Accuspray: Horton Buys a Who

For the past two decades, Accuspray has made its mark, albeit quietly, as a small company making high quality HVLP spray guns, turbines and related equipment. All that is about to change. On February 1, 2007, manufacturing giant 3M announced that it had purchased Accuspray. That is sure to create a sea change in both marketing and production options, so I felt it was a good time to take a look at the past, present and most likely future of this tiny supplier of spray equipment and its gigantic new parent.

Getting the history of Accuspray was not easy, since those who started the company are no longer there. “This is kind of hearsay,” said Doug Landry, who, until the February first takeover, was president of the company, “because I’ve only been with the company since 1995 when I joined as controller.

“Originally, Accuspray was started by the Marg family, who owned an evaporative cooling business that involved a lot of painted sheet metal. They brought in some French HVLP equipment that I believe was from Volumaire, but one of their employees felt he could design a better gun than what was available. He did, and in 1985 they introduced the first portable turbine systems with Accuspray guns on them. By the time I came on board, that designer was no longer with the company, and I don’t even know his name.

“That first gun was metal,” recounted Doug, “but by 1990 they came out with a unique molded gun of cast composite polymer. The company claimed theirs was the first HVLP gun designed specifically for that purpose as opposed to one modified from a standard gun. By molding the gun in two halves, they were able to create rounded air passageways rather than angular drilled holes typical of guns that start as a solid block of metal. The result was that it helped minimize internal air turbulence, resulting in more power with less overspray.

“In 1994, a group of investors bought an interest in Accuspray, and they became majority owners in 1998. Ken Marg, the former president, stepped down and an outside president was brought in. Throughout the ownership change and beyond, other innovations were being developed. Accuspray introduced an automatic spray gun in 1991, a gravity-fed cast metal gun in 1996, and a low-CFM gun, sometimes called an LVLP gun, in the late 90s. In 2000 we started offering a pressurized cup, added a diaphragm pump line in 2002, and a gravity-fed gun cast composite gun in 2004.

“Meanwhile, starting back in 1996, the company embarked on a project to offer a hydraulic high pressure airless pump system. That effort nearly doomed the company. When we took the unit to market, we offered a three-year warranty. We ran into design problems, supplier problems and even operator abuse, but the bottom line was that the unit was not robust enough to live up to the warranty.

“I became president of the company about the time we concluded that the line was a total disaster. To get out from under, we went through Chapter 11 reorganization, and the company was auctioned through bankruptcy court to five of the original 1994 investors. They comprise a private equity group in the business of buying and selling companies, so it was no surprise when they sold the company to 3M this February. At its height, the company had around 50 employees, but by the time of the 3M purchase, there were only 18 employees, all of whom are staying on with the new owners.”

Let’s take a moment and put this purchase in perspective. Accuspray has 18 employees in a modest Ohio facility; 3M, which last year did over $21 billion in sales worldwide (that’s billion, not million) has more than 69,000 employees in facilities all around the globe. The question that immediately comes to mind is “What changes will this purchase cause?”

“This is going to give us the opportunity to show the world what a high quality product we have,” insists Doug. “We consistently come out at or near the top in finish quality any time our guns are tested against others. In one recent comparison, we were the only gun that sprayed every coating tested without thinning, all the while maintaining very low overspray. Our guns were designed from the ground up, based on what is ideal for HVLP, not based on past guns, and our manufacturing processes boast tight tolerances and rigid inspection. However, we have not had the resources to do the sort of advertising that would allow massive growth. All that could change with 3M at the helm.”

“One immediate change,” added Mike Howcroft of 3M, “is that by July, all Accuspray guns will come from the factory with the 3M PPS (Paint Preparation System) as part of the package. The system itself is amazing not only for its convenience, but for its savings.

“For starters, PPS eliminates the need for separate mixing cups and filters. You mix the finish in a liner bag, which connects to a lid with a built-in inline filter. As you spray, the liner bag collapses, feeding material to the tip and allowing spraying at any angle, including upside down, without drips. The liner bag and filter are disposable, leaving only the spray gun and adapter to be cleaned. If you prefer, you can save the remaining paint by sealing the lid. The collapsed liner contains no excess air to cause skinning or solidification of the stored finish.

“In short,” Mike summed up, “you use only one cup liner for mixing and spraying; get clean, filtered finish; save up to 70 percent on cleaning solvent; reduce cleaning time from 30 minutes to two minutes; have less exposure to solvents; can spray at any angle; and have an instant storage container for leftover finish. This system is one of those that once you use it, you will wonder how you ever lived without.” Because it is so hard to describe all that it does, 3M has a wonderful online video on this page of their web site to show you how the system works.

What advantages does 3M see to this purchase? “Buying Accuspray gives us access to another segment of the spray equipment market,” Mike said, “offering a conduit not only to bring products to our customers, but a return one to help us to understand their needs as well. While most industrial and automotive suppliers carry the PPS system now, it has been difficult to find in some venues, such as the ones woodworkers normally habituate.

“To help facilitate that, we wanted a small gun company that serves a wide range of markets: wood, automotive, adhesive, industrial, marine and even aerospace. One of the things that we love about Accuspray in particular is the fine atomization their guns provide. The thicker and more problematic the material, the more advantageous the Accuspray gun’s atomizing characteristics are.

“Thanks to this acquisition, Accuspray products will soon be available through many more dealers, notably those that currently carry 3M products. That means consumers can look for far easier access to Accuspray products both online and in brick and mortar stores in the near future, and of course, Accuspray dealers will now have access to a range of 3M products as well.”

It may look like a lopsided marriage, but it certainly seems to be a win-win situation.

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