Coating Matters | How To Choose a Coating Site

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What came first, the chicken or the egg? When determining how to initiate a new product in the marketplace, most converting companies face a similar paradox. Do you build a coating line and invest in the infrastructure designed around a product, or do you contract out the coating until the product has a proven track record? It depends.

Let’s face it, if you have a test tube of fluid and a couple hand-spreads of coated product to show customers in a potential market, a lot of process and material variables can change as you scale up to manufacturing levels. So until the product has developed a place in the market, it would make a lot of sense to develop an agreement with a contract coating facility (a toll coater) to take on the process efforts while you go through raw material iterations and respond to customer feedback. Contract coaters provide existing, proven coating capabilities and a trained and knowledgeable staff.

The difficulty in utilizing contract facilities, however, is that what makes your product unique may require an investment from your company. While an investment in another facility may seem like money wasted in a manufacturing site that your company does not own, it is good to view the investment as “buying time.”

Let’s say you have a product that requires ultraviolet (UV) curing to bring out the special product performance you have built into the technology, but the contract coating facility you would like to use does not have UV curing capability. Purchasing a UV cure station (or splitting the cost with the toll coater) provides you with the ability to spend far less money than you would on upgrading an existing line or taking time out of existing manufacturing capacity to run a new product.

A small investment can go a long way. You are not only buying time, but you are also buying expertise. You are the expert of your product, but the contract coater is the expert of their process. The learning curve for a new coating facility (usually with new coating operators) is steep, and you may not have the time available to allow for this education.

Toll coating is not always the best option. If you have run trials and scaled up the product to production levels, it may make more sense to purchase a new coating line. Just remember, it does take time to manufacture the coating equipment and install the process at your location. Utilizing a toll coater for the time you are waiting for your own equipment is useful. But don’t forget your customer. Unless you are purchasing a duplicate machine, the product may run differently on your production line than it did at the toll coater.

There are many variables to consider when you are developing a new product for the coating marketplace, and the decision depends on the complication inherent in your technology and the dollars you would need to invest to bring the product to market.

Whether you decide to invest in new equipment or utilize a contract coating location, keep your future in mind. What you introduce to the marketplace will be the basis of customer expectations going forward.

Roll-to-roll coating industry expert Mark Miller, owner of Coating Tech Service, has 14+ years of slot die coating experience and troubleshooting. Contact him at 612-605-6019; mark@coatingtechservice.com; www.coatingtechservice.com.


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