John Deere Welland Works
In early 2001, Deere & Company’s Welland,
Ontario production facility began revamping their finishing line to utilize
e-coat and powder coat – forcing them to change the way they built the John
Deere brand loaders, cutters and Gator™ utility vehicles produced there.
Prior to switching to their new 90,000 square foot finishing e-coat and powder
line – which includes over five miles of conveyors and several HMI stations --
Deere completely assembled their products and wet-sprayed them their famous John
Deere green. This included plated fittings, cylinders, hoses, and all other
While wet spraying worked for many years, John Deere Welland Works knew it
needed to update its finishing process to deliver the quality, long-lasting
products they’d grown famous for. Unfortunately, they had little experience with
e-coat and powder coat at the facility -- or the masking technology needed to
keep specific surfaces from being coated.
E-coat & powder coat; a steep learning curve
Utilizing e-coat and powder forced
the Welland facility to completely revamp its production process; suddenly, they
had to finish their products first, then assemble them. In addition, some
components needed to have their finish applied by the company’s suppliers – an
example being the plated oil lines used on the loaders.
From the Welland facility both Ed Kaczmarczyk and Darryl Schneider had been
assigned the responsibility for the development of all the new hang methods and
masking requirements. Ed put the magnitude of the change succinctly: "We had to
reengineer the product assembly lines, and in some cases we reengineered the
products themselves to better suit the new paint system."
The only experience Deere’s Welland plant had with e-coat and powder was their
six-wheel Gator utility vehicle, which was finished at a location outside the
Overcoming masking hurdles
One of the major hurdles to overcome
was a process that was entirely new to Deere: product masking. Kaczmarczyk
admitted that "To me, masking meant tape. I had no idea what was involved at the
start of the project."
Masking involves keeping e-coat and powder away from surfaces that should not be
coated – despite the fact that e-coat and powder coat are "all-over" processes
that attempt to coat every accessible surface. Tape-based masking products –
which are often die-cut to special shapes – are a common masking method, as are
three-dimensional plugs and caps which protect holes, threaded areas and other
surfaces. In many cases, custom molded masks are needed to fit specific masking
requirements and unusual sizes or shapes
After reviewing several masking suppliers, John Deere Welland chose to work with
Shercon, a Santa Fe Springs, CA-based producer of custom molded masks and
standard, off-the-shelf masking products and accessories. According to
Kaczmarczyk, Shercon was chosen because they were willing to allocate
significant engineering resources to Deere’s project
"We had less than a year to transfer everything over. We leaned on Shercon
pretty heavily for expertise."
Some of the problems confronting the team were wholly unexpected; for example,
during testing they discovered that some bolted connections on two powder-coated
surfaces tended to work loose, so a lot of surfaces that weren’t on the original
mask list suddenly needed masking. Other surfaces required advanced masking
techniques – some of which have lead to new products being developed for
Shercon’s line of "standard" masking products.
Collaboration the key to success
Shercon assigned Design Engineer
Ruben Dominguez to the Deere project. Dominguez remembered his first meeting
with Darryl and Ed in June of 2001. "Deere supplied us with drawings a week
before the meeting. When they arrived, we had a large, very detailed proposal
waiting – along with a custom molded mask they could test on their Gator utility
vehicle, which was still being coated by an outside vendor."
In what was to become a highly collaborative process where both sides learned a
great deal, Shercon provided a lot of the initial expertise. In one case during
the evaluation of mask cleaning methods, Dominguez actually traveled with Deere
representatives to look at tumblers designed to remove finish from masks before
Another excellent example of the power of collaboration was Deere’s initial
estimate that over 150 custom-molded masks were needed on their line. Shercon
suggested using a standardized "barb" on their two-piece plugs, and looking hard
to standardize plug coverage wherever possible. At Deere’s end, they even
reengineered product updates to accommodate new masking needs.
"The initial design process included consolidation as a goal," said Kaczmarczyk.
"At one point we grouped all our proposed masks and plugs into families, and
looked for instances where the same mask or plug could serve several purposes.
In some cases, we did this months before the product was scheduled for
transition to powder paint"
As a result of this focus on standardization, the number of unique custom masks
needed by Deere were cut by more than half, cutting development time and
inventory costs for all parties involved.
Deere pushes for cutting edge solutions
According to Kaczmarczyk, one of the
benefits of having little experience in e-coat and powder was the willingness of
the team to challenge commonly held assumptions. The ability to challenge the
Shercon design team resulted in several innovations for both sides, including a
two-piece plug designed by Dominguez that precisely masked wash areas on both
sides of a thin sheet-steel surface.
In fact, Dominguez designed more than 20 two-piece masking systems that operated
with enough tension to protect wash areas even during Deere’s punishing 9-stage
wash and coat e-coat process
Another technical triumph was the creation of an innovative block mask that
allowed e-coat to penetrate and cover a surface, but kept powder coatings out.
Several design iterations were required and several prototypes were tested
before the "ideal" mask design was completed.
The mask used tiny "feet" to create a standoff space that was large enough to
allow e-coat and washes to enter, but kept powder coatings at bay.
"It’s a great example of how Shercon and Deere kept pushing each other to come
up with a better way to mask – both from their standpoint and ours," said
Another custom mask was created for use over grease zerks (grease fittings),
which are typically installed after finish has been applied. The assembly line
people asked for this mask to simplify production; Shercon developed it and now
lists it in their "standard" products catalog.
Focusing on mask longevity
While Deere and Shercon were
overcoming technical hurdles and creating innovative masking solutions, Deere
was also focused on the long term picture – mask longevity.
Kaczmarczyk and Schneider also studied the economics of masking and decided that
spending a little extra up front for mask features like thicker plug walls and
improved pull handles would pay off with longer mask life. Their conclusions
seemed well founded. "Our original goal was to get 25 uses out of a mask before
it wore out, but our masks are lasting far longer – they’re easily doubling
their expected life, and some last as long as 200 uses."
In another example of vendor/customer collaboration, Deere went beyond design
innovations and asked Shercon for improvements in the compounds used to produce
Many of the custom masks were ultimately molded from Shercon’s Ultrabake masking
material, which provides excellent tensile and tear strength, and exceptional
compression set properties. (Compression set refers to a material’s resistance
to acquiring a permanent set after exposure to high temperatures).
Summary: the partnership mattered
Revamping the entire production line
involved huge changes for John Deere Welland Works; they essentially turned
production upside-down by finishing before assembly, and had to deal with a
steep learning curve involving every element of e-coat and powder coat.
Kaczmarczyk said that getting Shercon’s Dominguez out on the shop floor was key
to the project: "It’s one thing to design a mask when you have a part on your
desk – but when you see how the part is oriented on the line and see that the
worker’s ability to move the part or install the masking may be limited, it
makes all the difference."
"We appreciated having a masking supplier who worked with us," Kaczmarczyk said.
"Both groups were willing to try new concepts and think outside the box, and
everybody benefited as a result."