By Sharon Thatcher

How you buy steel coil is one the most significant ongoing financial decisions you make in the business of roll forming. Cole Wolford, in the Coil Division of Graber Post Buildings, says part of the buying equation deals with the pros and cons of buying bare metal then sending it as needed to a coil coater vs. pre-painted. In a recent interview, as a prelude to his upcoming educational session, “Coil Purchasing Strategies” at the June 3-4 Construction Rollforming Show, he provided some insight into why some rollformers choose one over the other.

The Pros of Bare-to-Paint

Today, buying pre-painted has become the norm, yet Wolford noted that a lot of bare metal is still being purchased. At one time, it was common because offshore bare steel was cheaper even with subsequent coating factored in, and it was rationalized that if there was a quality issue it would be caught by the domestic coil coater.

“There’s been kind of an old theory in our industry that if you are buying bare-to-paint — specifically offshore bare-to-paint — it’s better to have a second set of eyes on that coil before it shows up at your place,” he said. “In the past, say I buy a substrate offshore and bring it into the U.S. and get it painted, somebody is seeing that bare coil as it runs down the line. If there is an issue with the substrate (that might get hidden by the paint) the coating line is going to shut that down for me and they’re going to alert me and say ‘you don’t want to keep putting paint on that coil because it’s going to cause problems.’”

Consequently, you still had the advantages of cheaper steel, but with the benefits of some quality control.

“That was a theory used at one time and there’s enough people in the industry that have been around long enough to still subscribe to that theory,” Wolford added. 

Another advantage to bare-to-paint coil is the freedom to switch colors on the fly.

“If you go and buy pre-painted coil stock, you have already committed [to certain colors]. Let’s say you’re going to buy 500 tons of pre-painted this month … you’ve committed all 500 tons to those colors. Next thing you know you have a run on [a different color] and you don’t have anything for that because that’s not what you bought.”

It is more likely that you will be able to get the color you need quicker via bare-to-paint. The turnaround time is shorter because you already have the coil in your inventory, whereas, if your typical pre-painted provider doesn’t have the color you need in stock (which is more of a problem in tight-market situations such as being experienced today) your order may wait in line for a couple of months or more while it is being made and delivered.

The Pros of Pre-Painted

Pre-painted coil, however, has gained in popularity for its own obvious reasons: when it’s in stock, there’s no extra preparations needed and no extra shipping expenses getting it to and from the coil coater location. “If I buy bare-to-paint somewhere I’ve got to get it to that coating line to get the paint put on it,” Wolford explained. With pre-painted coil, “it’s a little more cost effective because you don’t have all the freight.”

An additional benefit to pre-painted coil deals with waste during the coating process.

“When you paint coil there’s always going to be coil loss,” Wolford said. “There’s a head and a tail on that coil and there’s going to be some of it that’s not going to be a good, finished product by the time it gets through the coating line. They’ll crop it out and give you a scrap credit for it, but if you bought, let’s say 100,000 pounds of bare-to-paint from the steel mill, well, you’ve paid them for the 100,000 pounds. Then by time it’s all coated, painted, and shows up at your shop, maybe you only get 98,000 pounds, yet you’ve paid, on the steel side, for 100,000 pounds.”

For pre-painted coil, the scrap loss is already factored into the equation; “you don’t have to look at it, you don’t see it,” Wolford said. “Once they ship it, you pay for what’s on the truck when it shows up at your place.”

The Winner?

So what is better — bare-to-paint or pre-painted? Wolford said there is no right or wrong answer.

Graber Post primarily uses and sells pre-painted metal, but keeps some bare metal around for just-in-case situations. “Maybe we mis-figured our calculations, or maybe the mill delivered a little less than what we ordered and all of a sudden we realize we need three more truckloads of, say charcoal coil,” he said. “Well if we have our bare-to-paint at a coating location, we can put in an order and get some charcoal.” RF