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Small industrial company grows in MalvernPublished October 20, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
While the first chilly rain of the season fell, it was warm in the center of the Ribbet Coating & Fab company on Ridge Road in Malvern. Owner Sheila Davidson and her three employees were removing the dismembered parts of a couple of metal patio chairs and a glider couch from the large oven that measured 6 by 6 by 6 feet.
“We had to take everything completely apart to apply the paint so that all the surfaces were covered,” Davidson said, as the bright red pieces were placed on the floor for assembly. “The owner of these pieces says they date from the 1920s, and now they look like new.”
In her phone, Davidson has pictures of the two chairs and the glider before they were painted and heated in the oven. The rusty seats were a faded white, while the base of the glider was turquoise.
A little rust removal with a wire brush and some paint can help the looks of many things, but the process used by Ribbet is a little more complicated.
“Many of our projects involve restoring old items to their original beauty,” Davidson said. “We have coated a number of old antique iron beds, school lockers, old cans and metal art pieces and car parts.”
First the items are cleaned with a glass bead blaster that removes old paint and rust.
“The blasting is done with recycled glass that has been formed into beads and mixed with water and a rust inhibitor,” Davidson said. “There is no dust, as if we were using sand, and it is cooler, so there is no warping.”
If the piece is rusted through, Davidson uses a filler similar to what is used in auto-body work. Then comes the painting — where the difference becomes greater.
“We use a powder paint that is sprayed on the metal using an electrical current that makes the powder stick to the metal surface,” she said. “It is made by crushing pigments. It isn’t wet, it contains no volatile organic compounds, and it is nontoxic.”
The current creates a static electrical charge between the powder-paint sprayer and the metal being painted. The charge keeps the dry paint from falling off. The metal item is then placed in the oven and heated. Under heat, the paint smooths out over the metal and gives it a sealed coating of color.
“The powders come in hundreds of colors and can be color matched like a regular paint. They also come in metallic colors and candies, as Davidson describes them.
“If you want that candy-apple look, we first paint them silver,” Davidson said. “Then we paint it again in a translucent red so the shine of the silver comes through the red.”
Davidson said some of the older metal lawn furniture she works on is worth a lot, and she makes it even more valuable.
“Some of the older metal chairs and gliders can cost $600, and once we paint them with the powder, they might go for $1,500,” she said, pointing to an old glider in a corner of the shop. “This one is mine, and I have got a big ol’ long porch where it is going to go.”
Davidson and her crew do other things at the company, but powder painting is the fun part of the business, she said.
“This is my business, and the goal is to make a living for myself and my people, but painting is my passion,” she said. “We can be creative and do so many different things. And the powdered paint and so many colors are just fun to work with here.”
“We want to take home almost everything we do,” said Sandra Draper of Malvern, who has been working for Ribbet for seven months. “This is fun. I’ll never go to another job. I’m staying here.”
The company is about to take on a large new project for a private collector.
“We are cleaning and painting some old gasoline pumps from service stations,” Davidson said. “I think there is a pump from just about every decade.
The company is also authorized to color and sell several popular metal logos, including the Arkansas Razorback.
Davidson said she wants to get a plasma metal cutter, but until she does, the company purchases the metal artwork locally and paints the pieces to order.
The art part of the business grew from a smaller and perhaps less artistic use of powdered paint, but is now a major part of Ribbet’s business.
“We make from 7,500 to 10,000 of these black tubes each month for a folding-table manufacturer in Magnolia,” she said, holding one of the tubes. “This is the bread and butter of our business.”
The tubes are placed on the folding legs of the tables so the tubes can slide over the joints in the legs to hold them in place after the table is set up.
“We have to coat the tubes inside and out by placing them in a box where the powdered paint flows like water because of passing currents,” Davidson said. “It is like dipping them in water, and then they go into the oven.”
The large oven that is critical to her painting business was purchased on eBay.
“I got it from someone in Elmer, Mo., and when we picked it up, he also gave me a spray gun, hoses and other items,” she said. “He told me, ‘This is what I started with,’ and he wanted me to have the same chance for success.”
Now Davidson said she is looking for a second oven for her growing business.
Painting has only been going on at Ribbet for two years. Like many companies south of Little Rock, the business started with aluminum.
“In 1977, I got a job making aluminum windows and doors in Hot Springs,” Davidson said. “The company sold five times, but I stayed on until it went out of business. I just called all the customers and said, ‘I can open my own business. Would you stay with me?’”
At the other end of the building she rents, her workers turn straight pieces of aluminum into ribs that are then used on boats manufactured by SeaArk Boats in Monticello. The boat ribs are the origin of the company’s name.
“We coin (meaning stamp), swedge (crimp down the ends) and form (bend) to the specifications of the customer and make for a stronger boat body,” Davidson said. “The company also cuts, drills and bends additional small parts for customers.
“Most of that work is done by the only man in the company, Chris Kauffman. He is our muscle. He has been working with me since before I started the company,” said Davidson.
With a variety of manufacturing and finishing processes in her company, she said her business has grown since she opened in October 2011.
“I want to expand, and I’m looking at getting more equipment, and I would like to have my own building,” Davidson said. “I do the painting and the rest because it is what I know how to do. If someone comes in with something else and it’s cost effective, I’ll do that, too.”
Wayne Bryan can be contacted at (501) 244-4460 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or email@example.com.