Interview with Thomas Menke

Thomas Menke, CEO, Thomas Menke Oberflächentechnik in Interview.

In your opinion, what are currently the biggest challenges for painting companies and job-shop coaters?

Well-trained specialists are the oil of a well-functioning business. With them, even difficult tasks are regularly mastered. By intermeshing the individual gears, production can run smoothly, like clockwork. If these skilled workers are missing, this can quickly become a problem. It is often difficult to attract new skilled workers for a demanding and stressful job. Many do not want to get their hands dirty.

Plant engineering, on the other hand, has constantly evolved. New systems create considerably more parts with more colour changes in the same time. Older journeymen are often faced with new technology that they first have to understand. Training them is another task that unfortunately is still too seldom in the focus of the management.

The new techniques cause a growing cost pressure in the market. Companies that use outdated technology are often no longer able to meet the increased quality demands of the market. High reject rates also often put a heavy strain on the balance sheet.

 

From your standpoint, what are the best ways to optimize coating processes?

The greatest opportunities lie in specialization and automation.

Specialization makes it possible to purchase machines that can coat very similar products in mass quantities and in the required quality. This gives you a competitive advantage. However, specialisation also always involves the risk that the product will be less in demand and sales could therefore decline.

Automation is a side effect of specialization. The aim is to keep human influence out of the process so that fewer influencing factors have to be taken into account. Processes with fewer influencing variables usually achieve much lower scrap costs. Also, omitted labour costs have a considerable influence in the calculation.

Robots, for example, can paint with high repeatability. In contrast to manual painters, errors can be systematically and reliably addressed and eliminated. Painting robots also offer a solution to the lack of skilled workers. On the one hand, fewer employees are needed, as robots are more productive, and on the other hand, the job is much more attractive, as the latest production methods are used. The employee has less contact with paints, varnishes and chemicals.

Robots can also support specialization to some extent and at the same time make the changeover to a new product easier, as they are flexibly programmable. This reduces the risk of a weakening market.

New are co-robots (cooperative robots). These robots can be used without an enclosure and thus offer considerable space advantages. Employees can also program these robots much more easily, as the user interfaces are much simpler and more intuitive than with conventional industrial robots.

What trends are emerging in your area of industrial painting technology?

The trend in the automotive sector is more and more towards larger and high-gloss coatings. The components are becoming more and more complex. With the Focus, Ford has installed a 2-component plastic part in the car, where the first component has a honeycomb and this is overmolded with clear plastic for a depth effect. This PC plastic is then coated again with a 1 layer UV clear coat to achieve a higher resistance and a high gloss. From this you can see the effort that is put into this.

In the field of corrosion protection, painting on hot-dip galvanised components is a permanent topic. Moreover, multi-layer coatings are still state of the art. However, KTL and powder coating is becoming increasingly important here.

In the field of powder coating, the measurement of the layer thickness directly after the powder coating process is becoming standard for more and more companies. To use less material and to simply re-coat with too little layer thickness is and remains a revolution. Even if the measuring devices are not all easy to operate and some of them still look very clumsy.

In the wet paint sector, the trend towards water-based paints seems to have stopped. Many companies have looked into post-combustion systems and similar processes and some are now using more solvents than ever before. Whether afterburning is really the solution remains to be seen, however, as these convert solvents into CO2 by means of a combustion process.

In the field of robot programming 3D applications (with VR glasses) are becoming more and more practical. But I could not discover any in productive use so far. But this will surely come in the next years. The advantages of not using this technology are too great for that.

What developments/solutions does your company offer for these trends?

We support users! This motto stands above all products and services. We are especially known for our training courses for robot programming as well as for programming of the robot brands ABB, Stäubli, B&M, Fanuc, Universal Robots. We have specialized in painting robots. With our experienced employees we achieve the best results for our customers. We are integrators for Universal Robots, but we also help other robot manufacturers.

Our second main pillar is consulting on processes and technologies. We provide companies with the knowledge to optimize their processes or to introduce new processes "painlessly". Of course, every product must be adapted to the process. Here we work closely with the members of the German Institute for Printing and Surface Technology.

As a third pillar we have the trade and production with special industrial products. Our test inks, which are among the most precise inks available on the market and are also classified as non-toxic, deserve special mention here.

What significance does PaintExpo have for your company?

We have decided in favour of PaintExpo and against Hannover Messe in 2020. Both fairs are taking place at the same time and so we have been working towards having to decide. At PaintExpo we meet the managers and professionals whom we can best help with our services.

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