Wright Coating Technologies Co. thought it had a promising new business line when it introduced its proprietary system to powder coat plastics in 1993.
After all, the company reasoned that the coating system Wright called Classic Kote gave it the ability to provide thermoplastic parts with a higher-end, decorative look and feel, without the cost or environmental concerns of a standard paint line.
But Wright's breakthrough failed to make a splash when it was introduced, President Chuck Grimes admitted in a May 20 interview at the company in Kalamazoo.
Customers took a look at Classic Kote, but decided to stick with the materials they already knew.
But with a tightening economy and companies eager to find new ways to cut costs, Wright finally got its first commercial launch 10 years after the system's introduction, when office furniture maker Steelcase Inc. came looking for a way to use plastic in place of metal for the base of one of its chairs, while still keeping the chair's metallic look.
With the first Classic Kote part on the market, on Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Steelcase's Leap chair, other business started coming Wright's way.
Now, with more companies looking to plastics to lower their costs and reduce weight, the powder-coat system is growing quickly.
Wright has gone from one program with one customer, to more than eight customers and more than 10 different products. Grimes estimates Classic Kote has grown 60 times since its original launch.
With the growth in powder coating, Wright added Rich Stewart to its staff to head new business development specifically for plastics, and he has been showing Classic Kote to end-market customers and molders seeking a competitive edge.
``I'm looking for injection molders who are looking to do something different within the system,'' Stewart said.
Powder coating of plastics typically is done with nylon or other high-temperature thermoplastics.
Unlike standard paint lines, there are no environmental issues from the spray or leftover paint sludge, and no need for molders to invest in expensive paint lines.
Molders produce their parts and ship them to Wright for coating. Wright then ships the parts to the final customer. Though the first sales were to the office furniture industry, Wright is getting more interest from the medical, automotive and consumer products fields as well.
``It's going anyplace that weight and cost reduction is an issue,'' Grimes said.
Typically, that means replacing structural metal with structural plastics. An office chair, for instance, uses glass-reinforced nylon with a powder coat finish not only for its base, but also for the back and arm supports. The coating can be used on desk trim parts and handles for home appliances.
Though Wright also powder coats metal and has nylon coating and plastisol drip coatings beyond its Classic Kote line, it sees its growth in plastics.
``The trend now is to plastics,'' said Tom Hutchinson, who heads development and customer services.
``It allows our customers to still have the look they want, but reduces weight and cost.''