Which technological developments stand out for you?
The ability to transport coating powder directly from the delivery container (box) to the guns has significantly increased the flexibility of manual coating and also automatic coating. Another milestone was the change from stainless steel booths to plastic booths, because that led to a significant reduction in the colour change time. The increase in productivity thanks to fully automated coating systems with 3D axis technology, which was possible as many as 26 years ago and without any expensive robots at all, opened up new areas of application for powder paint. Over the entire period of development up to the present day, colour change systems with plastic booths, powder centres, vertical gun structures and semi-automated colour change processes have dramatically reduced the colour change time. Whereas it used to take between 30 and 60 minutes to change the colour, nowadays around ten minutes or less is the norm. One major win too was the changeover from mechanical control components to electronic modules because this allowed for greater precision while at the same time simplifying operation. This meant that it was possible to increase the coating quality even further. The productivity and energy efficiency of modern systems have also evolved massively. For users, it’s also great that the system's central touchscreen operation has been simplified significantly in combination with a good visualisation of the system and the process sequence.
What events have particularly shaped the surface industry?
The increased expansion into global markets a few years ago, especially to China, triggered growing cost pressures. The uniqueness of customer demands also led to a massive increase in the variety of colour, while at the same time reducing batch sizes. We all know, however, that customers no longer want to pay coaters for this flexibility. As a result, the additional work has to be compensated as much as possible through system productivity. Apart from this, tighter environmental regulations over recent years have also led to the development of new painting systems and also equipment for processing these paints - from high solids to water-soluble paints. The issue of VOCs in particular has greatly highlighted the importance of powder coating technology as an eco-friendly technology.
Which applications have impressed you personally the most?
The variety of colour shades that are now available for use as powder paint was unimaginable 25 years ago. The reduction in the colour change time, along with the associated significant boost to productivity, is also remarkable. Another topic that fascinates me is the painting processes for aluminium wheels in the automotive sector in terms of the volume and demands for quality and unit costs. The development of the best technical solutions is also a fascinating subject for me still, as is the expansion of automatic coating to large parts such as agricultural equipment, trucks and trailers.
Which of your own projects were particularly challenging?
Generally speaking, projects with a very high level of automation up to 100 per cent stick in my mind because in this instance the work associated with project management is crucial for later success. This includes project management of the biggest powder coating system for trucks, trailers and cabs, for example. The workpiece dimensions of up to 14 metres in length, coupled with the demands for a high degree of automation, eclipsed all previous projects. Accordingly, a lot of components first had to be designed and built and new coating processes developed. Also challenging was the development of a modular control concept with lots of demanding functions. The special thing about this was that this project and the components we developed were linked to the entire product portfolio and their interaction had to be taken into account.
What should get better in the future?
To eliminate the fluctuating performance and output of manual work and to give production planners more planning options, the focus needs to be on replacing more manual activities on coating systems with automated solutions. It would also be important to improve the availability of the sensors that we are currently lacking in order to further improve quality and production reliability. Generally speaking, the connection between virtual reality and the real process should also be stepped up to improve work preparation, quality control and maintenance.