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Custom Coater Recognized as Supplier for Award-Winning Medical Laser
The company's new design studio offers face-to-face collaboration for rapid problem solving
Sporting a Ferrari red exterior and a cutting speed that's said to be faster than "any other laser," the Waterlase iPlus All Tissue Laser from Biolase Technology Inc. turned enough heads at this year's Medical Design Excellence Awards® (MDEA) competition--presented by UBM Canon--to win the Bronze Award in the Dental Instruments, Equipment, and Supplies category. The new product, which uses medical laser technology to precisely treat hard and soft biological tissues, is reported to reduce patients' pain, bleeding, and recovery time, and eliminate the need for anesthesia. But the award wouldn't have been possible without the contributions of a number of suppliers, including Morphix Design Inc. (San Clemente, Calif.), Patton Design Inc. (Irvine, Calif.), and Northrop Grumman Corp. (Charlotte, N.C.).
One of the suppliers--Shmaze Custom Coatings (www.shmaze.com), of Lake Forest, California--had a big hand in determining the Waterlase's exotic visual appeal. The job shop coating facility, which works with clients to develop custom finishes on a wide range of substrates, was challenged to achieve a consistent, appealing look over several substrates ranging from die cast metal parts to machined aluminum, vacuum formed plastic, and aluminum sheet metal parts. Along the way, Shmaze applied different coating techniques and materials to make sure that "everything at the end looked harmonious and uniform and matching," according to Mike Shamassian, CEO of Shmaze Custom Coatings.
"One of the things we did was we tapped into the (Biolase) owner's interest in high end things," Shamassian said in an interview. "One of the designers at Biolase actually came up with the idea of doing a unique sports car feel to it. So we said, ‘Why not make them look exotic?' And the unit that won the award is red, with carbon fiber handles and trim. Together, the product looks stunning."
Shmaze Custom Coatings provides a diverse mix of production liquid painting, powder coating, and part decoration services. The company often designs and builds the proprietary coating equipment that it deploys at its 21,500-square-foot facility, which was expanded early last year to include a new design center, where designers from all over the globe come to innovate and reduce product launch cycles.
"We've been able to bring top manufacturers from around the world into our new design studio," said Shamassian. "We work with their stylists and designers, and sometimes even their marketing teams, and we create all the colors that are in their plan or inside their head. When an existing design is involved, we bring product differentiation options to the table."
The studio includes a laboratory, where Shmaze's technicians mix coatings with customers until they get it just right. "We mix that paint up, we spray plaques with them--sometimes for two or three days--till they get every color exactly where they want it," Shamassian said. "And it's not just color--it's pearlescence, it's metallics, it's effect pigments, it's gloss levels on clear coats; it's everything. The gloss level is important, the metallic particle size is important, and even the cast of color it gives off when you move it on an angle is important. So we design that paint with them, we build that paint with them, we do all the steps with them, and they leave with finished parts that are exactly the colors they had in mind."
A huge benefit of the collaboration that takes place in the design studio, according to Shamassian, is that it's all done face-to-face. "You can actually feel what the customers are trying to say by their mannerisms and their facial gestures. We can see it, and we want to hit that color form and that effect exactly where they want it. And we usually have a very, very high rate of success because we're face-to-face with them."
The advantages of working face-to-face were evident when the Biolase folks--including the owner of the company--got together with Shmaze's staff in in the creative environment of their design studio.
"They (Biolase) were so impressed by what we were doing, and by the design studio, that they insisted on bringing the owner of the company, who happens to be an artist and a designer by trade, into the meetings in our studio for the new design," said Shamassian. "They brought all of their management team here and used our studio that day. They brought their machines in and had their product staged all over. We reviewed product together, and we helped design the paint jobs together with the owner, their top brass, myself, and one of my color guys. We discussed what parts are better to spray and coat in this color, and which parts are better to not coat in this color, which parts should be polished metal, and which parts would lend themselves better to carbon fiber."
Those interactions enabled the team to quickly decide which parts, of approximately 30 that they were considering, should be coated, which parts should be plated, and which parts should be carbon fiber. After establishing that, they went on to discuss color ideas and tiers of pricing. "The whole meeting was very organic; it was like something new was growing there," said Shamassian. "They designed all these award-winning finishes in that meeting. They weren't finalized in that meeting, but the seeds were planted there, and we made our mockups out of that meeting.
