The major types of spray equipment in use today are as follows:
Conventional Air-Atomize Guns Airless and Air-Assisted Airless Guns
High-Volume, Low-Pressure Spray Equipment Electrostatic Spray Equipment
Plural-Component Spray Equipment
Conventional Air-Atomize Spray Guns
These are "conventional" because they have been around since the early part of this century. They were widely used before any of the others. Basically they emit a stream of paint from a small opening in a fluid nozzle. The paint is broken up into tiny droplets by compressed air emerging from jets adjacent to the fluid nozzle. Relatively high air pressures at low volumes will quickly atomize large amounts of paint.
Despite their tendency to spray more paint on booth filters than onto parts, they remain an important tool in most painting facilities. Why? Because they are so versatile. They can spray a class A finish at high speeds on almost any surface that needs to be painted. So even if you have one of the more efficient types of spray apparatus, you probably still need a few conventional air-atomize spray guns to do what the more advanced equipment will not.
In the hands of a skilled operator, produces smooth, reflective finishes.
Can be used to coat almost any shape. Using a variety of fluid and air nozzles, an operator can spray narrow bands or wide fan patterns.
Can apply paint at high production rates on parts hanging from fast-moving conveyors.
Are "user friendly." Most spray painters are experienced in using them. Disadvantages
Very poor transfer efficiency. Wastes paint, increases cleanup costs, emits more VOCs.
Airless Spray Guns
When you think of airless spray, think of a garden hose. It sprays water under high pressure through a nozzle. When the water emerges from the nozzle its velocity causes the stream to disintegrate into droplets as it encounters resistance from the atmosphere. The airless paint gun is similar in that it pressurizes paint to 900-1200 psi (or higher) and forces it through a nozzle. Unlike conventional air spray, there are no jets of atomizing air to break up the paint and propel it to the surface. Atomization is dependent upon high fluid pressure.
In the absence of atomizing air, less overspray and better transfer efficiency. Can apply paint at high flow rates, resulting in ability to meet high-production
Inability to break up paint into very fine droplets, thus producing a coarser spray and a rougher finish.
Nozzle wear. High velocities cause abrasive pigments in paints to wear nozzle openings more rapidly as they travel through the nozzle.
Danger of airless-injection injury. The paint emerges with such force that it can penetrate skin exposed to the spray at close range.
Air-Assisted Airless Spray
A hybrid of airless spray and conventional air-atomize spray, this kind of gun uses fluid pressures higher than those used in conventional air-atomize guns but lower than those employed in normal airless spray. Unlike normal airless guns, these guns do have compressed air jets that supply atomizing air, but the air pressure is far lower than that used in conventional air-atomize guns. The result is that the coarse spray provided by the airless atomization is further broken up into a finer spray by the compressed air. In operation, air-assisted airless guns provide atomization much better than is normal with airless spray. Some suppliers of this type of equipment claim that finish quality and productivity equal that produced by air-atomize spray. Danger of airless injection is lessened, as is wear of fluid nozzles.
The main reason for considering use of air-assisted airless spray, however, is its much better transfer efficiency. The softer spray also makes it easier to spray into recesses. Both air-assisted and pure airless spray operate at high fluid pressures and thus can use smaller-diameter fluid lines. This translates into paint and solvent savings. The reason is that it takes less solvent to flush smaller-diameter lines. One manufacturer reports a study showing that by replacing a 25-ft, 1/4-inch-diameter hose with a 20-ft 3/16-inch-diameter hose, the reduction in paint and solvent waste was 100 gallons per year.
High-Volume Low-Pressure (HVLP) Spray
HVLP is a variation of conventional air-atomize spray. The difference is that these guns are designed to atomize paint using a high volume of air delivered at low pressure. The lower pressure results in far less overspray and "bounce-back."
Better transfer efficiency results in less paint waste and lower cleanup costs. The exact TE depends upon the circumstances in your installation the booth design, spray techniques, the mix of parts, etc. But most experts agree that HVLP offers significant improvement.
Operators used to conventional guns generally find it easy to learn how to use HVLP.
Atomization may be insufficient to meet the strictest requirements for smooth, fine finishes.
May be difficult to atomize paint at sufficiently high rates to meet very high-production requirements. HVLP atomization capability has improved markedly in recent years, however, with better ability to break up low-VOC coatings being sprayed at high fluid-flow rates.
