Overcoming Challenges and Ensuring Quality: A Valuable Guide to Powder Coating Thicker Metals

Powder coating is a popular finishing method used in various industries to achieve a durable, high-quality surface finish on metal products. It involves applying a dry powder coating material to the metal surface and then curing it in an oven. 

The result is a hard, long-lasting finish providing excellent resistance to corrosion, impact, and chemicals. The importance of powder coating thicker metal cannot be overstated. 

Thick metals are often used in applications where durability and strength are critical requirements, such as construction equipment manufacturing, aerospace components production, and automotive parts fabrication. However, powder coating thick metals can be challenging because of their size and difficulty achieving uniform coverage on their surfaces. 

CWF spraying red powder coat on cotton picker

What is Powder Coating

Powder coating applies a fine powder material onto a metal surface using an electrostatic spray gun or a fluidized bed apparatus. The powder particles adhere electrostatically to the metal surface before being cured at high temperatures in an oven, resulting in a robust and durable finish that protects against environmental factors like corrosion. 

Unlike liquid coatings that require solvents for thinning or clean-up purposes, powders don’t contain solvents, making them more environmentally friendly than liquid coatings. Additionally, ventilation is unnecessary during application since it doesn’t generate fumes or volatile organic compounds (VOCs). 

Importance of Powder Coating Thicker Metal

The importance of powder coating thicker metals is that they are more prone to damage from environmental factors than thin metals since they have larger exposed areas. Also, thicker metals usually serve as structural components that require more strength than thinner materials. 

Powder coating offers excellent protection against these elements by creating a barrier between the metallic substrate and its surroundings while also providing additional mechanical strength to the substrate. Powder coating thicker metals significantly improves their lifespan, durability, and performance. 

Difficulties When Powder Coating Thicker Metal

Powder coating on thick metals presents several challenges that must be addressed for a successful outcome. These challenges often relate to pre-treatment, application, curing, and quality control. 

Pre-treatment difficulties involve:

  • Correctly cleaning and degreasing thicker metal surfaces.
  • Ensuring proper surface preparation for effective adhesion.
  • Selecting the right pre-treatment chemical for thicker metals.

Application difficulties include achieving uniform coverage on thick metal surfaces while overcoming the Faraday Cage Effect—a phenomenon where the electric charge concentrates on sharp edges or corners during powder deposition and results in uneven coating thickness across flat surfaces. Curing difficulties arise from inadequate curing time and temperature because of the thickness of the material. 

Under-cured or over-cured coatings can also result from incorrect curing parameters such as temperature, duration, or oven configuration. Quality control challenges include monitoring and maintaining consistent film thickness on thick metals throughout production runs while detecting defects such as pinholes, bubbles, or craters that may occur during application or curing processes. 

Challenges in Pre-Treatment Process

challenging powder coating processes with thicker metal.

Cleaning and Degreasing Thicker Metal Surfaces

Before powder coating thicker metal, proper cleaning and degreasing are essential. Cleaning thick metal surfaces is challenging because of the material’s thickness, which may make it difficult for the cleaning solution to penetrate. 

Effective cleaning requires removing all contaminants, oils, and grease that may hinder adhering to the powder coating on the surface. A specialized machine with high-pressure water jets may be necessary to clean thicker metals properly. 

This high-pressure water jet can effectively remove dirt, oils, and grease from surfaces. Solvent-based cleaners or alkaline solutions may also be used to clean thicker metals. 

Proper Surface Preparation for Effective Adhesion 

The success of any powder coating project depends on proper surface preparation to ensure effective adhesion. When preparing thick metals, the challenge is achieving a rough enough surface texture that allows the powder coating to adhere correctly. A smooth surface does not provide adequate adhesion for the powder coating. 

One way of creating a rough texture on thicker metal surfaces is by using abrasive blasting with sand or shot materials before applying the pre-treatment chemical. This process roughens up the metal’s surface, making it suitable for the effective adhesion of powder coatings. 

Choosing the Right Pre-Treatment Chemical for Thicker Metals 

Pre-treatment chemicals are important in preparing metallic surfaces before applying powder coatings. The choice of pre-treatment chemicals can influence how well the powder coating adheres to thick metals since different metals require different types of pre-treatments. 

Some pre-treatment chemicals, such as iron phosphate, zinc phosphate, or chromate conversion coatings, are specifically formulated with thicker metal substrates. These chemicals improve adhesion by creating a thin layer that helps bond the metal substrate and the applied powder coat. 

Choosing the right pre-treatment chemical for thick metals significantly impacts the success of a powder coating project. Therefore, it is crucial to consult with experts to determine the best pre-treatment chemical for your specific project requirements. 

Powder Coating Application Difficulties

Achieving Uniform Coverage on Thick Metal Surfaces

Achieving uniform coverage on thick metal surfaces is one of the most significant powder coating challenges. Powder coatings require a consistent layer thickness to ensure optimal performance, which can be challenging when working with thicker metals. Thick metals have more surface area to cover, making it difficult to achieve an even coating. 

