Ready to proof - CLJ 11/23/22


By Kristin Johansson, Associate Publisher/Chief Editor | PCI

PCI Visits With AkzoNobel in Nashville

In November, AkzoNobel invited PCI's associate editor, Courtney Bassett, and me to tour its powder coatings manufacturing site in Nashville, TN, as well as interview Michael Friede, Chief Commercial Officer, and John Griffin, Director of the North America Region and Commercial Director of the Automotive & Specialty Coatings business, at the company’s nearby North America headquarters. We were excited to receive the invitation. Visits like these help us learn more about the industry and the latest technology, which results in better content for our readers. We also enjoy getting to know the people behind the press releases, articles and subscription forms!

In 2002, AkzoNobel purchased the Nashville manufacturing site from a glass manufacturer, and retrofitted it to produce powder coatings. The company’s robust North America technical support includes scientists at the Nashville site that connect into a broader R&D community with designated R&D facilities in Troy, Michigan, Strongsville, Ohio, and Reading, Pennsylvania, focusing on high-performance, high-quality and next-generation powder technology innovations.

AkzoNobel's Interpon® and Resicoat® powder coatings offer a variety of finishes including gloss, matt, structured and metallic, and coat products like window and door frames, pipes, alloy wheels, car components, radiators, metal furniture, home appliances, shelves, barbecues, electric motors, batteries, valves, and more. The Nashville site employs 150 people and manufactures powder coatings primarily for the automotive industry, but serves other markets as well.

Our visit started as Cody Richards, continuous improvement manager, Blake Holder, plant engineer, and Aaron Woods, head of regional communications – North America, treated us to a guided tour of the facility, where they explained the manufacturing process and answered our questions about the powder coating market and its trends.

The site handles over 200 solid raw materials used to make powder coatings. In the mix loading area these materials are selected, precisely weighed and placed into a mixing vessel. A high-quality, computer-controlled scale system and tolerance scanner ensure that all amounts are accurate. As Richards pointed out, quality at the front end helps with product quality throughout the entire process.

Window, Community, Plant

From left to right, Cody Richards, Kristin Johansson, Courtney Bassett, Aaron Woods and Blake Holder.

From here, the materials are blended into a homogeneous mixture, and then gravity-fed into an extruder, "where the magic happens," as Holder noted. Courtney and I had only ever seen a lab-scale extruder, so learning about the production-sized unit was really interesting. The extruder's screws provide different functions, including transporting and mixing the solid premix, to melting and mixing it. Product coming out of the extruder can be anywhere from 250-300 °F, so cooling rollers spread it into thin sheets, which bring the temperature down to 100-125 °F.

As parts of each batch exit the extruder, the sheets are broken up into small chips and sent to Quality Control (QC) to test the surface properties and color. If a chip doesn’t pass QC, the remaining mixture is sent back to the mixing area for adjustments. Richards stated that involving production teams in quality control and testing makes for a more collaborative process that makes everyone feel involved and take ownership of the product they are creating. He also mentioned how proud he is of the site’s record of producing batches that are “right the first time,” which saves time, money, re-work, and scrap product.

All product that passes inspection is transferred into a mill, where the rotor and classifier break the chips into fine particles suitable for spraying. A screener captures any large particles and feeds them back through. From here, the final product is packaged in boxes, bulk boxes, drums and super sacks, weighed, labelled and shipped out.

Batch sizes vary, however Richards and Holder noted that over the years they have become smaller as customers have moved more to a “just in time” inventory system. This has shifted somewhat in the last two years, however, as COVID-19 and the global supply chain crisis have motivated companies to order larger batches in order to have more supply on hand.

This AkzoNobel facility also has a Rapid Supply Unit (RSU), which caters to smaller (500 kg or less), specific customer requests that are turned around in five days. Holder noted that they expect to see more RSU orders in coming years, as customers discover new ways to use powder coatings and want to test them out on a smaller scale.

Holder also commented on how much growth and change he has seen in the powder coatings industry over his 34-year career. Raw materials continue to improve, allowing powder to be used on new substrates such as heat-sensitive wood and plastic. New markets have opened up for powder coatings as well, such as electronic vehicles (EVs). In fact, one of the products that AkzoNobel produces at this site is a powder coating for EV battery compartments. Powder coating is good for these components because it insulates to prevent shock and helps protect against battery corrosion.

When asked what their ongoing manufacturing challenges are, Richards and Holder noted that adjusting to changing customer demands and looking for equipment that will allow them to be more efficient are at the top of their list.

After our tour, Aaron Woods took us to the company's North America headquarters where we spent several hours talking with Michael Friede and John Griffin about the latest trends and exciting new technologies that AkzoNobel has developed to meet customer and regulatory demands. We look forward to reporting on what we learned during our conversation in our February 2023 issue.

Many thanks to everyone involved in making our visit happen, and for taking the time to share their knowledge, experience, and passion for coatings with us. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit and learned a lot!