When Finishing is just the Beginning
For this Indiana finishing company, parts go through a rigorous pre-treatment process, spot-on painting, and thorough inspection, resulting in zero defects
Going back to 1934, Craddock Finishing Corp. has been finishing an array of products—first with wood, and then onto plastic and metal and more. The company started out manufacturing and finishing high-end dining room furniture and then moved onto large wooden TV consoles. But with the onslaught of foreign competition and the rise of plastics in furniture, Craddock began making urethane foam parts in the early 1970s and finishing them. The company became so adept at finishing the plastic parts, other companies that were looking for finishing services came to them.
Craddock Executive Vice President Terry Husk has been with the company since its inception and has worked his way through the ranks, learning every trick of the trade. He has developed his company, located in Evansville, Ind., into a leader in the finishing industry, tackling challenging projects for a slew of industries and even working with paint manufacturers to constantly improve the coatings on the market and thus making his own job easier.
Terry Husk recently spoke with Design2Part Magazine about the development of his company and what sets it apart from the competition. Following is an edited transcript of our conversation with Terry Husk.
D2P: How do you work to help develop new coatings?
Terry Husk (TH): Since the early 1970s, we grew into developing a lot of the new coatings with the paint manufacturers. We helped develop water borne coatings, which have been out now for several years. We did a lot of lab work with the paint manufacturers to help them develop the coatings to make sure that they had good adhesion and good physical characteristics so we could get away from the high solvent content paints. We've constantly worked with the manufacturers to help them develop new systems and we do a lot of test work for the manufacturers. When they have a product coming out, it's nice to develop something that works in the lab. It's a different thing to make it work in a production environment, and we work closely with the paint manufacturers and their technicians to make sure that we have something that suits our needs and the customer's needs.
D2P: Are you getting away from solvent-based coatings?
TH: We do both and we diversify. We offer a full service of painting services, including liquid coatings, powder coatings, and conductive coatings. On the liquid side, we do water-borne coatings and solvent-borne coatings. We also do metallic coatings with clear coat and we do a CARC coating for the military. We do quite a bit of military work and that is a special military specified coating. CARC is an abbreviation for chemical agent resistant coatings. It lets the equipment out in the field be cleaned when it comes under chemical attacks and it's a very durable coating, but a little on the hard side to apply. It takes a special flair. We work with both plastics and metals and we have our own pre-treatment facility in house, where we do all the cleaning for the metal and the pre-treatment for the ROHS compliant, chromate conversion coatings, including plastics, metal, wood, and paper. We coat almost anything.
D2P: Why is it that CARC coatings take a special flair to apply?
TH: It's very restrictive on the preparation of the materials to accept the military paint. We have to go through special cleaning operations and also go through primer operations, and then different types of top coats. All of the paints that are involved with the military coatings are pre-approved by the military before they're applied. And the specifications, as far as the mixing of the paint and the application of the paint and the curing of the paint, are all very specific in the military standards, which sometimes become 20 to 50 pages long on how they are to be applied. They're very strict standards.
D2P: Could you give an overview of the industries you serve?
TH: Business equipment, electronics—we also do refurbishing work for the electronics field—and health care. As for medical equipment, we have hand-held monitors and lab equipment all the way up to the larger dialysis machines. We have a small device that we coat that actually goes into a battery for an implantable pacemaker. We do military items for cart finishing, PAD printing, and silk screening for their equipment. We do some minor assembly work as well for gaskets and hinges and mounting brackets and so forth. We serve the appliance industries and we do a lot of metallic finishes for both plastic and metal, as well as a variety of textures and smooth coat applications. For the military, we also do a lot of field equipment, such as radios and equipment that mounts to their vehicles.
D2P: Could you discuss a project you do for the medical field?
TH: On the pacemaker, as far as the complexity, we have one customer we've had for over 15 years and it requires very intricate labor and intense processes. We apply a graphite coating on a very thin titanium etched screen. That screen goes into a battery that goes inside of a pacemaker, and it is required that we take and do some conductive readings on the material that we apply because the coating that we apply is directly related to the storage capacity of the battery. With that, we do the conductivity readings for the ohms resistance. We also do some five digit thickness checks with the micrometer to make sure we've applied the correct thickness of the coating.