To overcome this challenge, specialized equipment can be used that sprays the powder in a controlled and consistent manner. Electrostatic spray guns are often used for powder coatings because they apply an even charge distribution throughout the material’s surface. 

In addition, adjust the coating technique using a back-and-forth motion while spraying the powder. This technique ensures that each pass overlaps slightly with the previous one and helps create an even coat across the surface. 

Overcoming Faraday Cage Effect on Thick Metals

The Faraday cage effect refers to how electrostatic charges become trapped in concave areas or recesses of metal surfaces, leading to uneven coverage during application. The thicker metal parts are more susceptible than thinner ones because they have more recesses that need covering. 

Several techniques are available for overcoming this challenge of working with thick metals: One such technique is called tribocharging: rubbing an insulating material against the metal surface as it moves through a gun barrel. 

The friction creates triboelectric charging or static electricity, which helps distribute charged particles evenly over all surfaces, including heavily recessed areas. Another alternative is the corona charging method, which applies electrical fields through ionized air via a high-voltage electrode positioned near or inside the equipment’s spray nozzle. 

3 examples of challenging powder coating issues.

Other Electrostatic Issues

From our sister company’s blog, The Fab Times, is this summary of several other issues related to powder coating—yet are amplified because of the challenges thicker metal present.

Electrostatic Problems

The first layer of powder insulates and reduces the electrostatic attraction to the metal surface, and this problem requires ensuring proper ground.

The second powder coat layer won’t usually attract as quickly to the part as the first, resulting in more application time. The second coat must cover the piece and use the recommended minimum thickness. Otherwise, the top layer of powers is rough, like liquid paint overspray.

Thick Layers

Using more powder coating doesn’t mean more protection. A ruined finish occurs with an excess of powder or a thick layer. Two of the most common issues relating to thick layers are orange peel and sagging.

Orange Peel

The powder forms tiny pockmarks and uneven texture, ruining any reflective finish. Orange peel with powder occurs when powder does not flow because of possible thin film or formulation. Back ionization from the application usually creates small pockmarks.


If the powder weight is too much, the layer sags, like paint, leaving ripples and dips on the powder-coated surface.

Improper grounding is the usual suspect for thick coats. If the powder coating company doesn’t have the right tools to apply a consistent ground properly, they typically use more powder to compensate. Adding more powder is more expensive and may not have a smooth finish.

Bulky Edges

Excess powder can build up around the part’s edge, forming a fat rim called picture framing. This excess material may also experience the orange peel.

Faraday Cage Effect

Static may impede tight internal corner coverage, leading to thick streaks, thin patches, and inconsistent buildup. The Faraday Cage Effect is common, especially with complex parts. Everything from poor grounding to fine powder makes it hard to cover corners.

Bubbly Outgassing

Nearly every substrate has tiny pockets of moisture below the surface. Once covered, escaping moisture forms bubbles, breaking the surface and leaving it vulnerable to oxidation. Bubbly outgassing is usually associated with castings and can be moisture or air pockets, and outgassing rarely occurs with hot- or cold-rolled steel.

Adjusting Electrostatic Parameters to Accommodate Thick Metals

Electrostatic parameters must be adjusted when working with thicker metals since they cause additional electrical resistance, making applying an even charge distribution across the surface difficult. Possible adjustments for working around this challenge include: 

  • Increasing voltage: helps counteract the resistance encountered when coating thick metals
  • Changing electrostatic gun design: some guns are designed for thicker materials and may provide a more effective charge distribution.
  • Altering powder particle size: smaller particles are often easier to distribute evenly on surfaces than larger ones. It’s worth noting that not all coatings may be suitable for thick metal powders. 

Thicker materials require larger particle sizes, while thinner materials require smaller ones. Adjusting these parameters makes it possible to create a balance that ensures optimal coating and adhesion. 

Curing Difficulties

One of the most critical stages in the powder coating process is curing. Curing is a process that involves heating the coated material to a specific temperature for a set time period to melt and bond the coating to the metal surface. However, when it comes to thicker metals, curing can be challenging due to their thickness. 

Inadequate Curing Time and Temperature Due to Thickness

The thickness of a metal can significantly impact the curing process by requiring longer curing times and higher temperatures than what would typically be required for thinner metals. If inadequate time or temperature is applied during curing, the powder coating may not melt completely, resulting in an uneven or rough surface finish. 

a challenging project for powder coating applications.

It’s important for professionals who apply powder coatings on thick metals to understand how these factors affect cure times and temperatures. They must have specialized equipment, such as larger ovens that can accommodate thicker parts and faster heating elements that deliver higher temperatures quickly. 

Undercured or Overcured Coatings Resulting from Incorrect Curing Parameters

Incorrect parameters during curing can result in either unsecured or over-cured coatings leading to several issues, such as adhesion failure, discoloration, cracking, chipping, or flaking. Unsecured coatings are not fully bonded with the metal surfaces, while overcured coatings become hard and brittle, making them prone to cracking. Ensuring consistent quality of cured powder coating on thick metals requires precision control over time and temperature during this stage. 

