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There are many ways for a business to succeed. Timing might be the key. Maybe there’s a gap in the market. It could be inventing a new product. Or, even something as simple as slightly changing the functionality of a product to give it a new dimension.
When it comes to industrial spray booths, Process Finishing Solutions managing director, Chris Emmins, saw some of those things when he decided to launch his own spray booth manufacturing business. But he saw one other important area – he knew he could make a more suitable product than what was being offered to the industry.
Starting out selling automotive paint in the mid-1970s, Emmins began to focus on spray equipment and then spray booths. It was a natural progression for him to move into automated painting systems.
“In those days I was selling other people’s booths and I was having a lot of trouble with them,” he said. “They were Australian-made, and while the manufacturers said they met Australian standards, that didn’t mean they were good quality. They were always breaking down, so there was plenty of work doing maintenance.
“But I hated doing the same repairs to the same booths all the time. I was thinking ‘surely I can improve some of these designs’. I starting building my own and I soon worked out what to do and what not to do. It wasn’t necessarily the cheapest way to go at the time so we didn’t grow as well as we wanted, but I enjoyed the challenge and the learning experience.”
With his long experience and knowledge of selling paint and spray equipment into the industrial market, it was another natural progression to start designing spray booths for industrial applications. It became clear that many process and manufacturing plants had different requirements, which meant booths needed a different range of specifications than a traditional automotive spray booth.
Automotive refinish is a huge market for spray booth suppliers so competition is fierce. But most companies import booths. They are not task specific or comprehensively purpose-built. Businesses are being sold an automotive booth even if it isn’t the best booth for the job.
“What tended to happen was that all the spray booth manufacturers were selling automotive spray booths for industrial applications,” said Emmins. “But an automotive spray booth is designed to do something different. We did a job not long ago where a guy was painting wheels and all the booth companies tried to sell him car booths. It just wasn’t right. We designed a system for the same price that has more than double the output, with lower running costs”
A production manager who is trying to persuade the boss to invest in a spray booth to paint industrial products – especially large quantities – may be thinking, ‘well, a spray booth is a spray booth, right?’ Think again. There are specific criteria that need to be considered – particularly the quantity of paint being used and the booth’s capacity for dealing with overspray, Emmins explains.
“An automotive booth that is used as it is designed, will go through an average of 10 litres of paint a day, generally resulting in six litres on the job and four litres that needs to be extracted through the filters. Under normal usage, filters should last about three months before then need to be replaced.
“But in a high production shop, it’s more likely the operator is using about 100 litres of paint a day. Again using an automotive booth will result in 40 litres going through the filters. Instead of changing them every three months, you might have to change them weekly.”
This significant increase in maintenance requirements is costly in terms of not only filter and labour costs, but lost production and delayed through-put.
It’s just one feature that isn’t obvious to many until after the booth has been set up and operating.
“The right industrial booth won’t blow your maintenance budget and dampen your production schedule. Booths with true water-wash systems don’t have filters significantly, reducing maintenance costs,” he said. “The booth can run for six to 12 months– depending on your production – without any changes. Regular housekeeping is still required but there is little downtime maintenance.
“That’s the big difference between buying a typical automotive spray booth and one specifically designed to do an industrial job.”
Emmins said it’s understandable that some companies primarily consider upfront costs when investing in major plant equipment such as a spray booth. But he warns that some low-budget options – especially some imported booths – do not meet Australian standards. And bringing them up to local compliance can be very costly.
“We had a situation where a business bought a couple of spray booths from China,” he said. “He paid about $20,000 to $25,000 and it got to inspection stage but he couldn’t get it up and running.
“The gas company was not going to connect the gas and the electricity company was not going to connect the power. It cost him $65,000 to get the modifications needed to meet Australian requirements.”
Emmins said the key element that Process Finishing Solutions offers is customisation.
“We ensure that our booths can handle the specific volumes required. We make sure that it sits nicely in the space allocated by the company, and is to the budget specified.
“Recently, we designed a system that fits into a small footprint of a customer’s workshop, and it is fully automated,” he said. “They wanted one to one-and-a-half people to operate it.
“We’ve managed to put in a system that works with one person operating it four hours per day, but giving the same output.
Emmins believes that the high cost of wages in Australia is forcing industry to automate finishing systems
“Manufacturing has been automated for years but the painting side has generally remained manual,” Emmins says.
“I think the cost of robotics is coming down so there will come a point where a well-designed automated system will work out more cost effective.”
“Painting is also a different dynamic. There are a lot of companies that can supply a CNC lathe or laser to cut and fold sheet metal. With painting, it’s not straight forward. We have the ideas and experience now to offer smart solutions for just about any application.
“Every job has to be made to suit the product that is being made. “We have the ability to customise, but keep it simple.”