"Out of all the mockups, it was narrowed down to the two or three models that went into production," he continued. "Every time they had a new idea at Biolase, they'd come to us and say, ‘We want to see a sky blue one, or one in this color,' and we would do that for them with this kind of handle and this kind of metal. They'd review it, test market it, and eventually they came up with a winner. That winner happened through back-and-forth collaboration, but it started that day in that studio when they got to use the space for their own team and have their own freedom to design at will."
Another customer wanted Shmaze to apply a finish to a multi-faceted zinc die casting so that the part would replicate the look of anodized aluminum. The finished part, which would be finished with a liquid painting process, needed to pass the cosmetic and durability requirements of a machined aluminum part with a hard anodized finish.
For this particular project, Shmaze designed an application-specific finishing system "from the ground up." Using the current part as a target, Shmaze began trials using raw materials that were, in some cases, new to the market. "The initial challenge was to try to do it in powder coating, and we had to quickly rule that out as a possibility," said Dan Baker, business development director for Shmaze Custom Coatings. "As the lowest cost option, which of course is where everybody wants to start, it wasn't even close to the final look. So we began to do some experimentation with some advanced paint systems that we have here. And through a series of samples and submissions over about a four- or five- week period of time, we were able to attain the look."
Once the coating system passed the visual requirements, Shmaze had to ensure that it was robust enough to meet customer expectations. The goal shifted to achieving the performance--primarily the adhesion to the substrate and the hardness of the final finish--that the customer was looking for. Shmaze conducted additional testing and, after a certain amount of application trial and error, was able to get the final finish "very, very close to what the customer had been getting with a machined anodized part," said Baker.
Shmaze also developed an application process capable of replicating design results over tens of thousands of parts with a high degree of consistency. The process, run on an automated paint line using a rotational, chain-on-edge conveyor system and fixed guns, provided greater throughput at a lower per unit cost. "We built a system to run 2500 of them (parts) every day," said Shamassian.
The job was accomplished within a very tight timeframe. "We had the whole project up and running between nine and 14 days," said Shamassian. "It was a rush to get to market; it was a crazy rush. During production, we were still making advances in the finish, getting it better and better. We did it all through production and it worked out pretty well--they got their production up, made their timeline, and got it done."
Custom coating is a complex process that involves paint formulation and application technique in approximately equal proportions. In cases where paint doesn't adhere easily to certain substrates, Shmaze employs material conditioning methods that are designed to prepare the paint-resistant materials for proper adhesion. According to Baker, a variety of mechanical and chemical techniques are used to achieve the necessary surface conversions.
"We're actually altering the composition of the surface to enhance adhesion of the paint," said Baker. "Especially on engineered plastics, additional types of pre-treatments are necessary to get proper adhesion. And that's really our goal--to get an intimate bond between the paint and the substrate.
"It's all part of a paint system that you have to consider," Baker continued. "The paints, the surface conversion, and the substrate all have to be matched in a paint system to yield a desired result. And the minimum result, usually, for any customer is going to be adhesion. Obviously, if the paint is not adhering well, then that entire paint system is going to fail. So at the upfront juncture of the process, we apply a lot of science in making sure that the materials that have been selected allow us to get a final finish that's going to be satisfactory for the customer. There is some science in the development of the coating as well, some of which we do in-house. We have a complete paint mixing capability in house, and then, in some cases, we would rely on our outside suppliers to help in the development of those chemistries."
Shmaze recently increased its capabilities in robotic finish application by adding a 6-axis Fanuc painting robot that allows the company to exercise precise control over the entire process. "The robot's ability to help hold a very tight dry film thickness (DFT) gives us control over gloss and the final appearance," said Baker. "It gives us consistency, repeatability, and a low amount of waste." Thanks to its long history on the production side, Shmaze is able to apply lessons learned while making parts over the last 20 years to solve issues on the design side. "What we do now is we build those solutions into the original mix of the paint," says Shamassian. "We build the paint smarter, in other words, because of all of our years of experience and history. We've got some great, great guys that have tons of experience with us. Some of our guys on staff have been here 15-18 years. Now we're bringing that experience from the manufacturing/production side--all those production practices--all the way to design. So we can correct a bad design--not the visual design--the process of the design. We can correct that process design now and nip it in the bud. "We've built an environment that's pleasing and attractive, and it's a draw," he continues. "People want to work in this space. It's wide open, and it's an inviting place to come and be creative. We get to really hear what they want, and we create it." "And it's real time," adds Baker. "We paint, they evaluate. We tweak, we paint, they evaluate. It's all done real time with real materials. We have a complete paint mixing station in the design facility, along with application in the design, so they (customers) never leave that room, basically, until they have the solution they're looking for."
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