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Applications Innovation Leads to Better Masking Solutions

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When masking product failures are costing you money, it pays to work with an expert that can select or engineer the most efficient solution.


CFS masking products

Masking products are generally inexpensive, but masking failures are not. Whether it’s reworked or scrapped parts, fixing the problem afterward can cost thousands of dollars due to the failure of a 75-cent plug. There is an extremely broad range of standard masking products available in the forms of tapes, die cuts, caps and plugs, but finding the best one for a given application can be a challenge. And sometimes there just isn’t an off-the-shelf solution that works well enough. What do you do then?

Custom Fabrication & Supplies (CFS) (Franklin, WI) has an answer for that. You may know CFS as a standard masking products provider, but this manufacturer is in fact a custom converter with a wide range of engineering expertise and production capabilities to serve diverse masking requirements for powder coating, electrocoating, wet spray, anodizing and plating. Their approach to masking applications, whether through technical support to select a better masking product or by engineering a custom solution, provides a good example of how to go about solving masking problems.

A Process for Solving Masking Problems

What differentiates CFS as a masking products supplier is the extent to which they work with finishers on finding solutions to process problems. Masks generally fail due to inappropriate application, poor sizing or excessive wear. For these cases the solution is often simply finding a better standard product for the job. But there are other cases where solving a root masking problem requires developing a custom solution.  In either case it requires broad knowledge about masking products, available materials and finishing processes. The CFS engineering group has a great deal of experience in all these areas and the company is in fact a 3M Preferred Converter.

CFS vented masking plug

CFS’s vented plug solves the problem of plug blowout when masking openings to large cavities.

Some of CFS’s custom development projects end up becoming standard products which can solve problems in other industries or applications. A good example is CFS’s patent-pending vented masking plug which was developed for an engine manufacturer to mask engine housing openings. Large cavities like this can create process-induced high-pressure air pockets that can easily blow out a plug or cap. The customer’s existing method was to use a plug with an expanding rubber seal to deal with the air pressure problem. But the plug had a 30% failure rate and had to be replaced on a monthly basis.

Preventing this problem requires that the plug be vented. The do-it-your-self approach is to cut a slit in a cap or plug to act as a vent, but that can lead to other kinds of failures commonly found during wash cycles or submersion processes like e-coat and plating where fluid runs into the cavity. CFS developed a better solution, a patent-pending two-piece plug that acts as a one-way vent. The inner part of the plug contains the vent that allows air to escape as needed while keeping all wash and coating out. The outer part of the design works like a standard plug and can be custom-made to plug or cap openings of any size or shape.

As for the engine manufacturer, the vented plug reduced installation time by 75%, saved 50% on masking costs and extended the life expectancy of the mask.

CFS hex head scew cap

The hex head screw cap is much easier to install correctly and reduces operator fatigue.

In another application the problem wasn’t so much about the effectiveness of the masking product as it was about operators’ ability to install it properly on a consistent basis for an electrocoat line. According to CFS co-founder and Vice Present Henry Asik, the customer was using a combination silicone plug with a coarse thread on one end and fine thread on the other. It was easy to install backwards, and because they use a lot of these plugs operator fatigue was an issue. For this case, CFS designed a special plug with the correct thread on one side and a hex head on the other so the plug can be installed with power tools. The new plugs, which have a patent pending, enable quick, fool-proof installation and are much easier on the operators. CFS even found ergonomically designed installation tools for the customer to reduce the risk of repetitive motion injuries.

On-Demand Production Capabilities

Delta Crusader die cutter

The Delta Crusader produces precision die-cuts from a variety of materials and includes in-line printing capability.

Being able to design a special product is one thing; getting a working model to a customer quickly is quite another. The latter requires robust manufacturing capabilities and that’s the second major attribute that defines CFS. The company does all their flexible converting in-house on an array of equipment including precision die cutting, flash cutting and slitting equipment for converting tapes and pressure sensitive materials to sized tapes, dots, discs and die cuts. They even have 3D printers which allow CFS to quickly deliver prototypes or short-run products, often with next day delivery, which they can do for die cuts as well.

The newest equipment addition is a Delta Crusader precision rotary die-cutting machine with an in-line printer. Completely computer controlled with quick change tooling, the machine can cut and laminate multiple materials together, as is often done with masking products, with registration accuracy to a thousand’s of an inch and the ability to print bar codes or other markings in a fast, continuous process.

The Delta Crusader rotary die-cutting can cut and laminate multiple materials together with registration accuracy to a thousand’s of an inch.

For complete flexibility, CFS also has three Atom FlashCut Flex models which are computer-controlled machines that combine cutting and milling operations on materials up to 5” in thickness. These die-less machines use oscillating knives to cut masking materials exactly to masking shape specifications and can work directly from CAD files.

To take their processing capabilities to a whole new level, CFS recently built an ISO Class 7 certified clean room. That’s where the Delta Crusader die cutter is now located. While most often associated with the medical industry, clean room manufacturing is also used by pharmaceutical, electronic, military and LED lighting industries requiring low particulate, humidity and temperature-controlled die cutting services.

CFS clean room

The ISO Class 7 certified clean room enables CFS provide precision die cutting services for the medical, pharmaceutical, electronic, military and LED lighting industries

It’s the combination of all of these capabilities that Henry Asik says enables CFS to offer both the flexibility and responsiveness to solve special application requirements quickly. We have numerous machines with different ways to cut,” he says, and that lets CFS convert masking materials to levels of flexibility and quality that are very uncommon in their industry. The same goes for typically molded products where their additive manufacturing capabilities can get new product configurations into functional prototypes in hours.

Ongoing Customer Support

What Asik thinks is most important about CFS’s custom development and manufacturing capabilities are the relationships they have developed with customers over time. He and a partner founded CFS in the early 2000s and have applied their problem-solving strategy from the very start. Still family owned and operated, the company has enjoyed exceptional stability over time with key employees working with individual customers for years, gaining a high degree of familiarity with the customers’ processes along the way.

At the outset of this story it was mentioned that many people know CFS as a standard masking products supplier, which may seem at odds with their emphasis on custom products. But even here the company pays great attention to the customer experience with an e-commerce website designed to make the ordering process quick and simple. It includes online account “Fast Track” access where buyers can save their regularly purchased items for easy reorder, access negotiated terms, see order tracking and view invoices and payments.

This video demonstrates the capabilities of CFS’s e-commerce website.

Their website also offers a unique set of tools to their customers through a masking membership. Their online member portal offers two levels of membership. The free Basic Membership, which is incorporated into the Fast Track account, includes a cross reference tool to find similar CFS products to other brands, a masking tool finder to identify appropriate products for a given application, and a reorder function for standard or custom products. A premium version also offers:

  • Instant quotes for unique products using standard materials
  • Custom quotes within 24 hours
  • 15% off 3D printed parts
  • Free replacement tooling and set-up charges when switching to CFS
  • Free 3D prototype with new custom molding orders

It’s great when a standard off-the-shelf masking product does the job. They are inexpensive and readily available. But when you need something more, be it application support or a truly customized solution, it pays to work with professionals who can help solve your toughest masking problems.

Please go to Custom Fabricating & Supplies (CFS) for more information.