That part goes to another step, where we do a video microscope inspection of each and every part that comes off the paint line. From that it goes to packaging, where each lot is controlled to where we do sterilization of lot control for every batch that is produced. This, as well as all of our programs, gives us control of the part that has been painted—where it was painted, who painted it, who inspected it, when it was painted, what paint was used on it. And we have complete traceability with all the important factors of the process that was done to that particular lot of parts.
D2P: What happens first when you bring a part in to be finished?
TH: It's difficult because there are literally 30-40 pages of specifications for each step on the military parts. But when we go back and look at a typical product coming into our plant, like when we bring a metal part, we do an inspection as the parts come in and then we send it to our 19-stage pre-treatment line. That line is controlled by programmable logic, so the human factor is out of it. It's computer monitored when we load up the parts to go through the cleaning stages and in the pre-treatment rinsing and drying stages. As parts come out, we know it's been through all the proper stages that the part needs to make sure it is clean, to make sure it's pre-treated correctly. Because if the part's not cleaned and prepared correctly, then you can't get a good paint finish. You have to clean it correctly, pre-treat it correctly, and then go through the proper painting sequences to make sure the customer gets the product that is required.
D2P: You mentioned that you are dedicated to zero defects. Can you discuss that some more, and how does the video microscope come into play?
TH: We looked at inspection and we tried to go a little overboard on the process control side. We want to make sure that we control the process very tightly and that eliminates the likelihood that we would have a defect. We want to make sure that we start with zero defects at the manufacturing line. Zero defects are not just at the customer end; we want to make sure that we produce zero defects so the customer is assured that we have good parts going to him.
When we do the videoscope, that's a heightened inspection. This is such a critical device. Through normal vision inspection, there's a possibility that you might overlook something because of the criticalness of this particular part, but by using the magnified video inspection microscope, you get an exaggerated look at what you're doing and the defects would jump right out at you if you were to find one. That way, we can assure our customers that we have zero defects. I've got one program where we worked with the Xerox Corporation. We've dealt with them for multiple decades and we supply them with parts worldwide. We also supply domestically on new manufacturing, and I have zero defects with them forever. We have never had a field failure due to a paint defect with the Xerox Corporation, and that is way beyond the parts per million.
D2P: It seems you're always drawing upon your tremendous experience in the field because you go back so many years. Can you speak to that a bit?
TH: Yes, I am 61 years old and I started part-time with the corporation when I was 15 years old. I've got 46 years here. All of my direct paint line supervision people are over 20 years of experience here and our critical positions—those people are all multi-talented as far as cross- check trained. We cross train people. If we have a person who is a painter, we also train them in inspection and for utility work. So that person can move around and when he's doing one job, he understands the steps that go into the other jobs that come before him or come after him. So they have a real grounded basis of information; they know what the part should look like when it comes to them and what it has to look like when it leaves because they know all the steps the parts are going to go through. That gives us a good approach.
We have a conservative management approach, but with us servicing so many different industries, we have to be very well versed in different applications of paint and different types of part [whether], plastic or metal. From the plastics side, we deal with a large variety of plastics and we know that certain plastics require certain processing steps, certain plastics require special primers, as does metal. We do aluminum and zinc die castings and a little bit of extrusions. We also do galvanized parts and stamping parts. A very large variety of different applications come through the plant, so we try to make sure that we are very versatile with what we do. We have a strong background in many different disciplines.
D2P: How did you work your way up at the company?
TH: I started sweeping floors and now I'm the executive vice president. I've worked through all of the manufacturing processes and through the woodworking industry as well, when we had the dining room furniture and home entertainment centers. And then I worked all the way through the urethane foam and on into the painting. I've literally done every job in the plant. There are two family members who are here every day and they have spent a lot of time in the plant. Currently, they assist me with the technical side of the business—the financials and health care and EPA—and those things that require heavy documentation and a good background in our industry.
D2P: You mentioned that your company has developed systems that have outstanding adhesion and corrosion protection matched with a very durable and highly cosmetic surface finish. Can you discuss this some more?
