5 Questions to Ask When Choosing a Thermal Spray Vendor
In recent years the internet has greatly changed the buying process, certainly in the business to consumer market but also in the business-to-business market. You may not even realize that your buying habits have changed. With the answers to most of your questions just an internet search away, businesses are relying more on internet research to identify their problems and determine the ideal solutions rather than on the friendly, neighborhood salesperson.
According to CSO Insights, “70% of buyers fully define their needs on their own before engaging with a sales representative, and 44% identify specific solutions before reaching out to a seller.” While this ability is great, you may miss out on some key first impressions of a vendor. Being able to ask the right questions once you do speak to someone has become more important than ever.
After you’ve done your research and know that thermal spray is the solution you want to look into, what kind of questions should you be asking to determine which vendor is the right one for you? We’ve compiled five questions we think are key in helping you determine which companies will provide the quality thermal spray solution you should expect. From standard procedures to EPA disposal, how should a thermal spray company conduct themselves to earn your business?
Do they have written standard procedures? Do they allow you to view them?
You are trusting this company with your equipment. You should get to know what will happen to it. Also, if a company has a written set of procedures that means they’ve sat down and thought about the best way to do things, which typically means your part will be better cared for. If a company knows what they’re doing they should have these at the ready for potential customer review and shouldn’t fear a quality audit or even a shop visit. If you sense tension on the line when you ask these questions, take heed. You should also ensure their standard procedures include steps for quality and coating checks.
Do they perform regular quality checks or use lab testing to determine coating effectiveness?
Sometimes you won’t have to ask this question if you are already aware that they are ISO 9001 certified, but it still wouldn’t hurt to know if they have the capabilities to perform lab testing. You can ask how these companies measure the quality of their services. Do they use micrometers or thickness gages, such as an Elcometer, to check coating thickness at regular intervals along the part and throughout the spray process? Do they have a coordinate-measuring machine, or CMM, to measure spherical or complicated surfaces such as valve balls? These tools and procedures will ensure that your part will return to you at your desired dimensional specifications.
Coating quality is another topic to ask about; do they measure their coating quality using industry standard lab tests? Do they outsource their lab testing or do they have an in-house lab for faster result turnaround? The most common coating lab tests are bond strength, hardness, porosity and basic coating structure. If you need certain coating properties, such as friction mitigation or anti-slip coatings, you will want to ask about surface roughness testing as well.
While you may not need these tests every time you have a part sprayed, it is good to know whether a company has a plan in place to evaluate their processes and coatings and if they have those services available to you, should you desire them. It is also important to know whether they keep up with regular calibration of their lab and thermal spray equipment; as well as their measuring devices. You can even ask to them to provide certifications of calibration for their equipment, if you desire.
How often do they calibrate and maintain their equipment and machinery?
After asking about lab testing, it’s a good idea to ensure the quality of the lab tests and equipment. The results you request will mean nothing if the vendor is not doing regular machine maintenance and monitoring. This also applies to all of their service equipment and measuring devices.
This starts in their prep processes such grinding or machining. Do they regularly check their grinding wheels to ensure the grit effectiveness? Do they have a preventative maintenance plan in place to mitigate errors from machine breakdowns?
This gets even more crucial when it comes to thermal spray equipment. Have their powder feeder pressures been checked? Do they regularly check their gun pressures and temperatures? Do they obtain material certifications for their wires and powders? These things will not only affect the quality of your part’s coating but also affect their process times and materials, potentially costing you extra time and money. An easy way to ensure consistent, quality thermal spray coating is the use of robotic technology.
Are their thermal spray operations robotically controlled?
Robotically controlled thermal spray is the most consistent way to apply coatings. Asking if they spray via programmable robots or similar mechanical devices, such as bug tracks, is a good indicator of the quality of coating you will receive. Mechanically controlled thermal spray guns apply more even coatings and allow for exact control over spray parameters which highly affect the hardness and bond strength of the coating. Some parts and processes will require hand spray and can’t be fully automated, but knowing a company uses robotically controlled spray guns will show you how seriously they take their spray parameters and coating quality. Another thing a thermal spray vendor should take seriously is what they do with the byproducts of their processes.
Do they follow EPA guidelines for material and waste disposal?
Some of the materials used in thermal spray operations such as chrome carbide powder and aluminum oxide grit are considered hazardous substances and require special steps for handling, storage, and disposal. While this may not have a direct impact on the quality of your coating, it says a lot about the character of the people you’re working with. Proper material handling displays a sense of responsibility for the work they are doing. If they aren’t taking care to dispose of their materials properly, they might not be taking the utmost care for your parts either. If you sense forethought and care in the way they answer this and other questions, you are on the right track to finding the thermal spray company for you.
Be Informed, Get Quality Results
In the business-to-business market there’s a lot of competition out there and it can be hard to weed out who to trust with your machine components. While a cheaper price might be tempting, you may be sacrificing on quality. Not getting the answers you want on one of the above questions might not be a deal breaker but working with a company who is able to answer these questions with poise and planning, says a lot of about the quality of work you will receive.