Some problems in achieving proper atomization with HVLP may be caused by "starving" the spray gun for air. Causes of this problem include use of air hoses that are too long or too small in diameter; use of too many "quick-disconnect" fittings; and use of low-performance air compressors and air regulators. Any one of these factors may result in too little air being delivered to the air cap, causing poor atomization from the gun. Some of these guns use air compressors to deliver the atomizing air, while others use a turbine. The turbine is a series of fans mounted inside a housing, designed to produce pressurized air for one or more guns. In the process of forcing the air through the turbine the fans create friction and warm the air. This helps to heat the paint and in turn lowers its viscosity, thus making it easier to atomize.
Electrostatic painting begins with a spray gun or other device (discs or bells) to atomize paint. The atomizing principle could be any of those previously discussed conventional air-atomize, HVLP, or airless.
The difference is that an electrostatic application device is equipped with a means of electrically charging the particles of paint. A common method is to build in an electrode near the point where paint is atomized. This electrode electrostatically charges the particles negatively. Parts are grounded, usually by hanging them on a conveyor securely connected to a ground. The grounded parts attract the negatively charged paint particles (opposites attract).
The result is that fewer of the paint particles are propelled into space as overspray and more are electrostatically guided to the surfaces of the parts being painted. Sprayed particles will even turn the corner and be attracted to the back side of a part if the velocity of the particles causes them to initially travel past the parts being painted. This is called "wraparound."
Transfer efficiency is greatly improved. The amount of improvement depends upon the parts being painted, the booth design, etc. Electrostatic spray is particularly beneficial in improving TE when parts with lots of open areas lacy patterns, for example are being sprayed.
Higher transfer efficiency.
Coverage of edges (electrostatically guided paint is attracted to high points and edges first).
Uniformity of film thickness. As paint builds up on surfaces with the highest electrostatic attraction, it insulates them. Then electrical attraction increases in the uninsulated, uncoated areas, and these receive more of the paint.
Productivity. Electrostatic guns mounted on reciprocators are widely used to paint long runs of parts in high-production installations. Labor costs are lower.
Faraday-Cage Effect. As we said, electrostatically charged particles seek out the nearest grounded surface. If that happens to be the ridge area of a sculptured part, the valley may be difficult to reach. For this reason, manual touchup with non-electrostatic guns may be necessary.
Changes appearance of metallics. Many paints, especially those used in automotive finishing, contain metallic flakes that give the finish a metallic sparkle. The visual effect is different if the particles are applied electrostatically, since they are conductive and tend to stand on edge rather than lie flat in the coating. This can be a problem, since auto-repair shops generally use non-electrostatic spray, which produces a different visual effect.
Fire hazard. In an electrostatic installation not properly set-up, there is danger that a spark can occur, igniting paints containing flammable solvents.
Safety. If operators are not careful to follow set-up directions, they can be electrically shocked.
Ergonomics. Electrostatic guns traditionally have been longer and heavier than conventional guns. Some have a bulky cable connected to them to carry the electrical current. Operators may find some guns more difficult and more tiring to handle. But suppliers have been working to improve ergonomics of electrostatic guns. In considering this equipment (and indeed any spray equipment) you should look not only at size and weight of the gun, but evaluate ease of trigger pull and maneuverability of the tool (with hoses) as well.
Cleanliness. It's always a good idea to keep spray booths, conveyors, and spray equipment clean. But in electrostatic painting it is not just a good idea; it's mandatory in order to achieve the benefits of electrostatic application. Parts must be securely grounded as they travel through the booth. This means that if they are hanging from paint-laden racks or the conveyor has picked up paint and is becoming insulated, electrostatic attraction is lessened.
Some coatings may require reformulation. Since the process depends upon electrical conductivity or lack thereof, solvent selection becomes more important. Some solvents are more conductive than others. In a like manner, application of waterborne coatings requires special equipment to deal with the conductivity of water (more about this later). High humidity in the paint booth also can cause conductivity problems.
Electrostatic Rotational Atomizers
Rotary atomizers utilize centrifugal force rather than compressed air or fluid pressure to atomize paint.
Discs. Imagine a spinning flat round disc with a hole in the center. Feed paint through a hose so that it overflows through the hole and onto the spinning disc. Centrifugal force propels paint over the surface of the spinning disc until it flies off the edge. The paint atomizes as it is propelled through the atmosphere. Add electrostatics and one has an electrostatic spray-painting device.
