Godwin Manufacturing Builds Powder Coating Facility to Enhance Products and Lower Manufacturing Cost

Adding a fully automated powder coating line to Godwin Manufacturing's already bulging 350,000-square foot manufacturing facility will lower unit manufacturing cost, as well as provide increased durability to Godwin products that are manufactured for the snow and ice removal industry.

Godwin's success has been predicated upon thinking ahead of the curve when it comes to manufacturing snow and ice removal equipment. The company's decision to add a fully automated powder coating line for the manufacturing operation is a strong example of this thought pattern.

Powder coating is considered a premium coating for steel that's exposed to the corrosive chemicals prescribed for the removal of snow and ice buildup. However, a powder coating facility is considered a major capital expense by most capital expenditure consultants. Pat Godwin Sr, chief executive officer of Godwin Manufacturing Incorporated, feels that this type of coating protection is required and expected by the winter operators that use his dump beds and other snow removal products.

When the size of the Godwin Manufacturing operation is taken into consideration, it becomes evident that constructing the powder coating facility was an opportunity to capitalize on Godwin's economies of scale, and not just a brazen move to improve the cosmetics of the manufactured products.

Godwin Sr's view of long term return on invested capital is different than most financial analysts or company accountants. "We view ourselves as long term investors in our own company," says Godwin Sr. His view appears to have brought much of the success at Godwin Manufacturing.

Many companies share the view that full reinvestment of profits into the operation is a key component to growing a company. When analyzing a capital expenditure decision, Godwin Manufacturing uses a philosophy of stretching the time horizon far beyond the accounting period of depreciation. Godwin Sr's philosophy allows the company to capture numerous small incremental gains in productivity and compound them for a much longer time.

"The best way to show commitment to an industry is to build the best possible product that you can," says Godwin Sr. "By building the coating line, we can make a better product at less cost for the buyer, because we pick up labor savings and time savings on a per unit basis."

Godwin Manufacturing accumulates incremental gains by producing more units per manufacturing day. If the facility can build more units in the same time used for the current production schedule, and if demand continues to grow, then the company will captured manufacturing efficiencies and lower the variable cost to production. "We plan to run about 6,000 bodies in many different styles through the powder coating process in 2000. That doesn't include many of the parts we are going to process using the powder coating as a finish," he says.

The Finish on the Product Powder coating is essentially a dry form of coating a steel surface. The powder coating process, developed in Germany in the late 1950s, has exploded into the manufacturing community. The process is friendly to the environment and the powder coat is considered a premium finish for equipment that is used in environmentally harsh climates. Godwin's business is centered on snow and ice removal, and a leading activity of the company is the manufacturing of dump beds.

"What we feel makes our powder coating process special is the size of the operation that we'll have," says Pat Godwin Jr, vice-president of operations. The largest piece of equipment that has gone through the total process is a dump bed that is 8-ft wide, 7-ft tall, and 26-ft long.

The first thing a visitor notices about the powder coating building is its immense size. The new building is 60' X 200'. This does not include the elaborate overhead conveyor system used to move the product through the line.

"The unique thing about the Godwin project was the scale of operation that Godwin Sr wanted," says Harold Patten, senior consulting engineer with Patten & Associates. "The challenge was putting everything together on that grand of a scale."

The overhead conveyer is a massive snakelike system that takes the product through the stages of powder coating. It is a key part of the process because the transported part must be grounded to produce an electrostatic field for the powder, which takes on a coronal charge after passing through the spray gun. Electrostatic charging is similar to static electricity. The high voltage, low amperage (much less than one amp) static charge causes the powder to adhere to the steel.

Once the piece is connected to the conveyor and in position, shot blasting is the next step in the powder coating process. The steel has to be stripped of all rust, welding slag, and any grease or shipping contaminants by throwing very-fine shot at the piece. This is done in the same fashion that a sandblaster cleans metal with sand abrasive.

Because of the large size of the equipment bodies, Godwin constructed a blast cleaning area that has 12 blasting wheels. The adjustable amperage of the electric motor controls the amount of shot being thrown. For large equipment bodies, the machine is set up to throw 400 pounds of shot, per minute/wheel. This is adjusted for the size of part or body being worked on, and the thickness of the material. The shot is slung from the wheel with the same velocity as a 22-caliber bullet leaving a rifle barrel.

Even the fabrication of the ancillary equipment was quite a feat, Patten says. "The shot hopper is located 45' above the blasting station and holds 18 tons of shot. The company did not want to stop operations during the powder coating process to reload the hopper; so a system of shaft augers that are loaded from ground level feeders are used to keep the bulk shot hopper full during operation."

Once inside the powder application area, the body's dimensions, including inside cavities for dump beds, are measured by a set of electronic eyes. This information is then processed via computer and the powder painting applicators set themselves at the correct distance to the product being powder coated.

Nordson, the manufacturer of the powder shooting equipment, has placed 27 automatic powder guns in the paint coating area. "We designed the painting area to handle the largest of our dump bodies," says Godwin Jr. "The 27 guns are able to do that, and they are really great at getting to areas that manual application sometimes misses."

Two men immediately inspect the work that comes off the automatic powder coating line. In addition to the automatic powder guns, two hand-held guns are used for applying powder to any areas that the inspectors might require.

