Released February 11, 2003


By Christopher Mapp

LAUREL – To most people, watching paint dry is the antithesis of excitement. But for Laurel businessman Ronny Walters, a spray paint developed by The University of Southern Mississippi's School of Polymers and High Performance Materials gets him all fired up.

Perhaps it's because the powder-coating process he adopted from Southern Miss five years ago has helped the business he owns, Outdoor South Inc., become the No. 1 manufacturer of all-terrain vehicle metal accessories in the nation.

"This paint system has made our production so fast, that if we get an order in the morning, we could have it painted, packed and ready to ship that day," said Walters, whose company employs about 20 people.

Before switching to the environmentally friendly powder paint, liquid-based paints gave Walters's company nothing but headaches – at least figuratively speaking. Dried in a convection oven, the metal pieces his company painted took between 15-20 minutes to complete. Now, using infrared curing ovens, Outdoor South Inc. can paint a four-wheeler rack, a mailbox post or a barbecue-grill frame with the powder coating in just four minutes. What used to take two days to ship from the warehouse now takes an hour, Walters said.

Beside the blazing speed, the powder coating also produces a higher quality product. With the old system of solvent-based paints, workers could not touch the wet materials for about two hours until the paint dried. Furthermore, once the painted items went into a box for shipping, the heat would sometimes wrinkle and buckle the paint inside the plastic wrapping.

With the new process, however, workers can not only paint, cure and pack the product in one hour, they can completely change the color of paint in about five minutes. "I don't know of anyone who can change paints like that in five minutes," Walters said.

It was after a trade show with one of the nation's leading ATV dealers that Walters's wheels began turning. "We did a show with Yamaha and they said, ‘You've got a great product, but the paint is horrible,' " he said. "So we wanted a system that was small but fast enough to speed up the process."

That's where Southern Miss came in. Through Mississippi Power Company, Walters learned of a powder coating process that Dr. Shelby Thames and fellow researchers were working on at the university's Powder Coatings Laboratory, housed in Southern Miss's Polymer Science Research Center.

Despite apprehensions about the cost of switching procedures, Walters was intrigued by the powder coating's numerous benefits. For one, the powder polymer is environmentally friendly and cleans up easily. Secondly, it is more efficient in that little paint went to waste, unlike solvent-based paints, which accumulate and must be cleansed periodically -- to the detriment of the environment.

With powder coatings, anything that is over-sprayed can be recycled by large air bags and re-applied, unlike solvent-based coatings. And finally, powder coatings release very little – if any – solvents into the atmosphere. Solvent-based coatings, on the other hand, pollute the environment when the solvent evaporates from the coating during the painting process.

"It cost about a quarter of a million for start up," Walters said, "but it more than paid for itself by increasing the turnaround time for our orders. The cost of the powder system was offset by the quickness of everything."

Thames, Southern Miss president, said the University's relationship with OutDoor South Inc. demonstrates the effectiveness of Southern Miss's research in aiding businesses.

"This economic development leads to the creation of more jobs and more revenues, which in turn improves the economy of our state," Thames said.




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July 9, 2003 10:48 AM