resource that is regarded as more than just a vendor that delivers quality parts at a reasonable price. They want to be a tried and true resource that understands their customers' capabilities and needs and delivers value far beyond the product alone. Ideally, they will be considered a partner who can be depended upon to go above and beyond no matter the situation.

But who partners with the job shop?

The typical job shop performs many functions and, realistically, cannot be an expert at every level of production. Partnering with a value-added supplier can help the job shop owner and management, in turn, become a trusted partner of the OEM or tier supplier. In short, the job shop that wishes to become known as a partner to its customers needs partners of its own to gain an advantage over its competitors.

An area where this is particularly true: coatings. A job shop may require small quantities of difficult-to-match colors, or it may need just a few basic colors in large quantities. Having a short list of reliable suppliers is a key benefit. But a true coatings partnership goes beyond the basic blocking and tackling.

Coatings technologies, application techniques, and emission standards are constantly evolving. Working with and maintaining regular contact with a coatings supplier can help a job shop remain current with the latest finishes and can also open the door to efficiencies and cost savings that may not have been considered.

Partnering by building a competitive edge through technology

Powder coatings have become the finish of choice for many manufacturers. As they are under more pressure to produce goods under sustainability guidelines, powder coatings offer zero to very low volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and product waste can generally be disposed of in conventional landfills. Powder coating also offers the ability to produce thicker coatings more evenly than liquid coating. To be considered for work in many cases, job shops will need to have a powder coating capability.

Powder coating technology may make sense for specific applications. It may be to a job shop's best advantage to offer both liquid and powder capabilities, as each technology makes sense for specific applications. For a shop that has strictly used liquid coatings, the thought of replacing a line—or adding a new one—can be daunting.

The key is to select a coatings supplier that manufactures both liquid and powder coatings and provides full support in the application process, not only in the design and implementation phase. A true partner will assist the shop in specifying and setting up equipment, training employees, establishing maintenance best practices, and conducting regular line performance reviews. Chances are the coatings partner will itself have equipment partners who become part of the overall team that plans for a successful implementation.

Partnering through pre-approvals

Often, the work provided to a job shop includes the requirement that it must use a coating that meets an OEM's published coating specifications. This can become an issue when the shop currently uses a supplier—one that they are happy with—whose coatings are not on the approved specification list. Coatings suppliers use their own resources to garner approval specs from OEMs. Know your suppliers' specification capabilities. Getting to know a pre-approved supplier sooner rather than later can save owners time and alleviate disappointment when considering new work that requires specified coatings.

This can be especially beneficial when bidding for work from an OEM or tier supplier that requires the job shop to use a coating that has higher solids or enhanced environmental levels due to regional or international standards. It's a standard that must be met to obtain the job, even though those standards may not necessarily be required where the job shop itself is located. The coatings supplier who has obtained pre-approvals from the OEMs can provide the job shop with the pre-approved coating and assist with any application nuances.

Partnering through color precision

Color expertise and guidance may be one of the primary ways a coatings partner proves its value.

Often, OEMs will provide standard panels, which must be matched by the coatings supplier. RAL, a series of color matching systems that provides industry standard colors, is used worldwide. Access to this system via a coatings partner can benefit a job shop by eliminating the need to color match; the proper RAL color matching simplifies the process and makes it easy for finishers to meet potentially tight deadlines.

A coatings supplier partner should also be able to work with a job shop to match color visually or through the use of a spectrophotometer. The supplier and the shop can work to coordinate colors with the OEM to ensure that all color standards are met and are consistent in each batch.

There are occasions when a customer gives a job shop a color to match. That color may have been provided on a piece of fabric, plastic or an object—and the shop is asked to match it and apply it to a metal part or component. Sounds simple, right? Perhaps not.

For example, if the desired color is provided on a piece of fabric, it is likely composed of several dyes. This can present a challenge in breaking it down and creating a pigment for baking enamel or powder coating. The customer may also want the coating to meet a 30 gloss specification. It takes well-developed color matching skills to achieve success. A supplier who can say "we understand the challenges you are facing; here's how we'll get it doneā€¦" can mean the difference between success and failure.

Partnering through preparation

Often, a shop must clean and pre-treat metal before finishing to ensure proper coating adhesion and performance. A coatings partner should be able to provide guidance on proper pre-treatment. Their expertise can mean the difference between proper preparation practices that allow a coatings job to move through the process flawlessly and a job that potentially ends up as scrap. It's their job to spot a flaw or to know which pre-treatment practice is the one to prescribe. If an outside supplier is needed to make certain that the job is right, the coatings supplier should have those contacts, and then supervise the process to ensure success.

Partnering through testing

There may, on occasion, be a contractual requirement with an OEM that requires specific tests to be performed in order for a shop to acquire and/or keep a project. Such tests may include salt spray, humidity, or durability tests—and few shops have in-house testing capabilities. A coatings partner that offers such capabilities allows a job shop to make the claim that its process includes such testing, adding to its overall capabilities and, potentially, enhancing its capability to compete for projects for which it may not have been able to compete previously.

Partnering through consultation

Even a shop staffed with coatings experts who perform regular quality tests can benefit from an external review from time to time. Sometimes it takes someone from the outside to detect issues or see a problem coming. Coatings partners may recommend a line audit consisting of a battery of tests that may include:

Partnering through potential efficiency gains

Consultation audits may reveal that an existing powder coating operation—and a job shop's efficiency, quality, profitability, and sustainability—may benefit from a redesign. An inefficient coatings line will affect quality, and in turn, profitability. There is no magic number in terms of a line's age, but newer equipment, such as more efficient pretreatment systems, and spray guns and digitally-controlled ovens, can in some instances produce a rapid payback and improved quality.

Partnering through best practices

A coatings supplier can be a job shop coating line employee's best friend. Coaching and teaching best practice techniques can go a long way toward consistent line performance. Having the latest equipment is one step to success; ensuring that line employees understand the latest coating and maintenance techniques, issues to watch for, and industry best practices can enhance quality and operations. This can be accomplished through formal training and casual conversations on the shop floor. An employee comment about a line irregularity to a supplier representative can help prevent a bigger issue down the road. There is much to be said for regular visits and familiarity.

Partnership through proximity

When a job shop needs coatings, it needs them within a reasonable amount of time. Suppliers that succeed in this area of partnership maintain points of distribution that stock a customer's most frequently used coatings and related products for fast delivery. Fast color matching and quick batch supply are keys to success. Delaying a finishing project because a regularly used coating is not available can be costly to the job shop and is not acceptable.

Partnership through quality control

Every coating process should have well-established performance specifications. While these are often the standards of the manufacturer, every shop can work with suppliers to ensure that proper practices are in place to ensure consistent performance, color, gloss and texture—and avoid issues that lead to rejected parts, wasted time, and lost profits.

Partnering through a team of experts

A job shop should expect local, dedicated support from its coatings partner on a consistent basis. That local support should be backed by a team of technical representatives, color and design specialists, facility experts, and design engineers.

Understanding what a coatings supplier who truly desires to build a partnership includes as part of doing business may come as a surprise to some. It is to a shop's advantage to understand at the onset of a relationship what level of support the shop can expect from its coatings supplier.

The knowledge, expertise, and dedication made available should ultimately lend itself to coatings success. That should make for a happy OEM customer who returns with more work.

And with that, everyone wins.

David Calabra is global market director, general finishing, for Sherwin-Williams Product Finishes Division.

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