Air from the powder applicator gun has to be very dry and cool to properly disperse the powder. That fact presented another challenge for the designers of this project. An outside compressor generates the air for the system and stores the air until piped underground to the powder/air-mixing container.

Coming from the outside, the air was first run through a desiccant air dryer to remove water and dry the air. It became evident to the system designers that as the air moved underground through the maze of piping, the dry hot air was cooling rapidly and becoming saturated with condensation.

"Air is a critical ingredient to the mixing operation," says Godwin Jr. "Without the right texture to the air, the coating attempt will be unsuccessful." The answer to the problem was found by installing a specially designed refrigerated air-dryer manufactured by a British firm.

The combination of air and powder being shot through the gun provides a fluid quality to the powder. "Painting with the hand held powder applicator feels just like painting with a regular paint gun," says Godwin Jr.

The powder-coated metal then takes a 180* turn into the oven area. Turning a 26-ft dump bed 180* without touching it by hand and entering a doorway that has approximately 6" of clearance on each side is only possible if the overhead conveyor system has been built with motion dampening tension attachments to control sway and yaw.

Several important design items had to be worked out for construction of the oven. The size of the oven presented temperature containment and consistency problems.

"First we decided on how to contain the heated air, which would affect the design of the oven," Patten says. "Then we looked at how to keep the temperature consistent throughout the entire oven." Building a sheer wall of blown cold air was finally decided upon for keeping the hot air inside the oven.

"The openings to the oven where the beds can go in and come out is very large," says Godwin Jr. "You can stand next to that opening and not get blasted with the 400* F heat that is circulating inside the oven."

Construction of the oven began once the method of trapping the hot oven air was determined. According to Patten, this was not a small task. For example, the burners that produce the heat are located at ground level. This heat has to be pumped throughout the entire cavity of the oven to surround the coated body.

Large heat transfer towers with blower motors were placed on each side of the oven. The towers take the heat to the top of the oven, and release it into the oven chamber.

"Another big problem was that the air might get stagnate or become dead," says Godwin Jr. This problem is handled by an air makeup system. In other words, placing a small stream of fresh air into the oven invigorates the heated air.

A key test of the oven efficiency is to measure temperature consistency. "We were able to get the top and the lower part of the oven to be within 6* F of each other on a consistent basis and through all operational temperature ranges," says Patten.

The oven temperature during operation is critically important. It must be kept constant, and it must be at the right temperature for the size, thickness, and shape of the part being baked. If the temperature is too cold, the baking process will be a failure. If it is too hot, the powder coated piece will be scorched and the coating will be defective.

The powder used for the coating is a polymer-based product. When the polymers are baked at the correct temperature, they bind together in a process called cross-polymer linking. Although the powder does not flow in the same manner as a liquid paint, a chemical fluidity causes the powder to chemically liquefy and bond into the micro-porosity of the steel.

After the powder becomes chemically bonded to the metal, it is almost impossible to separate the powder covering from the covered steel.

Once the baking process has adhered the powder to the body, then the body is sent to a cool down area and a quality control check. From there, the body is released to the installation process.

Improving the Process Pat Godwin Sr and every member of the company are actively involved in finding innovative ways to cut the long-term unit production cost. The company builds many of the machines used in the manufacturing of the beds and the upfitting of the chassis. Management strives to improve plant safty, even to the extent of having dedicated operators at some machines that have high idle time.

"Look at the overhead cranes and you will see a bucket that the operator sits in, which takes him up to the level of the instrumentation," says Godwin Jr. "We have one shop that is effectively two football fields long. We wanted a dedicated attendant to move the fabricated dump beds around to the stations. The same attendant lifts 20- to 28-foot beds every day. He knows how they will react when they are being lifted two stories high in the air."

One of the areas that Godwin Sr decided to improve was the time and number of men that it took to mount a body. "We built this several years ago after analyzing how bodies are installed on chassis," said Godwin Jr while looking at a large lift machine that's built into the ground. "With this machine, the body is placed on the lift by the upfitter who is working on the chassis. He then drives the chassis over, hydraulically moves the body to the right installation point, and places it on the chassis." Godwin uses one installer throughout the entire chassis-body mounting process.

The company always looks at the long term return or savings that the capital improvement item generates before an acquisition decision is made, says Godwin Jr. "We look at a timeless horizon when we calculate return or savings."

Godwin Jr's first experience with a capital improvement expenditure came when he convinced his father, Pat Godwin Sr, to build a service pit in the shop. "I had to install PTOs after school during the first years of our operation," he says. "I told my dad that if we built a service pit, I could install several more PTOs each day, which would give us a quicker return time on the job.

"For several weeks I investigated the construction cost, and I timed myself on the installation of PTOs. Then dad and I worked the numbers, which showed that we would save money if we built the pit," says Godwin Jr. "When we built our next installation shop, we included a service pit area where we could work on five medium-duty chassis at one time."

Pat Godwin Sr says the best labor saving device at the company is Godwin's Little Busy Bodies Daycare. "Its right across the street, it doesn't cost anything for an employee to use, and it helps us to keep employees very happy. They go over there every day to eat lunch with their children and visit them."

Patten & Associates can be reached at 704-535-7808

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