Design News: How has precision decorating evolved over the years at Phillips?
Steve Axtman, plant manager, Phillips Plastics Precision Decorating facility: Our precision decorating operation, based in Hudson, WI, is the second oldest facility in the corporation. We started off producing a proprietary line of knobs and then about 18 years ago moved into more specialized areas, such as paint laser-etching, which addressed the growing interest in backlit components.We began with one paint system and one type of laser and now have grown to the point where we a multitude of paint types, three paint systems and five dual-head lasers.
When do customers typically begin to think about precision decorating?
Axtman: For the best results, customers should be thinking about the finishing process right at the design stage. You really need to design a part to enhance painting. For example, when you have parts with sharp angles, paint tends to build up on the edges to create a windowing effect, or it will chip off. So thinking about the geometric shape of parts is very important if you want a robust decorating process.
When in the manufacturing process does decorating occur?
Axtman: We first injection-mold the part. Our facility has 18 injection molding machines, but we also take parts coming from our custom molding and multi-shot molding facilities. Whatever the source, we automatically load the parts onto paint fixtures and move them to the paint system. When they come out of the oven, the parts can them move to another station for further finishing, such as laser-etching for backlit components. It then goes to the assembly department.
How long does it take for a part to go through all these stages?
Axtman: About 48 hours. And the projects we handle can range from as low as 1000 parts into the millions.
What about lead times for projects?
Axtman: Starting with the design stage for a part and moving to the completion of the decorating process, most projects takes from 10 to 12 weeks, but we can move faster than that if needed.
What are some of the finishes that tend to be popular today with customers?
Axtman: The most popular finishes today are metallics and high-gloss finishes, as well as textured finishes, such as the soft-feel finishes. Metallics tend to be multi-coast systems, while high-gloss starts with a base coat and then a clear finishing coat. Texturing is accomplished either by designing that effect into the part or by adding texture to the paint.
Whatís involved with laser-etching?
Axtman: Letís take the radio in your car as an example. The buttons typically will have nice white graphics. To accomplish that effect, the part is molded in a clear or translucent color. Then the part gets a white coat of paint, and then a black coat. With the laser-etching process, we create the desired graphic by removing the black layer. The resulting effect is that you have color in the day time, and at night, when you turn your lights on, the graphics light up.
What about the laser marking option?
Axtman: Here, we use lasing on the raw resin to create a graphic that is much more durable than pad printing or hot stamping. Laser marking has become very popular for applying graphics to plastic plumbing fixtures, such as shower heads and faucet knobs. For John Deere, we are laser-marking graphics on the control space for a deck-lowering unit. In the medical area, we mark a graphic arrow on an insulin pen that helps set up the correct dosage. These are just a few examples, but the point is that you can achieve very precise, clear and durable graphics.
Taking a look inside your facility, can you describe what would be your state of the art paint system?
Axtman: That would be our new paint 5 machine, which is literally a city within a city. It has its own HVAC system, power system and air filtration system. It features 5 robots and one of the industryís most advanced cleaning systems. In the cleaning system, which was adapted from techniques used in the semiconductor industry, we take very clean CO≤ under high pressure and create snow. When this substance hits a part, it mechanically moves debris, and then a vacuum system removes the debris. After the parts are cleaned, they go through a preheat system, which relaxes the molecular structure for better paint adhesion. A smart conveyor then takes the part to one of the systemís two booths, where they are painted by a six-axis robot. As an example of what we can do, a robot would apply a base coat to a part in booth number one. Then the part would go off for a quick heated flash-off operation before going into booth number two where it gets a high-gloss clear coat. Finally, the part enters a full bake oven.
What is the range of industries that you serve with your facility?
Axtman: For many years, automotive has dominated our customer list, but we have a strong push to diversify to other applications as well. We are looking to bring in new program in such as areas as sporting goods, consumer durables, electronics, and even cosmetic cases. Besides decorating parts that we have molded, we can also decorate and assemble parts that others have produced. We are really encouraging our staff to think out of the box and suggest new precision decorating ideas to customers that are both cost effective and visually appealing. More customers also understand that the Phillips Plastics precision decorating operation gives them one-stop-stopping: molding, a wide range of finishes, lasing and assembly.
|Equipment for precision decorating at Phillips includes: 18 molding machines, three automated paint systems and five dual-head lasers.