Fully covered

By Gretchen Salois

Above: The ornamental aluminum arch for Town Center at Firestone Farms was media blasted, primed and coated with a custom-made super durable polyester powder.

Metal fabricators find value in PCI certified powder coating

April 2021 - The balance between aesthetics and functionality is weighed carefully by A Plus Powder Coaters. Fabricators turn to the coating company for long-term results. “The last thing a customer wants is their materials rusting months after the job,” says Terry Watson, sales manager at the Columbiana, Ohio-based custom coating company.

The main differentiating factor separating A Plus Powder Coaters from other companies offering coating services is its Powder Coating Institute (PCI) 3000 Certification. The intensive auditing process reviews a company’s powder coating operations down to the most minute detail, ranging from pretreat to packaging of final parts. PCI conducts an on-site audit, where auditors review each step of the coating process. Once the company passes the audit, it is required to perform an annual self-maintenance audit using materials from PCI over a two-year period. Then the cycle starts again with an on-site audit.

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The second of two media blasting rooms that allow A Plus Powder Coaters to media blast parts up to 12 ft. by 15 ft. by 30 ft.

“We find that more and more of our customers require that they come to our facility and conduct an audit of their own before we coat their material,” says CEO Bob Bertelsen. “Thea plus powder PCI 3000 audit not only allows us to make sure that our processes, procedures and documentation will hold up well to intense scrutiny but also shows the potential customer that almost anything they are going to ask for in an audit is in place and has been approved by an industry-specific expert.”

Small to midsized customers that do not have the resources to perform an internal audit can instead work with A Plus to provide the needed quality, service and delivery.

A Plus is able to process a variety of sizes. “Unlike other coaters, we use both conveyor and batch-coating systems, allowing us to coat large and small quantities and various part sizes under one roof,” explains Watson. “We’re able to powder coat and media blast very large parts (up to 8.5 ft. by 9.5 ft. by 30 ft.) in one of our batch coating systems and extremely high volumes of smaller parts on our conveyor system using an iron phosphate pre-treatment with an adhesion promoter for aluminum options on aluminum substrates.”

By keeping each step of the process in house, A Plus can control timing and there is no chance of rust or damage to materials during the process. A Plus processes metal parts used as railings, gates, fences, electrical components, conveyor system parts, aftermarket automotive components, heavy equipment frames and components, struts (used for construction sector when hanging plumbing or fixtures) and many other general industry parts, says Bertelsen.

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Before powder coating, a large trailer frame used in the telecommunication industry is media blasted.

Field ready

Certifying A Plus Powder Coaters’ process through PCI was an important investment. “We held a roundtable meeting to discuss how we could make sure we separated ourselves from someone in his garage wiping parts down with solvent and powder coating them,” Bertelsen says. “That is simply not an adequate way of coating anything. We had to separate ourselves from shops not doing things the right way.”

PCI 3000 certification demonstrates to customers that A Plus has the processes and procedures in place to correctly clean, coat and cure powder coated parts as evaluated by third-party experts in the field. “Couple that with our database that allows us to track and record all jobs and processes—we’re able to get real-time updates during any step of the process—and we know we have the capability to promise top-quality results,” Bertelsen says. “Complete traceability and records of each job let us know what happened to what part and when.

“And we can include job processing notes for our employees to reference to ensure the right processes and materials are used for the end-user,” he adds.

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These 1-in.-thick wall, 1,300-lb. steel tanks used to transport and store industrial gases are no problem for A Plus Powder Coaters’ custom designed batch coating lines.

The end-user is an integral factor in determining which powder and process is the best option. “If you don’t need a high-performing finish because the part will be used for a light-duty or short-service life item as opposed to an outdoor architectural piece that is placed outside in the elements, there is no need to pay the premium for the more heavy-duty coating,” Bertelsen says.

A Plus has different coating chemistries, colors and textures for coating everything from dump truck beds and parts for tilt bed trucks to electrical junction boxes used in the construction sector and guitar pedals used by musicians. “A lot of powder coaters out there don’t know how to coat galvanized metal so that it doesn’t fail in the field,” Bertelsen says. A Plus also works with customers and the galvanizer during the design process to ensure the part is prepared for powder coating.

“We don’t suggest a customer coat a shovel with the same process and materials as an architectural structure,” Watson says. “It’s important to understand the aesthetic versus just function. What environment will the final piece need to function in and what kind of lifespan does the end-user want to achieve?”

Custom work

Whatever the job, A Plus has a plan to complete each customer’s specifications. A Plus also has partnered with shops to develop procedures for projects, including color and powder chemistry. “If we can’t find a stock powder that matches what they’re looking for, we can oftentimes have powder custom-formulated and made by one of our suppliers,” Watson says. “We’ll have customers point to a roof and say ‘We want you to make it look like that,’ and we can do that. We go to the supplier to exactly match the color of whatever the customer pointed out.”

An out-of-town project manager heard about A Plus through local businesses. “This company knew they wanted a couple of metal archways to greet visitors at the entrance,” Watson says. “We suggested local fabricators we had worked with to help design and build what they wanted.”

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One of many 1,200-lb. fabricated steel logos seen around Youngstown State University’s campus.

The customer also wanted a very specific color that would match some trim panels on the building. “We matched what they wanted perfectly, and it still looks as fresh as the day of the install even years later,” Watson says.

A Plus can accommodate a customer in an unplanned predicament. “A snowplow manufacturer had their own in-house powder coating system, but they were limited in the part sizes they could handle so A Plus coated all of their oversized parts,” recalls Watson. “We had arranged for myself and our quality manager to visit their facility so we would have a better idea how they would like inspections performed on their finished product.”

The day A Plus personnel were scheduled to visit the facility, they discovered the snowplow company’s coating line was destroyed in a fire. “Their entire system had been shut down. After making sure everyone was OK, we asked if there was any way we could try and help them by adjusting our own schedule to keep their shop running,” Watson says. “They called us back within hours and almost overnight we went from processing just a handful of parts to doing the company’s entire workload for a few months until they got everything hammered out with their insurance company.

“We’re proud of the fact that we were able to incorporate their volume into our existing operations,” he continues. “For three months we basically doubled our workload by using both our batch and conveyor coating systems and kept our customer running uninterrupted.”

In its 25-year history, A Plus’s workforce has evolved. “Our workers stick around,” Bertelsen says. “Instead of turnover, they’re hearing by word of mouth about how we’re a great company to work for, and that’s the goal when we’re trying to make sure each worker feels appreciated.”  FFJ



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