Parts on hangers travel around the periphery of the disc in an "omega loop," housed by a circular spray booth. The disc spins and simultaneously moves up and down, on a floor- or ceiling-mounted reciprocator. As the parts travel around this loop, paint particles are being propelled toward the parts and electrostatically attracted to them. Since the disc moves up and down, the entire length of a long part or racks of parts is painted.
Bells. Electrostatic bells are similar in principle, except that in this case the paint is fed through a hole at the closed end of the spinning bell-shaped atomizer. Centrifugal force propels paint from the edges of the bell. Bells may be mounted on reciprocators or on hand-held guns.
Higher-Speed Rotational Devices. The latest bells and discs utilize higher rotational speeds, producing finer atomization, the ability to apply higher-solids and waterborne coatings, and high transfer efficiency. These devices are often mounted on reciprocators in very-high-production installations. Less operator time is required in the disc application itself, so labor is conserved.
But high-speed discs and bells also may have problems in reaching into deep recesses (Faraday-Cage areas). Thus some of the labor conserved by their use may be required to hand-spray reinforce the areas of parts not properly covered by the automatic spray.
Waterborne coatings are widely used to lessen the VOC content of coating materials. To oversimplify, if water replaces some or all of the organic solvents used in paints, the resultant coating material contains less VOC.
Electrostatically applying waterborne coatings can be a problem, in that their water content increases their electrical conductivity. Unless special precautions are taken, the waterborne coating provides a conductive path from the electrostatic applicator to the grounded paint supply.
To circumvent this, manufacturers have developed increasingly sophisticated "voltage-block" systems. These electrically isolate the spray applicator and prevent high voltage from following the conductive path through the paint-supply line to the waterborne coating supply.
Switching to waterbornes is now easier because of the new technologies available in voltage-isolating systems. Waterbornes can be electrostatically applied safely, economically and in minimum floor space (newer voltage-block systems eliminate the need for isolation cages to deal with the conductivity of waterbornes).
One supplier urges finishers to look carefully at the latest technologies for electrostatic application of waterbornes. "There are several emerging technologies that make this switch more plausible and less costly," he says.
Another supplier claims that some HVLP guns have advantages in waterborne application because they supply heated atomizing air, which provides faster set-up times and improved drying of waterborne coatings.
Some coatings, principally urethanes, are supplied as two components. After being mixed, the components chemically react with one another to form a solid coating. They are often referred to as "catalyzed" since the "catalyst" causes a reaction that leads to curing of the coating. An advantage is that low temperatures are sufficient to cure the coating and thus plastic parts that cannot tolerate high temperatures can be coated. The coatings also exhibit unusual durability in certain applications and require less solvent for thinning, thus improving VOC control.
If the two components are mixed before entering a paint pump or pressure pot, the mixed material must be sprayed promptly or the reaction of the two components increases viscosity to the point where the coating is no longer sprayable. It is said to have limited "pot life."
For this reason, spray guns have been developed that bring each of the two components into the spray gun through separate feed lines. The components mix just prior to application. This remedies the "pot-life" problem, since mixing occurs only at the moment before application.
Two-component application equipment is used in some very high-production applications, but as the survey shows, it is not used to the extent of the more conventional technologies. The reason is obvious the equipment is more costly, as are the coating materials.
The most recent development in spray application equipment is built to spray coatings formulated with heated, compressed carbon dioxide. In this form carbon dioxide is a liquid and can be used as a paint thinner. When the coating is sprayed the liquefied carbon dioxide is no longer compressed and reverts to a gas. Since carbon dioxide is naturally present in the atmosphere and is not considered hazardous, it is interesting to finishers searching for alternatives that lessen VOCs. The system was developed and patented by Union Carbide under the trade name "Unicarb."
Thus far CO2 spray has been used in a few commercial applications, as the survey indicates. But this is a relatively recent development, and its use may proliferate in coming years.
When you consider combinations of the technologies for spray painting, there are additional possibilities. One can add electrostatics to almost any of the basic spray-application technologies, for example.
Such technologies as HVLP and air-assisted airless, already more efficient in raising TE, can be equipped with electrostatics to further improve TE and lessen VOCs. But you have
to test any system that appears to meet your requirements in YOUR plant, while painting YOUR mix of parts.
