The strength of Fluiver, a company specialising in the top-quality finishing of plastic, is its ability to reconcile the craftsmanship of manual application processes, the result of thirty year of experience in the sector, with innovative ideas, implemented to optimise its coating process.
Fibreglass (or Sheet Moulding Compound, SMC) is one of the plastics that, thanks to their excellent mechanical and chemical-physical performance degree, have experienced rapid development in the automotive and ACE sectors in particular. Specifically, this is a thermosetting sheet material consisting of glass fibres, mineral fillers, pigments, and unsaturated polyester resins.
One of the advantages that make it such a sought-after material is the possibility of modifying its components, e.g. the orientation or type of fibres, in order to obtain appreciable variations in the chemical-physical characteristics of end products and thus achieve the performance level required for different applications.
This guarantees smooth, homogeneous surfaces (achieved by hot polymerisation following thermoforming in steel moulds), reduced weight, ease of transport (thanks to which it can replace more conventional materials such as steel to reduce vehicle weight by 15-20%), simple installation, long service life, and no need for maintenance.
“However, it is also one of the most difficult materials to coat due to its extreme porosity,” explains Franco Bertolotti, the Production Manager of Fluiver (Albano S. Alessandro, Bergamo, Italy). “Specialising in the coating of this and other plastics used in the automotive and ACE industries was our first objective when we founded our company last
Fluiver is a young business that, however, was born from the thirtyyear experience of a group of car refinish specialists. “Each of us brought their own work experience into Fluiver, thus combining the
different skills we had acquired in the fields of plastic moulding and car part coating. Our speciality is the manual coating of plastic and ferrous materials, provided that they have been previously treated
and made ready to be painted. Thanks to the design and installation of a system specifically tailored to our production needs by MI Due (Besana Brianza, Monza e Brianza, Italy), we apply top-quality finishes
that are appreciated in the industry – especially because we can also treat large-sized parts, another aspect that is becoming crucial to Fluiver’s success.”
Fluiver’s strategy conquers even the most difficult markets
The compact coating plant installed by MI Due.“Currently, we especially serve the earth-moving machinery sector,” adds Bertolotti, “for which we handle parts up to 3.5 x 2.5 m in size. What makes us competitive in this market is precisely the large size
of our coating booth, which enables us to treat huge components, such as those of earthmoving machines that no other coater in the area is able to handle. This is also why we are in the process of being
recognised as approved applicators by some of the most important players in the ACE sector.”
This choice might have seemed risky, but it has also enabled the firm to establish itself in another extremely competitive market, the automotive one. “It would have been difficult for a newly founded
company such as ours to enter the already-saturated market of the automotive supply industry. Therefore, we chose to provide customers in this sector with the top-quality manual finishing of small batch parts, including for instance vehicle front panels, which are difficult to coat with an automatic operation. The large size of our coating booth even enables two operators to work at the same time, thus speeding up our painting process.” The variety of the plastics treated is also one of the reasons why Fluiver is appreciated by the market. “We coat all plastics and, in particular, SMC, EMC, and injection-moulded and rotomoulded
materials that need to be prepared from the raw, out-of-mould state, as well as all injection-moulded polymers, such as polypropylene, polyethylene, polycarbonate, ABS, and many others, for which we
guarantee the total elimination of any joint lines, porosity, blow-holes, and any other defects related to the moulding process, thanks to the manual sanding operation we carry out on all components.”
The flexibility of the coating cycle
After sanding, the coating preparation phase continues with a manual cleaning phase with water; in the case of polypropylene, the parts are flame-hardened. “Subsequently,” adds Bertolotti, “we apply different
systems depending on the material to be treated. We may use either two-coat systems, in high demand in the earth-moving machinery sector, consisting of water-based primer + top coat or base coat/top coat + clear coat for ABS, or three-coat system including primer + base coat + clear coat. The flexibility of Fluiver is also guaranteed by the possibility of managing batches of up to 10 workpieces with different shapes requiring the same colour. We apply up to 10 different tints.” The painting process continues with the drying of the applied film.
