In metalworking, depending on customer specifications and the part’s intended end use, there is often a finishing process of some kind involved. This can be everything from specialized surface finishes to coatings providing protective and wear-resistant attributes to the part. During some of these processes — as is often the case with anything in manufacturing — there is a certain amount of waste material involved. When applying powder coatings to metal parts, for instance, whatever powder isn’t left on the part generally goes straight to the landfill… basically paying someone to throw your material investment out the window.
One company has found a way to reuse the waste in the powder application process, The company is called Innovakote West Michigan, LLC, based in Kent City, Michigan, and it has come up with an ingenious process for recycling powder remaining after the application process, and then reselling it to manufacturers at significant savings, thereby creating a “closed loop” system that’s good for the environment, might help protect against any future dumping litigation, and strengthens a company’s bottom line by lowering powder purchase costs.
As for the application process, powder is an environmentally friendly substitute for liquid paints, which contain volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) that are released into the atmosphere during curing. When applying powder to metals, an electrostatic charge is first introduced into the substrate, with a gun then applying the powder to the surface of the part. The charge actually draws the powder to the surface, which is ideal for parts with deep channels or complex geometries. The part is then cured in an oven at 400 degrees F for 10 or so minutes, releasing no VOCs. Powder application systems automatically gather waste powder, which is then packaged in drums and carried away by waste services headed straight to the landfill.
With Innovakote — now in its final development stages, developing powders per customer specifications — a new model has been developed. It is partnered with an existing company, Surplus Coatings, which has been in business since 1995. Dwayne Behrens is the owner of Surplus Coatings, while he and Brian Spicer are co-owners of Innovakote. The relationship between the two companies is that Surplus Coatings already has a successful business with an extensive customer base gathering waste powder to be remanufactured, which it then supplies to Innovakote for recycling into new powder that customers can purchase.
“The recycled powder is remanufactured to meet each customers specifications, and is available in a variety and finishes” says Behrens. “Innovakote specializes in manufacturing powder coating by utilizing up to 95% recycled raw materials.”
The larger concept, as mentioned, is to create a closed-loop system where materials that were previously treated primarily as waste are now utilized and returned to the manufacturing process, while at the same time lowering the cost of the finished product. “We see this as an environmentally friendly cycle in which everyone benefits,” Spicer says, “and it eliminates any ‘cradle to grave’ concerns powder users may have had about how the material was disposed of in the past.”
With a global customer base, Surplus Coatings is familiar with disposal regulations around the country and world. Some areas of the United States require special permits, as is the case in other countries as well. The partners see this as a growing trend. So with an estimated 1.8 billion pounds of petroleum-based products slated for disposal in landfills around the planet this year, the timing is right to develop and present solutions to the industrial market.
“We’re doing our part to advocate for a circular economy that eliminates waste in the powder coating industry,” Behrens says.