Heat reduces the viscosity of paint. Heating paint before it is atomized makes it possible to spray more viscous paint. In some cases it is possible to use paint containing less solvent, since not as much is required to lower paint viscosity. Obviously less solvent in the coating material equals lower VOC content. Thus paint heaters are a well-established, viable means of lowering VOCs. They are probably under-utilized. If the coating formulation permits use of a paint heater, it will keep viscosity more constant, improve TE, lower wear of equipment and improve finish quality and consistency.
Manufacturers of spray equipment are constantly innovating to produce guns, bells and discs that are better able to apply waterborne and higher solids coatings. The latter require higher air and fluid pressures for proper atomization, but a careful balance must be struck to keep from defeating the purposes better transfer efficiency and lower VOCs. Hand-held guns that are lighter in weight and easier to trigger are increasingly important in preventing work-related injury.
You face an almost bewildering array of equipment and materials offered by suppliers to improve transfer efficiency and lessen VOCs. To measure TE, count the number of parts or square feet painted at a given film thickness, per gallon of paint from a pressure pot; or use a flow meter to determine how many ounces flow from your pumping device. Do that for every type of spray equipment being evaluated.
You also have to look at your specifications for film thickness, coating composition, appearance and corrosion resistance. Consider needs for color change, spraying odd shapes, speed of production, operating and materials costs, and capital-equipment budgets. Rate ergonomics, so that your spray painters are comfortable with the guns they operate and not at risk of electrical shock, fire hazard or repetitive-motion injury. And after you've done all that, you still may be forced by local or federal regulations to make some changes just to comply with your permit.
The survey results reported here give you a good idea of what others have been doing to improve TE and lessen VOCs. They've been busy switching to:
Electrostatic Spray HVLP
Air-Assisted Airless Spray Powder Coating
Waterborne Coatings High-Solids Coatings
Convertible Air-Spray Guns. As the survey indicates, many of you continue to use conventional air-atomize spray guns, and you plan to replace these guns as they age. If you're concerned about EPA regulations tightening, however, you might consider conventional air-spray guns that are made to be converted to HVLP. By inexpensively changing a few components of these guns, one can move to HVLP without buying a whole new gun.
Training operators of spray equipment has always been important, but it becomes even more so when one considers how operators' techniques can influence TE. Operator training and annual re-training may be the best investment you can make. Knowledgeable operators with good spray techniques can measurably improve TE without changing equipment.
Pressures. Operators sometimes perceive that they can increase air and fluid pressures to improve speed or reduce orange peel. Had they used the right air caps and fluid tips they might have applied a smoother finish at lower fluid and air pressures. As much as 20 pct of the paint you apply can be wasted by too-high fluid and air pressures. Use the lowest pressures consistent with finish quality and productivity. It's worth some experimentation to find the optimum combination of fluid tips, air caps and pressures. Begin lowering pressures and see how far down you can go while maintaining finish quality.
Exhaust Rates. In trying to improve transfer efficiency plant engineers must set air-exhaust rates in spray booths to the lowest consistent with operator safety and comfort. Too-high rates can pull more paint onto air-exhaust filters than is being applied on parts being painted. OSHA regulations specify minimum flow rates and you should aim to be close to these rates.
Gun Handling. A well-trained operator holds the gun perpendicular to the surface being painted, at a distance of six to eight inches. He avoids "arcing" (holding the gun at less than a 90-degree angle to the surface). Holding the gun at a 45-degree angle to the surface, for example, wastes 65 pct of the paint.
Good operators move the spray gun toward the surface to be painted before triggering. Just as they reach they edge of the surface, they trigger to begin applying paint. Then as they reach the end of the surface being painted, they release the trigger to stop paint flow. Lots of paint can be wasted by sloppy triggering.
Manufacturers of equipment have been paying much more attention to ergonomic design, particularly low trigger-pull force and ease of holding and moving guns. Companies using ergonomically designed guns report not only greater worker satisfaction and higher-quality finishes, but actual improvements in TE, resulting from proper triggering and gun motion.
A competent operator learns how to overlap his strokes to apply a smooth finish without excessive thickness. The objective is to apply an even coating of the specified thickness. Too-thick coatings waste paint and increase VOCs.