“In the case of SMC, we also proceed with grouting any imperfections because the material can “degas” during the drying process: this is why the flash-off of the primer takes place at a temperature about 6
degrees higher than that of the top coat.”
A pioneering coating plant
The concept of the plant combines the expertise gained from the previous work experience of the Fluiver team with the technical know-how of the MI Due staff. “I personally designed and drew the layout of this coating system. I then submitted it to Carlo Casiraghi, the owner of MI Due, which was one of the few plant engineering firms to make themselves available for its construction. That further confirmed the professionalism of this company, with which I had already collaborated while working for other firms in the past.”
In addition to the large size of its booth, one of the original technical aspects of Fluiver’s coating line is its workpiece handling system: “I avoided installing a conventional line with a traditional inverted
conveyor, which would not have been functional due to the large dimensions of the parts we intended to treat. We therefore created a handling system consisting of trolleys with supports designed specifically for this type of workpieces. At the same time, a conventionally-sized booth would also not have been appropriate: this is why we opted for a solution with a considerable size of 6.5 x 5 m and a height of 4.5 m, which will help it remain clean for longer time.”
Characteristics of the tailor-made system
The plant went into operation on 15 December 2020 and it is prearranged to accommodate a larger oven and a seThe plant went into operation on 15 December 2020 and it is prearranged to accommodate a larger oven and a second booth in future, in order to further expand the company’s production capacity. “One of the aspects I most appreciate about this system,” states Bertolotti, “is its compact design, thanks to which we were able to install the booth in an area of the factory with limited space, despite its large size.”
The line includes a pressurised cleaning chamber and a static booth with a dry filtration system, which enables Fluiver to fall well within the permitted parameters for particulate emissions (3 mg/m3). “On
the advice of MI Due’s staff, we preferred a dry booth rather than a water-curtain one; I immediately endorsed this solution, too, because it is both easier to clean and more fitting to the type of application
process we carry out. However, dry coating certainly also means more frequent filter changes. In addition to the filters supplied to us by MI Due and the pre-filtering clothes developed by Valspray (Brembate Sopra, Bergamo), we have recently installed 70 edrizzi® cubes. This paint mist separation system developed by Austrian company Brainflash should enable us to replace our filters only once a year.”
Valspray also provided the coating application system. “Together with Valspray’s technicians, we built a coating management unit including 5 pumps: one for base coats, one for pigmented top coats, one for
metallic top coats, one for water-based primers, and one for clear coats. At the moment, the system is operated manually, but we plan to integrate gear pumps and solenoid valves. The next step will be
choosing an automatic mixer.”
The line continues with a flash-off tunnel and a drying oven featuring a heat exchanger that reaches a maximum temperature of 95 °C. “In this case, too, we relied on the experience of MI Due, which, on
the basis of the maximum temperatures reached for our processes, recommended the use of a heat exchanger instead of air vein burners.”
Manual and automatic coating: the two cores of Fluiver’s future paintshop
“At Fluiver, we have opted for manual application both because of the characteristics of the parts we handle and because it ensures high quality finishes,” says Bertolotti. “However, this does not exclude that we may rely on automation for our second coating booth: we do not want to distort one of our main characteristics, but we certainly aim at further diversifying our production and applying our top-notch skills to automatic coating, too. I have a project in mind for a new coating line with an inverted conveyor that moves our workpiece-handling trolleys as if they were skids: another original concept that I am sure MI Due will be able to develop. Our intention is to continue on the path of innovation with new ideas and insights, but without losing sight of the quality level guaranteed by manual application processes. These will
continue to characterise our work and our care for all our operational phases, which is fundamental to deal with the most difficultto-coat materials.”
Monica Fumagalli ipcm®
MAY/JUNE 2021 – international PAINT&COATING magazine