Inside the Colorful, 400-Degree World of Industrial Powder Coating
Photos © Paul Cotter Photography
I always enjoy a new photographic challenge. So when I was commissioned to photograph the industrial operations at R&R Powder Coating, I welcomed the opportunity to shoot in a totally different environment.
The client gave one bit of friendly advice: "Wear old clothes and dress cool, because it gets hot near the ovens."
I'm glad I listened.
A quick word about R&R: they're a company that applies high-quality powder finishes to metal surfaces. You'll see their coatings used on everything -- cars, stadiums, baby strollers, highway guardrails, you name it. R&R has a plant in Lincolnton, NC and another in Dallas, NC.
The powders, which are available in a wide range of colors, are sprayed onto metal surfaces and baked on for a durable finish.
Photographing here was an interesting challenge -- and not just because of the intense heat and the flying powder.
I had a full shot list of subjects to cover, requiring a visit to both plants. Things moved quickly, because they have tight production deadlines. There was no time for elaborate lighting setups. A large part like the one above could be sitting there one minute and gone the next.
In a sense, it was like shooting a football game. Move quickly, think on your feet, be ready for the next shot in their five-step process.
Step 1: Pretreatment
Here's where it starts: Before the powder coating can be applied, all parts are washed and rinsed, then dried in special ovens.
Step 2: Masking & Plugging
Tape is used to mask any areas of a part that shouldn't be coated. Screw holes and other openings that need to be kept powder-free are plugged.
Step 3: Powder Coating
After the parts are fully cleaned and prepped, the powder coating is sprayed on. The powder particles are electrostatically charged, allowing them to cling to the metal until the coating is baked on for a permanent finish.
Here you see them spraying bright green powder onto the bases used for holiday wreaths. R&R delivers about one million of these coated wreath bases every year.
I wasn't wearing a ventilator mask like these guys were. To protect my lungs (and my camera gear) during spraying, I kept a good distance and used a telephoto lens.
I'd like to give a shout out to Elias Rauch, who was my lighting assistant on this busy shoot day. He played a key role in capturing the best view of this bright orange coating being applied.
The R&R worker was buzzing all around the spray booth, ensuring that he covered every inch of the part evenly. As I looked down to change camera lenses quickly, the worker moved directly behind the part for a brief instant and then kept working his way around. Elias saw what I'd missed during the lens change and suggested, "We should see if he can move to the back again. It looked really cool."
The worker had production deadlines to meet, and he needed to be careful not to spray too much powder in one spot or he could ruin the coating. But he agreed to step back quickly so I could grab the shot.
Remember when they said it would be hot in here? They weren't kidding. The large ovens used to bake the powder coating onto the metal will reach temperatures of about 400 degrees.
When you've got a hot summer day to begin with ... well, let's just say you won't be needing your sweater around these ovens.
Step 4: Quality Control
Absolute consistency is crucial to success in this business. Three key tests are performed on every part to assure uniform thickness, durability and coverage of the powder coating.
Step 5: Packaging & Shipping
Finally, the finished parts are securely packaged to prevent damage and then shipped to R&R's customers. You never thought this much work went into your holiday wreath, did you?
I'd like to thank R&R Powder Coating and the folks at Lyerly Agency (R&R's marketing communications firm) for hiring me to shoot the plant facility photos and write the copy for R&R's new website.
In spite of the heat, it was a very cool day.
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