Professionals who apply powder coatings on thick metals must be trained in using specialized thermometers, pyrometers, conductivity meters, or other equipment that helps regulate these parameters within tolerances suited for thicker materials. Methods like “thermal profiling” with data loggers also help ensure that the entire coated part reaches specific temperature thresholds and for specific times—critical to creating a long-lasting finish on thick metals. 

Quality Control Challenges

After cleaning and preparation, the next step is applying the powder coating. Achieving consistent and uniform coverage on thick metal surfaces can be challenging. 

The surface area of a thicker metal piece is much larger, which requires more time and effort to coat effectively. A multi-pass system may be necessary to maintain consistent film thickness while coating thicker metals. 

The tools CWF techs use to perform quality checks

This process involves multiple applications over the surface area to ensure even coverage. Specialized equipment, such as automated powder guns or robots, can aid in achieving optimal thickness levels on thick metal surfaces. 

During the application process, defects such as pinholes, bubbles, and craters may occur due to several factors, including electrostatic attraction or material impurities. These defects can weaken the coating’s properties by compromising its protective qualities against corrosion or wear. 

Maintaining Consistent Film Thickness

Measuring film thickness is essential for quality control purposes in powder coating applications. To monitor consistency throughout the application on thick metals, specialized measurement tools such as ultrasonic or magnetic induction gauges may be necessary. 

Using these devices during application helps ensure adequate thickness levels are achieved while maintaining uniformity across all substrate areas. Additionally, these tools aid in detecting deviations from target thickness values that may result from changes in environmental conditions or equipment performance. 

Detecting Coating Defects

Pinholes are one common defect occurring during powder coating applications on thicker metals. These small holes can penetrate the coating layers and reach the underlying substrate’s surface, leading to corrosion and other potential issues over time. 

Bubbles are another common defect where gas pockets form within the applied powder layer before curing; this leads to compromised adhesion and strength and an unappealing appearance. Similarly, craters can form when foreign particles create “holes” in the powder layer. 

Examining the accuracy of a metal fabrication process in the QA department.
Examining the accuracy of a metal fabrication process in the QA department.

Regular inspections during the curing process can help identify and rectify coating defects before they become severe. Visual inspections, UV light, or specialized non-destructive testing methods, such as X-ray or infrared imaging, can help detect defects that may not be visible to the naked eye. 

Quality Control

Quality control is essential in powder coating thicker metals to ensure that the final product meets all required specifications for performance and aesthetics. By monitoring and maintaining consistent film thickness and detecting defects early on, companies can avoid costly repairs or replacements while also ensuring customer satisfaction. Experienced professionals with specialized equipment must conduct these quality checks to ensure optimal results. 

Powder coating on thick metals presents unique challenges that require specialized solutions. Quality control techniques such as maintaining consistent film thickness levels and detecting defects early on are crucial for achieving a high-quality finished product. 

Selecting Experienced Professionals with Specialized Equipment

Selecting experienced professionals with specialized equipment for successful powder coating on thick metals is crucial. Not all equipment can handle thicker materials, and not all professionals have experience working with them. Specialized machinery and trained personnel are necessary for proper pre-treatment, application, and curing processes. 

Future Technological Advancements

As technology advances, new solutions that alleviate some challenges associated with powder coating thicker metal may become available. For instance, advancements in electrostatic parameters could improve coverage on thick surfaces while avoiding the Faraday cage effect altogether. Additionally, improvements in curing technology could lead to more efficient and cost-effective treatment of thicker materials. 

Powder coating thicker metal presents several challenges that require careful handling by experienced professionals using specialized equipment. The pre-treatment process must be done correctly to achieve effective adhesion and uniform coverage during application while avoiding issues such as pinholes or bubbles during curing. 

In Sum

Although there are difficulties associated with powder coating thicker metal today, future technological advances offer hope that these issues will become less problematic over time. With proper attention paid to each process stage by qualified professionals using cutting-edge tools and techniques, we can expect successful treatment of even the thickest of metal surfaces. 

Key Takeaways

  1. Powder coating provides a durable, high-quality surface finish and offers excellent resistance to corrosion, impact, and chemicals.
  2. Thick metals, used in sectors requiring durability and strength, benefit significantly from powder coating.
  3. The process of powder coating thick metals poses several challenges related to pre-treatment, application, curing, and quality control.
  4. Powder coating uses an electrostatic spray gun or a fluidized bed apparatus to apply a fine powder material onto a metal surface.
  5. Unlike liquid coatings, powders are environmentally friendly as they do not contain solvents and do not generate fumes or volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
  6. Powder coating creates a barrier between the metal and its surroundings, enhancing its lifespan, durability, and performance.
  7. The powder coating process challenges include attaining uniform coverage on thick metal surfaces, overcoming the Faraday Cage Effect, managing incorrect curing parameters, and maintaining consistent film thickness on thick metals.
  8. For successful powder coating of thick metals, selecting experienced professionals with specialized equipment is crucial.
  9. Future technological advancements may offer new solutions to ease some challenges associated with powder coating thicker metal.

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