A lot has changed since 1969, and not just in the areas of music, sports and space exploration. Manufacturing has also evolved, as have individual companies in the industry, including GFG Inc., Sussex, Wis., which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.
GFG has always been based in the Milwaukee area, and its sales operations and manufacturing facilities are there, too. It’s been at its current location for 10 years.
But, Alan Roehrig, president, says roughly 90 percent of the company’s business is international.
GFG’s products are distributed in more than 40 countries, including Argentina, Belgium, Hungary, Morocco, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam.
Roehrig also says GFG focuses on two major product lines. One is its Peabody electrostatic oilers, which, he says, are used in continuous process lines to apply oils onto strip.
"These pieces of equipment are used in various stages of steel and aluminum manufacture to protect the strip from rusting while it’s waiting for a different process," says Roehrig.
GFG’s other major product line consists of its roll coaters, laminators and embossers, devices that are geared toward the continuous coil coating business.
Face in the crowd
Included in this set of equipment is the U Coater, which is about 8 feet wide, 8 feet tall and 19 feet deep. On its own, the coater weighs roughly 32,000 pounds. The drive stand that’s associated with the coater adds about 4,000 pounds to the weight and roughly 10 feet to the width.
"The coater is used to apply coating onto the top side of a metal strip," says Roehrig. "It’s used in a continuous process line, which means the strip is constantly being fed through the line."
He also says the U Coater has one top-side head, but it’s designed to accept a second head in the future, if necessary. This would enable the end user to provide quick color change to the strip, which is a key element for one business area in particular.
"In the coil coating industry, most of the end product is used in construction," says Roehrig. "The demands there are for various colors, so it’s important for coaters to be able to have the ability to do quick color change in order to increase their productivity."
Used primarily in continuous coil coating lines, the U Coater has a high level of flexibility in terms of the materials it can process.
"The coater has the ability to paint virtually all types of primed coats or finished coats onto steel or aluminum strip," says Roehrig. "It also has the ability to print patterns onto the strip. In some cases, people like to print a wood grain or a decorative pattern."
Additionally, the U Coater can be used in continuous galvanizing lines to apply various chemicals, according to Roehrig.
"It would be used in that case to coat either chromate or phosphate or an acrylic resin," he says. "And it also has the ability to coat the chrome-free coatings that are currently being being developed and introduced by various chemical companies."
One company that has found success with the U Coater is Roll Coater Inc., Indianapolis. As with GFG, the company has a long history, having been founded in the early 1950s. It offers painting, laminating, tension leveling, slitting and embossing services, among others.
In addition to its headquarters, Roll Coater has facilities in Weirton, W.Va.; Kingsbury, Ind.; Greenfield, Ind.; Hawesville, Ky.; and Armorel, Ark.
About two years ago, the company acquired its U Coater, which was installed at its Arkansas plant. Doug Robbins, vice president of quality and product development, says the reason for purchasing the U Coater was twofold.
"Not only were we building a new plant in Armorel, Ark., but this is the latest and greatest technology for coaters," he says. "We wanted to be state of the art, and that’s why we chose to buy the new coater."
All of the products that Roll Coater coats at the Arkansas facility go through the U Coater, and these range from HVAC parts to construction products to lighting fixtures to appliances to office supplies.
Further, the actual metals that go through the U Coater include hot-dip galvanized, electro-galvanized, galvalume, galvanneal and cold-rolled steel.
But this is just scratching the surface in terms of the crucial role the U Coater plays for Roll Coater, according to Robbins.
"Basically, all substrates are readily coated with that device," says Robbins. "[But] what’s more important is that we’re charged to apply organic coatings to whatever substrate we’re supplied."
These coatings cover a wide spectrum, and without a dependable, high-quality coater, they can present challenges in regard to their application.
"It’s important that the U Coater can deal with all the various types of coatings, from textured coatings to polyesters, urethanes and epoxies, and still get a good result," says Robbins. "The fact that it can deal with all those different types of coatings is a critical part--and even more so than just the flat substrates that it goes over."
Keeping up appearances
Robbins also says Roll Coater does a lot of specialty coatings, such as textured coatings, which are key in terms of many requirements related to aesthetics.
"You want a certain appearance from that," he says. "The U Coater does a beautiful job in applying a uniform, nonlinear, textured pattern. It looks random to the eye and is just aesthetically beautiful."
This is also the area in which the U Coater has especially excelled and had a positive impact on Roll Coater, according to Robbins, one that can’t be quantified.
"Anybody can hit hard numbers," he says. "You tell me you want a [particular] coating on there, and you want a certain result from that. What really brings in the expertise and the artistic nature of the product is being able to get an aesthetic result, where you’re looking at it and saying, ‘It’s pleasing to the eye. Look how nice that pattern is.’ The fact that you don’t see a pattern is even better. We get that aesthetic result that the customer is looking for that you can’t always define."
And even though the U Coater is at just its Arkansas plant, Roll Coater is committed to providing high-quality coated products at all of its facilities, according to Robbins.
"We continue to do significant capital improvement to all of our plants so that we can stay [cutting edge] and continue to address the ever-changing needs in the coil coating industry," he says. MM