You have been striping parking lots and street corners for years with a traditional walk-behind paint striper. Now, suddenly, a customer asks for a more durable line, one that will last up to three to five years. After all, repainting can be costly and, depending on customers, the subsequent disruption can mean a loss of business for them.
In an increasingly competitive marketplace, if you can find ways to reduce operating costs for your customers, you can find a way to add positive numbers to your bottom line. In this case, the line is made of thermoplastic material. Wait a second, you say. Applying thermoplastic is costly. For starters, it requires using a totally different hand liner, a means to melt the material, and possibly a trailer to haul around additional equipment. Then there is the material and the process itself, which to some may seem a bit laborious compared to laying down paint. The truth is, say two marking equipment manufacturers, the return in thermoplastic technology is well worth the investment for pavement contractors looking to capitalize on a growing niche market.
One may ask, "Can there really be an increasing demand for a technology that has been around since the end of World War II?" The answer is a categorical "Yes," says Steve Shinners, vice president of sales for MRL Equipment Co., in Billings, MT, and Rose Connelly, inside sales manager for M-B Companies in New Holstein, WI.
"Increased traffic volumes today require more durable marking materials, and local government bodies as well as major chain stores such as Lowes and Home Depot are specifying thermoplastic," Shinners explains. "Being able to supply this service is one way pavement contractors can grow their sales and it serves to differentiate them from contractors who exclusively apply paint." He notes that thermoplastic also brings with it a higher profit margin than paint striping.
Because thermoplastic lines can be 6 to 10 times thicker than a paint line, the technology has been more popular in southern states than in the north where snowplows and other snow removal equipment can damage lines. As Connelly adds, though, the use of equipment to feather the line's leading edge and the fact that thermoplastic is easy to patch has made the technology attractive in many colder, northern states, as well. "The cost effectiveness of the technology makes thermoplastic something more and more contractors are looking at seriously," she says. "In addition, there are equipment options available today that make the process more affordable, especially for smaller contractors."
Contractors who want to apply thermoplastic stripes with a walk-behind extrusion applicator have two basic options. They can employ a pre-melter to heat the thermoplastic and apply the material with a hand liner or use a smaller melter/hand liner combination that essentially removes a step out of the process. Either way, the material is heated to 400°F - 425° F and then applied to the pavement. An LP gas heat source keeps the material at the proper temperature in the hand liner during the striping application.
Walk-behind hand liners can hold up to 200 to 250 pounds of thermoplastic material and another 50 pounds of glass beads.
Operators lower the die to the pavement using one control lever and control the flow of material into a die with another.
As Shinners explains, pavement and air temperature should be at least 50°F and the surface dry at the time of application.
Thermoplastic can be applied over old markings but adhesion will only be as good as that of the existing stripe, he adds, noting that new concrete should be allowed to cure at least 14 days and any curing membranes or compounds should be removed prior to striping. Consult your thermoplastic supplier for their recommendations if in doubt.