Powder coating is a type of dry coating, which is applied as a free-flowing, dry powder. The main difference between a conventional liquid paint and a powder coating is that the powder coating does not require a solvent to keep the binder and filler parts in a liquid suspension form.
The coating is typically applied electrostatically and is then cured under heat to allow it to flow and form a "skin." The powder may be a thermoplastic or a thermoset polymer. It is usually used to create a hard finish that is tougher than conventional paint. Powder coating is mainly used for coating of metals, such as "white goods", aluminium extrusions, and automobile and motorcycle parts.
There are several advantages of powder coating over conventional liquid coatings:
- Powder coatings emit zero or near zero volatile organic compounds (VOC).
- Powder coatings can produce much thicker coatings than conventional liquid coatings without running or sagging.
- Powder coating overspray can be recycled and thus it is possible to achieve nearly 100% use of the coating.
- Powder coating production lines produce less hazardous waste than conventional liquid coatings.
- Capital equipment and operating costs for a powder line are generally less than for conventional liquid lines.
- Powder coated items generally have fewer appearance differences between horizontally coated surfaces and vertically coated surfaces than liquid coated items.
- A wide range of specialty effects is easily accomplished which would be impossible to achieve with other coating processes.
- While powder coatings have many advantages over other coating processes, there are limitations to the technology. While it is relatively easy to apply thick coatings which have smooth, texture-free surfaces, it is not as easy to apply smooth thin films. As the film thickness is reduced, the film becomes more and more orange peeled in texture due to the particle size and TG (glass transition temperature) of the powder.
For optimum material handling and ease of application, most powder coatings have a particle size in the range of 30 to 50 μm and a TG > 40° C. For such powder coatings, film build-ups of greater than 50 μm may be required to obtain an acceptably smooth film. The surface texture which is considered desirable or acceptable depends on the end product. Many manufacturers actually prefer to have a certain degree of orange peel since it helps to hide metal defects that have occurred during manufacture, and the resulting coating is less prone to show fingerprints.
There are very specialized operations where powder coatings of less than 30 micrometres or with a TG < 40° C are used in order to produce smooth thin films. One variation of the dry powder coating process, the Powder Slurry process, combines the advantages of powder coatings and liquid coatings by dispersing very fine powders of 1–5 micon particle size into water, which then allows very smooth, low film thickness coatings to be produced.
Powder coatings have a major advantage in that the overspray can be recycled. However, if multiple colors are being sprayed in a single spray booth, this may limit the ability to recycle the overspray.
Types of powder coatings
There are two main categories of powder coatings: Thermosets and thermoplastics. The thermosetting variety incorporates a cross-linker into the formulation. When the powder is baked, it reacts with other chemical groups in the powder polymer and increases the molecular weight and improves the performance properties. The thermoplastic variety does not undergo any additional reactions during the baking process, but rather only flows out into the final coating.
The most common polymers used are polyester, polyester-epoxy (known as hybrid), straight epoxy (Fusion bonded epoxy) and acrylics.
- The polymer granules are mixed with hardener, pigments and other powder ingredients in a mixer
- The mixture is heated in an extruder
- The extruded mixture is rolled flat, cooled and broken into small chips
- The chips are milled to make a fine powder