From general to application-specific, industrial metal coatings provide a wide range of functions for manufacturers. Market research suggests the industrial coatings market will grow into a $139 billion industry by 2024. New technologies, competition for eco-friendly coating solutions and developing markets and applications for coatings all add up to a bright time for the industry.
Nevertheless, how can you choose the right industrial metal coating? There are lots of familiar and novel options available, each with a slightly different set of attributes and applications. Let this be your quick guide to the benefits of industrial metal coatings and your first step toward choosing the right one for your process and product.
Since each type of industrial coating has different startup and operational costs, you want to be sure you’re getting something that adds value to your product. What are the benefits of industrial metal coatings, and how do they contribute to your value chain?
Manufacturers use industrial metal coatings to finish, protect and beautify the surfaces of their metal products and parts. The term can also apply to metal finishes applied to non-metal products, such as plated plastic. Metal coatings may be painted or sprayed onto the surface, or they can use a delivery mechanism like hot dipping, anodizing or electroplating.
The chief benefit of applying a metal coating is protection — from corrosion, chemicals, fire and other elements that would have brought harm to the product. Some metal coatings are primarily aesthetic in function, and others prioritize protection. Here’s a more complete list of the leading benefits manufacturers enjoy when they choose an industrial metal coating:
Metal products — like tools, vehicles and the many separate components within — are subjected to corrosive conditions almost daily. Oxygen and moisture are enough to kick-start rust, and salt or sulfur dioxide can both quicken the rate at which the metal deteriorates.
The amount of value added to a product by a metal coating, in terms of its appeal, durability and longevity, is far higher than the cost of the coating itself. With the basic benefits accounted for, the next question is which type of coating is right for the project at hand.
Modern coating technology has come a long way and offers far more protective and longer-lasting options than ever. Each coating option has different priming and heat-curing requirements, works best on different surfaces and requires specific techniques for a consistent, high-quality application.
Here’s a rundown of some of the top metal coating types and why you might — or might not — choose each one.
Liquid paints are still some of the most beneficial and cost-effective coating types out there. A manufacturer might choose liquid paint if:
Applying a liquid paint coating opens a world of color possibilities and specialty finishes, too, such as metallic flakes. Liquid paints are most frequently associated with what industry professionals call a “Class A” finish, known for its smoothness and consistency. Plus, adjusting the amount of pigment delivered by the paint system lets manufacturers control the amount of gloss present on the final product’s surface.
Suffice it to say, there are lots of ways to customize a painted coating on a metal part. Paint has become more durable over the years, too, meaning years-long protection from corrosion and the elements if owners observe essential maintenance and cleaning protocols.
As common as paints are, the following choices improve on liquid paint coatings in key ways, including longevity and a greater range of protection.
Unlike brushing or spraying a paint coating in place, powder coatings use electrostatically charged paint pigment powder to bind the layer to a surface permanently. The chief benefit of powder coatings over liquid coatings is that they’re more durable. They’re also an increasingly environmentally-friendly alternative over paints.
Powder coatings are less wasteful, too. Only the material needed for an even coat is applied, unlike with paint, which can overshoot the workpiece and introduce VOCs into the environment.
One downside to powder coatings is that they are more energy-intensive to apply than other coating types. However, with a forgiving learning curve for technicians to use it, and excellent scratch resistance and long-term durability, powder coatings are a perfect fit for lots of different products. You’ll find it on gates, furniture, vehicle and bike frames, appliances, road signs and elsewhere.
You can think of e-coatings – or electrophoretic deposition – as the liquid version of a powder coat. With e-coatings, manufacturers submerge a workpiece into a liquid paint bath and then electrify the vessel so that the paint adheres to the surface of the workpiece. Some of the benefits include:
There are further distinctions within the e-coatings category, too. Cathodic epoxy electrocoatings are the best choice for priming due to their better adhesion. Cathodic acrylic electrocoats, on the other hand, are best for topcoats and provide better UV protection.
E-coating isn’t a new technique — it dates back to the 1930s. However, as the technology has evolved, it’s become a staple in heavy equipment manufacturing, switchgear and other electrical components and anyplace else where corrosion and durability have a major impact.
Metal plating is a little different from coating in that it covers the product’s surface with another metal instead of with paint. Applying a metal coating to a product, such as chromium, means almost no risk of flaking during the product’s lifespan, giving metal plating a significant advantage over paints.
Applying aluminum or zinc on top of structural metals, including steel, offers benefits too. Hot-dipping with zinc is an inexpensive way to create a sacrificial layer that protects the steel from corrosion, particularly around edges and punched holes. It’s standard in stamped automobile parts.
Coating with aluminum, meanwhile, offers heat resistance, corrosion protection and durability to the underlying product. Its ability to resist high temperatures makes it a common addition to muffler systems, heat exchangers, heat shields, reflectors, pollution control equipment and catalytic converters.
Gold, silver, tin and nickel are other common choices for metal coatings. Gold and silver are the priciest options, but they’re also the most conductive of electricity, making them standard in electrical component manufacturing.
Feeling better prepared to navigate the world of industrial metal coatings? As customer expectations and production requirements evolve, coatings will continue to advance too.
When it’s time to choose a coating, research all of your options and always keep the product — and the user experience — top-of-mind before making your decision. Whether for minimizing maintenance requirements or merely providing a pleasing surface for customers to touch, coatings aren’t an afterthought. They’re crucial to the user experience and your continued success.
Article by —
Megan Ray Nichols
Freelance Science Writer
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