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
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
"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
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.