Seeing is believing when it comes to Compass Powder Coating’s Mike Tashash.
So when he heard about the inroads being made in coating wood and medium-density fiberboard (MDF), he had to put his own eyes on the process.
Located in Middletown, Connecticut, Compass Powder Coating’s owner has wanted to diversify his coating operation for several years and widen his customer base even further.
That’s why he took a trip to Texas to oven manufacturer WolfRayet a few months ago to see firsthand how the MDF/wood technology worked and if it could add to his operation.
Investing in New Equipment
“There’s only like a handful of people doing powder on wood,” Tashash says. “We heard about how the technology has really gotten better, but we still had to see it for ourselves. That’s when we pulled the trigger on investing in it because we feel the market is wide open.”
Tashash and Compass Powder Coating have gone all in: they recently purchased an automatic powder booth from Wagner Industries, two catalytic infra-red ovens from WolfRayet, and a conveyorized line from Nikotrack.
They will begin powder coating wood/MDF parts by the end of the first quarter of 2024, and Tashash says they will be one of the first custom-contract coaters that have the ability to coat MDF/wood.
“Which is very exciting for us,” he says. “We see that it’s going to be the wave of the future of painting wood or MDF.”
Aside from widening their customer and industry base, Tashash says he is making these major investments in equipment and technology for several reasons, and many are what he sees as breakthroughs for the MDF/wood, which has traditionally been coated by liquid applications.
Low-Cure Powder Coat Growing in Popularity
Tashash quickly lists why he thinks more manufacturers will go to powder coating over liquid paint:
- Durability: powder coating enhances the longevity of wooden and MDF products, making them resistant to scratches, moisture, and UV damage.
- Environmental Friendliness: Ii is an eco-friendly method, as it produces minimal waste, emits no VOCs, and can be applied without solvents.
- Versatility: powder coating offers an extensive range of colors, textures, and finishes, allowing for creative design possibilities.
- Cost-effectiveness: powder can be more cost-effective in the long run, as it reduces the need for frequent maintenance and refinishing.
- Application Diversity: from furniture and cabinetry to architectural elements and artistic creations, powder coating opens up new possibilities for wood and MDF applications.
Tashash says environmental regulations will drive more OEMs to powder coat and away from liquid.
“They are just clamping down harder, and it’s just coming to the point where wet painting for MDF or wood is just not going be viable,” he says. “The fact that you can even do it with powder coating is amazing, and the technology that they have implemented has come a long way.”
The journey started with a trip to WolfRayet’s Texas headquarters, where Tashash saw firsthand how they design and manufacture gas catalytic IR ovens and pre-gel ovens for the metal powder coating industry, as well as entire powder coating systems for MDF and heat-sensitive substrates.
WolfRayet set up demonstration lines to showcase the various levels of systems, including the Galaxy 6 system designed to run at six feet per minute for medium to large-scale operations. Each system can be customized at the initial design stage to fit the available space, and the Galaxy Lyte is an easy-to-use small-scale system that is suited for low-volume coaters to achieve a high-quality coating finish.
What is key with both systems is that they can also coat and cure metal parts; this helps with ROI as the market for powder on wood-based products further develops.
Show Me: Convincing Coaters to add MDF/Wood
WolfRayet’s Chief Technical and Strategy Officer, says Tashash and Compass Powder Coating are like so many others in the powder coating industry who have to put their own eyes on the process to see how it works.Mike Chapman,
“You would think everyone was from Missouri, which is the ‘Show Me’ state,” Chapman says.
Tashash brought some MDF samples with him to Texas to coat, and Chapman joked that it was the “worst type of MDF you could possibly get” as it was relatively soft. But even with the poor substrate, Chapman says their IR ovens handled the test well.
“Once they saw how easy it was to do the minute and a half of preheat, and then the five to six minutes of cure time, and we got it right off of the bat immediately, we got it right,” he says. “We two-coated, and it looked great. And we used some higher grade HDF — which is typically what’s used in the cabinet business — and of course that, that went off very well.”
WolfRayet did two or three different colors and even different types of powder and finishes to show Tashash how it can be done easily with the right equipment. WolfRayet is a sister company of powder coating supplier IFS Coatings, but works with most any spray equipment.
“We were skeptical,” Tashash says. “We were thinking they were not going to do it the first try, and they did it. We were like, ‘Wow, this amazing.’”
Origins from Sheet Metal Shop
For Compass Powder Coating — which has only been in existence for five years — seeing how the MDF/wood market could soon be open to them is exciting.
The shop was founded in 2018 by Mike’s father, Lou Tashash, and Mike’s sister, Megan. Lou previously owned a sheet metal shop and had difficulty getting parts turned around quickly and with good quality. He tried to add a powder coat booth to his business, and while that worked for a little bit, it became a bottleneck in the line of operations, so he tried outside vendors.
But the metal shop was getting the same result: parts were not turned quickly, and there were quality issues. That’s when the Tashashs decided to open Compass Powder Coating as a means of fixing a problem their sheet metal shop was facing.
They are in a 35,000-square-foot building with an 877-foot above-head conveyor, with 10 employees; they will soon be in the process of hiring an additional 6-8 employees for the new venture with the MDF/wood powder coating line.
Compass’ current metal powder coating system was installed by Midwest Finishing and features an overhead conveyor system consisting of a 4-stage wash tank, a dry-off oven, a pair of Gema spray booths, and a curing oven.
While the current line cycles about four times in one 8-hour shift, the new MDF/wood line will be able to do about 12 rotations in an 8-hour shift.
Taking Pride In Core Values of Quality Work
Whitney Woodcock, who runs the business office for Compass Powder Coating, says they have about 35-45 companies in and around Connecticut, with one box truck that makes all of their deliveries, as well as clients coming and going all day.
“We take pride in our core values of quality of work, the urgency of turnaround times, and cleanliness of our workspaces,” she says. “Our quality is one of the best, and our turnaround time is 3-5 business days from the time the parts hit our shop until they are ready for pick up.”
Woodcock says the shop is shut down every Friday afternoon for cleaning and restocking for Monday morning, and their floors are swept, booths cleaned, and every workspace is restocked with appropriate necessities.
WolfRayet’s Chapman says he believes Compass will be able to pick up a large amount of MDF/woodwork because their location is central to many metropolitan areas, as Tashash looks to focus on the point-of-purchase industry where MDF and metal are often intertwined in the displays.
“If you look at the location in Connecticut, they are less than 120 miles to New York City,” Chapman says. “And then you take that radius — you go all the way over Long Island, and then back up into, almost into Rhode Island — and there’s a number of point of purchase display companies.”
Tashash knows that he and his team still have a learning curve on dialing in the MDF/wood powder coating process, but he is confident with the help of WolfRayet and the Wagner teams, they can quickly get the process down.
“It’s not going be a cakewalk,” he says. “There’s going be some challenges to overcome, but it’s why I flew down to Texas and saw firsthand how they do it right from the start. So I don’t see why we can’t learn to do the same thing.”