By Eric Peterson | May 08, 2020
Spray booths and COVID-19 testing booths
Industry: Industrial & Equipment
Products: Spray booths and COVID-19 testing booths
Launched as an American counterpart to Garmat Europe, Garmat USA has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years by leveraging its expertise with air flow.
Founder Karel DeRegge selected Englewood due to its location in the middle of the U.S., and the climate. "There was demand for a similar product here in the U.S., so they decided to start a production entity in the U.S.," says Huwaert. "They were shipping containers to the U.S. from Europe at that point, which of course puts you at a disadvantage because you have to deal with the ocean freight."
The systems apply liquid paint exclusively, not powder coating. The big innovation involves the use of dual inlet reverse incline fans with airfoil blades. "A dual inlet reverse incline fan has the capability of overcoming static pressure, basically maintaining CFM [cubic feet per minute] as the static pressure over the assembly increases," explains Huwaert. "Air speed is needed to convey the overspray to the exhaust filters. If your air speed drops, your conveyance of overspray to the filters drop, and you start working in a dirtier environment. That's why these filters are so important -- being able to maintain CFM, or air speed conveyance, as filters load. That's the key."
The technology itself is not proprietary, but Garmat is the leader in utilizing it for spray booths as the only manufacturer that manufactures booths with two such fans for intake and exhaust. "We see it as a push/pull system, and they have to work together in unison to pass air through," says Huwaert. "Anybody can buy the fan, but it requires for you to build it into your mechanical assembly."
Customers use Garmat spray booths to paint everything from cars after collisions to aerospace parts to playground equipment. Systems run from about $30,000 to $500,000.
"We're known for our Class 1A finish," says Debbie Teter, Garmat USA's director of sales and marketing. "We are the luxury brand of the market. We have very good brand recognition."
It's ultimately all about safety, she adds. "We protect vehicles and technicians inside the booth. We protect them from contamination. We make sure there's a safe environment for the technician inside the booth."
That in-house expertise translated to a prototype of a COVID-19 testing booth in just six days, she adds. "We understand how air moves, we understand how air filters," says Teter.
After seeing news coverage of similar booths in South Korea, Huwaert led the development of a Garmat version for the U.S. market. Available since late March, the booth sells for about $6,000.
The booth uses one fan instead of two to create and maintain positive pressure. "What we were looking for was an environment to protect the healthcare provider," says Huawert. "By putting the healthcare provider in a fully enclosed, sealed box, which is pressurized and filtered, there is no way contaminants such as the virus can enter the box." The hope is that the booth can help save personal protective equipment, or PPE, as testing ramps up across the U.S.
The industrial market represents about 20 percent of sales, with automotive customers totaling 80 percent. "A lot of times, we design these booths around the object the customer has to paint," says Huawert. "Whatever they use in their production process, we design the volume and flow around that. We're very modular in the way we build paint spray booths. It all depends on the customer's application."
Teter adds, "We specialize in enclosures, so we can partner with companies that do conveyors and processing systems, and we provide the enclosures. . . . We have certified technicians that can do the installation."
Since Huawert moved to Colorado from Belgium to join the company in 2005 after a Winter Park ski trip, the staff has more than doubled from 30 to 70 employees during his tenure as CEO while the company expanded its Englewood facility from 35,000 square feet to 110,000 square feet since 2012.
"Our revenue has doubled, almost tripled, during that period," adds Huawert, an industrial engineer by trade and DeRegge's nephew. "My uncle was dangling the carrot in front of me: 'You could own this business if you put our energy into it.'"
Challenges: Teter says the big issue is "the uncertainty with growth in the economy" due to COVID-19.
The automotive market for Garmat hit the wall with the COVID-19 pandemic. "Currently, people haven't been driving," says Huawert.
Teter points to "a spiderweb of code" regulating spray booths. "Code compliance is huge in our industry. We work with EPA, EPL, NFPA 33 specifically, OSHA."
Opportunities: Teter identifies growth potential with customers in transportation and aerospace, as well as newly reshored manufacturing industries. "We're seeing a lot of growth in the heavy-duty truck market right now," she says.
Needs: "Qualified personnel," says Teter. "Maybe there will be a silver lining [after the pandemic] where people will be coming back to work, maybe changing their jobs and looking at a new focus."