With facilities in Corby and Bicester, Powdertech is one of the UK’s leading architectural, automotive and specialist powder coaters of aluminium, zinc die-casting, magnesium alloy and galvanized steel. Earlier this year the company decided to upgrade its facility in Corby to handle the increased demand for its architectural and rail infrastructure powder coating services.
"We wanted to effectively double the capacity of the work going through the powder coating line," explains Giles Ashmead, a Powdertech director. "A lot of the equipment was nearing the end of its life and so we opted to invest in a complete redesign and build of the production facility.
"Initially, we put the tender for the overhead conveyor system out to five companies from which we selected two to present detailed proposals. LB Foster Materials Handling won the business for several reasons: Their quote was very competitively priced; they were happy to work with four or five other contractors on site at the same time and they gave us the confidence that they could complete the job within the tight time frame we stipulated."
The final solution provides Powdertech with a compact power and free overhead system that utilises some of the existing track equipment alongside new sections. After chemical pre-treatment uncoated products are hung on the 5.1m long flight bars, three to a ‘shuttle’ of 3 parallel track sections fixed at the same pitch as the adjacent oven track. The ‘shuttles’ are then pulled across to the track in front of the drying oven. To prevent ‘shuttles’ being pushed off the end of the track, interlocking devices are built into the overhead track. Once the ‘shuttle’ is lined up with the degas oven track the interlocking system allows the flight bars to be moved forward safely into the oven.
The ‘free’ flight bars exit the drying oven and are moved to a second transverse shuttle which positions the bars in front of a single fixed track ready to enter the powder coating booth. Here, the powered section of the system takes the product one flight bar at a time through the powder coating booth. As the coated product exits the booth a sensor on the overhead track either allows it to proceed onto a second transverse ‘shuttle’ or is held until a ‘shuttle’ is in place.
When the ‘shuttle’ is full it is manually moved sideways towards the curing oven. An interlocking device at the end of the track again prevents the ‘shuttle’ from being pushed off the end of the track and ensures that it is accurately lined up with the fixed curing oven track. The free bars are then moved forward by the operator into the curing oven. As the flight bars exit the curing oven another interlocking safety device prevent them from fully clearing the oven track until the final shuttle is in place. Once the tracks are lined up the ‘shuttle’ can be moved off into the cooling, packing and dispatch area.
This transverse shuttle arrangement gives a very compact footprint with a deceptively high capacity and flexibility.
Tight installation schedule
Giles Ashmead takes up the story again, "Part of our success as a business is due to the very high service levels we provide customers. We work to very short lead times generally offering a less than two day turnaround and often in 24 hours. Because of this it was vitally important to us that the project time frame was a maximum of two working weeks.
"To achieve this we had to have all the various contractors on site at the same time and we told them all that they had to work together to make sure each area was completed on time. We stipulated that there was a zero tolerance on any variance to the specified go live date for the new facility.
"The LB Foster Materials Handling installation team were fantastic. They went above and beyond to ensure that their part of the project was delivered on time. In the end it was very tight, but we commissioned the new plant precisely on time.
"We now have one of the best powder coating lines in the country and this system puts 155m of useable track into just 35m of factory space. The revised overhead conveyor system is far more flexible and gives us additional load capacity of up to 450kgs per flight bar (500kgs including the flight bar). Overall, it looks impressive, provides a great improvement from a health and safety standpoint, and also delivers significant savings due to the excellent powder reclamation achieved with the new equipment.
"The extra capacity is vitally important for the business going forward. Since 2009 we have enjoyed continuous growth of between 8 – 23% every year and we fully expect that growth to continue," concludes Ashmead.