TH: That goes back to the pre-treatment line. We make sure we do the proper cleaning and preparation before the paint line, before the parts ever see the paint line. If you don't properly prepare a part, it doesn't matter what kind of finish you put on top of it; you're not going to have a quality finish that's going to last. Surface preparation is very much the starting factor of any paint operation to prepare a part correctly, whether it's sanding, polishing, chromating, iron phosphate, or just particularly cleaning.
There are some parts that are cast very well and all you need to do is to apply the clean operation and the chromate conversion coating and then go right into your paint line. Other parts might need to be sand blasted and then cleaned, and then chromated and painted. Some parts might require us to do some grinding and sanding on them before they go to the sand blaster if there are parting lines or knit lines that have to be removed. Some parts have characteristics from the casting side or from the molding side. If it's plastic that leaves a knit line or parting line, that is not going to be acceptable from the cosmetic side and those parts need to be sanded, manicured, and prepared to go through the cleaning and then painting. The versatility and the operators allow us to do that. Offering a wide array of processes prior to the painting lets us fine tune the parts to the customer's needs and make sure they have the good adhesion and quality criteria they're looking for.
D2P: Can you discuss how you recently renovated the entire outside of the production area and are in the process of adding a new, larger powder coating booth?
TH: We constantly try and upgrade our facility. We've been in this facility for a long time; it's all paid for and we have zero debt, so we're very secure. The two words don't seem to go together but we are conservatively aggressive in our approach to manufacturing. We're aggressive on the detail side and we're conservative by making sure we look at things twice.
We recently renovated the outside of the building from the roof down, and all of the outside has been painted with a new roof and windows and doors. All of the facility has been updated. We have two very large storage facilities on site with the ability to store parts coming into the production line to help our customers smooth out those processes. We also have a finished warehouse that stores product to be shipped, so we can actually plan ahead and our customers can draw from stock. That's a big luxury for our customers because they can buy and paint at a little larger quantity and then release as needed. We also have a materials storage warehouse that stores all of our liquid and powder coatings. It's temperature controlled and up to highest standards for EPA and OSHA requirements.
D2P: Can you discuss any upcoming advances in the finishing industry and how you stay ahead of the curve?
TH: We are in the middle of designing a new powder booth system for one of our lines that is going to be a little bit larger and more accommodating to the parts that we see available to us through the different markets. We continue to work with the paint manufacturers on the low VOC (volatile organic compound) materials. It's very important to try and stay as green as we can possibly be, from the EPA standpoint, particularly. The painting companies have grown by leaps and bounds, and with modern materials available to us, we continue to work with them to help them improve their product.
We always look at new painting equipment. The painting spray guns for the liquid side are all high volume, low pressure guns now. That's very important because you can spray materials with much less air pressure now than you used to. It gets you at a high volume of material, but the low air pressure allows you to paint the part more precisely and control the material usage, which directly relates to the bottom line. The powder side, with the electro static powder application guns, is certainly improving. So we keep testing new equipment from that side.
D2P: You mentioned that you determine the limitations of the parts you are working with because many have strict flatness requirements, paint thickness issues, and critical tolerance machined surfaces. Can you discuss this some more?
TH: The big benefit of our corporation is that we have multiple finishing lines. We have overhead painting lines, flatbed conveyorized painting lines, and bench operation booths. We have an array of tools to work with and also have the ability to do liquid coatings and powder coatings. So we can fine tune something, as when somebody has a part that is thin but has a lot of details as far as machining surfaces and things like that. That might be very difficult to mask if it were applied with powder, and we could suggest running it on one of our liquid lines because there's a different way to mask on liquid than on powder. You can turn the temperature way down on the liquid coatings versus the higher temperatures on powder, and it gives you the flexibility to fine tune that process for that particular part.
We don't want to make the customer use what we have; we want to use what's best for the customer. And we can offer suggestions and do some tests for them. We can do one in powder and then do one in clear or liquid, and you can evaluate the two and see which one best meets your needs. And then you can help us help you decide what will work best for your particular part.
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