“The painter is just like the race car driver–he’s the hero. And the shop manager–well, he’s like the crew chief. Everyone else is like the pit crew, it’s really exciting,” this was the picture that owner and operator of Electro Tech Coatings, Adam Mitchell, conjured up as we stepped inside his facility to get the play-by-play on the powder coating process for Project Tiger’s Eye’s wheels.
The painter is just like the race car driver–he’s the hero. And the shop manager–well, he’s like the crew chief. Everyone else is like the pit crew, it’s really exciting –Adam Mitchell, Electro Tech Coatings
With the help of Electro Tech Coatings, Rod Authority will walk you through the powder coating process and answer some frequently asked questions for those who have been interested in powder coating parts for their own projects.
Electro Tech Coatings - Powder Coating Details
- Machine: GEMA OptiFlex 2
- Color: IFS Tacoma Cream
- Wheels: Wheel Vintiques 15×6 Smoothies
- Sand Blasting: Rigoberto
- Station Prep: Ulysses
- Station Prep: Marcelino
- Powder Coating: Rueben
- Packing & Order Fulfillment: Balthazar
- Day manager: Mike Danjou
- Owner: Adam Mitchell
Step One: Sandblasting
The first step in the process is to ensure that the parts you’ll be powder coating are thoroughly cleaned and prepped. Rigoberto was in charge of sand blasting our wheels. “The media that we utilize in the sand blasting process is garnet stone. Its texture affords fast paint removal and enough abrasive quality to create a surface that will provide good adhesion,” Adam explained.
Further research of garnet stone’s use as an abrasive media turned up a manufacturer’s site that provides thorough detail on garnet’s properties.
According to www.BestGarnetSand.com, “Garnet is one of the last few abrasives that are naturally mined, and not a man-made abrasive. It is an industrial gemstone that creates a profile virtually free of embedment, which makes it excellent for coating adhesion,” reaffirming the qualities that Adam attested to when talking about his choice of sand blasting media.
The manufacturer continues, “Garnet, as it is mined and collected, is crushed into finer grains; all pieces larger than 60 mesh (250 micrometers) are normally used for sand blasting. Pieces between 60 mesh and 200 mesh (74 micrometers) are normally used for water jet cutting. Pieces finer than 200 mesh are used for glass polishing and lapping. Regardless of the application, the larger grain sizes are used for faster work and the smaller ones are used for finer finishes.”
Step Two: Cleaning & Prep
After sandblasting, Ulysses and Marceleno took the wheels to their stations for pre-cure prep and cleaning. During this step, they used steel wool to remove any remaining surface imperfections in places missed during sandblasting, cleaned off debris with an air gun, and applied any required masking. In the case of our wheels, no masking was required.
Step Three: First Bake
Once thoroughly cleaned, the wheels were suspended onto a cart. Daytime manager, Mike Danjou, set the walk-in oven to 400-degrees and moved the cart inside to bake for 20 minutes. According to Adam, this pre-bake removes any oils and imperfections that weren’t cleaned off in the prior steps. It also brings the temperature of the wheels up to a point that is conducive for improved adhesion.
Step Four: Powder Coating
After a 20 minute pre-bake the wheels were moved across the shop and over to the paint booth where Reuben was waiting. Using IFS Tacoma Cream dry film powder and a ground wire attached to the cart, Rueben coated our wheels using their Gema OptiFlex2.
We wanted to know more about the equipment Reuben was using so Aadam gave us some details on the equipment, “We love [the Gema OptiFlex2], it has the ability to save up to 20 custom programs where you can set specific powder output, air volume, current, and voltage, saving us time when addressing all the different parts that come in to our paint booth.”
Along with all the custom presets that avid painters such as Reuben utilize, Electro Tech’s OptiFlex2 also comes with three factory presets to address a general range of applications. We turned up a search on the OptiFlex2 for some further description of the factory presets:
- Preset #1: Flat Parts – Maximizes voltage for optimum transfer efficiency.
- Preset #2: Complex Parts – Modifies voltage while holding current for optimum penetration and transfer efficiency.
- Preset #3: Re-coat Parts – Automatically adjusts voltage and current to the optimum level for re-coating previously coated parts.
Adam laughed as we watched Reuben work his magic, “This guy is suave with the powder coating gun. Are you noticing how he spins the wheel, and even hung on a wire like that, it stops in the position that he wants to powder coat next.”
Reuben definitely had the magic touch, in less than 20 minutes the wheels had a fresh layer of IFS Tacoma Cream and were ready for the oven in order to set the powder.
Step Five: Second Bake
While the heat from the initial bake coupled with the grounded cart and charged powder provided some adhesion, the wheels needed to be set in the oven to complete the bonding process. Mike Danjou took the wheels from Reuben’s paint station and set the oven to 400-degrees to bake our smoothie wheels for 20 more minutes.
Step Six: Cooling & Packaging
Once the bake time was complete the wheels emerged with the layer of powder coating bonded to the wheel surface. “When the powder is first sprayed in the paint booth, some people don’t realize it, but the powder can be wiped off without any effort,” Adam explained. “This is great for mess-ups that may require a part to be recoated, but at the same time, it’s imperative for people to watch out for bumping or accidentally rubbing up against a part with fresh powder. When you bake the powder it melts the resins and fillers which fuse together during the curing process to form a painted finish.”
While the wheels were cooling off for packaging, we took the time to conduct some Q&A with Adam and also had him shed some light on frequently asked questions on powder coating. Check out the interview below.
Rod Authority: For potential customers who are looking to have parts powder coated–is there anything that they can do to make the powder coating process more turnkey?
Adam Mitchell: “Definitely, one of the best things that a customer can do is degrease and thoroughly clean their parts of any oils or fluids prior to bringing them in. This keeps our sandblasting media clean and saves us time during that step. Otherwise, if there are too many contaminants that build up while in the blast room we’ll need to keep changing out the media.”
RA: As a general rule of thumb, what can be powder coated?
Mitchell: “Well, as a general rule we tell customers that they can bring in anything that can withstand 400-degrees as that’s what our oven temperature is set to.”
RA: On the flip side, what are some things that can’t be powder coated?
Mitchell: “Some of the most common parts that we get that end up being turned away are parts that have been patched up with lead, are fused by soldering, or are layered with body filler putty.”
RA: Is powder coating similar to paint when it comes to getting runs or having the effect of overspray after final curing?
Mitchell: “Yes, powder coating works just like painting. From the motion required during application to the imperfections that can show up if you don’t apply your powder coat consistently. You can get high and low spots that appear on the finished product, but one of the benefits of powder coating is that you can wipe powder off and start over. This requires the painter to have a keen eye and catch imperfections prior to baking. The skilled guys can catch these imperfections and potential hi/low spots during initial application.”
RA: For the consumer who is looking to weigh the pros and cons, what are some common benefits that can give someone a good base understanding when trying to decide on powder coating vs paint?
Mitchell: “Where do I start–it’s cheaper than painting, there are no VOC emissions, the finish is harder and more resilient than traditional paint, and the finish comes out thicker without the use of multiple coats.”
RA: Are you ever presented by situations where it’s in the best interest of the customer to go with traditional paint over powder coating? Can you elaborate on any scenarios where this would apply?
Mitchell: “Yeah we like to take a look at the parts that customers bring in and give them an initial consultation to answer any questions or concerns that they or we might have. If the part has a lot of body filler putty, lead, or plastic parts we let them know that this will pose a problem during the required baking steps. Second, color matching is easier when it comes to traditional paint–if this is the priority then traditional is the way to go. One thing we suggest to customers with bare projects that are adamant about getting parts powder coated is to do it on specific parts and color match using traditional paint after. It’s harder to come in with a hot rod that has a traditionally painted body and ask us to color match the powder coating, versus choosing the color of the powder coating that will go on the wheels and dashboard then going to the paint shop to color match our powder.”
Don’t do anything you wouldn’t do on the paint of your wife’s Lexus. –Adam Mitchell
Can you powder coat my whole car? No
Can you powder coat my gas tank? Yes, but on the condition that the gas tank is taken to a radiator shop to be flushed and cleaned prior to us powder coating. A tank that hasn’t been properly cleaned out presents us with a huge risk in terms of gas vapor, electricity, and a 400-degree oven. Not a good mix of things to have in the same room.
Will powder coating ruin my billet wheels? Billet parts are usually heat treated for strength, if anything this should make them stronger. On top of that, our ovens run well under aluminum’s melting point.
Will you powder coat the inside of my turbo or engine? No
Will my parts still rust? Yes. As a tip we tell customers to add silicone sealer in places that powder coating can’t reach.
Will tire mounts chip the finish? New tire mounting equipment should never touch the wheels so if the place you’re mounting your wheels and tires has up-to-date equipment and quality techs this shouldn’t be an issue.
As we wrapped up the Q&A and FAQ session with Adam, Balthazar had just finished packing the cooled off wheels. Electro Tech packaged our wheels in heavy duty plastic bags, gave each a secure four-way knot, and inserted the wheels in their original boxes snugly. If you’ve been entertaining the idea of having parts powder coated we hope that this feature has provided you with some insight into what happens within a powder coating facility and also sheds some light on the process. We wrapped up our interview asking Adam what the best maintenance tips for freshly powder coated parts are. He replied, “Don’t do anything you wouldn’t do on the paint of your wife’s Lexus.”
In closing Adam left us with this, “Sometimes people are born for certain things. If my kids take over this business I want them to add to it and make it greater, not just continue what we’ve created here. The thing is, they have their own passions and that’s awesome. Personally, I love being here 12 hours a day. I get to see so many cool things.”
Rod Authority extends its thanks to Electro Tech Coatings for their involvement with Project Tiger’s Eye. Stay tuned for our next feature in the Tiger’s Eye Project Series as we install our front suspension from Total Cost Involved Engineering. You’ll get a chance to see our freshly powder coated wheels mounted onto the frame too!