Improving Paint Line Efficiency

Author: Paul Henriques in: Painting and Coating

April 29, 2023

Improving Paint Line Efficiency

Painting, coating, anodizing, galvanizing, and other chemical treatment processes are a very unique part of manufacturing. Because of the nature of the shops that run these paint processes, they often find it difficult to justify the cost of an ERP, since the ERP systems often require costly add-ons or customizations to support their unique work.

However, ongoing revolutions in Industry 4.0 and global supply chains have shown that an ERP system implementation is no longer an advantage over the competition, but rather a must-have to ensure market capture and competitive pricing within the market.

Ensuring your continued success involves shopping for, and implementing, a start-of-the-art ERP system that includes readily available paint line management options.

The Paint and Coating Industry

Adding color to our lives has always been part of humanity. With the advent of the industrial revolution and mass production, painting items in mass was required. And with constant new technology and manufactured goods came the need to improve the usability and lifespan of these items. Because of the special skills and equipment required for coating, a new industry was born and grew.

Of course, no industry grows without some pains. For the coating industry, there was the discovery of negative effects, like lead paint or chemical waste. The industry did its best to adapt and improve through it all with most modern paint shops seeing an ecological footprint that is less than 20% of what it was 50 years ago.

Nowadays, the coating industry often flies under the radar of the general population while coating billions of dollars of product around the globe.

The Problems with Paint

Painting is a fundamental part of the manufacturing process. But it is also specialized. Most paint shops (and that includes anodizing, coating, galvanizing, etc.) operate as subcontractors for manufacturers. That is, you take mostly finished parts from customer A, apply a treatment, and send the part back to customer A for them to sell. So, where’s the problem?

The problem is the numbers. By now you are likely experienced enough that you have an excellent estimation of the amount of chemicals you need for every square inch of whichever material is sent to you. But how can you be sure the coat is perfectly even? And are you sure that the same paint was applied to all the parts from the current heat/lot number? Are you having issues with tiny deviations in pigment, coat, or drying processes between your heat numbers that leave batches on the scrap pile? Are re-runs leaving you unsure that you have enough chemicals to start and finish the lot? And what about your processes. Can you improve your process and lead times?

Proof of Bigger Problems

You may be thinking as others before you that everything is okay. There is no reason to change. The parts that aren’t well coated are redone. The parts where the pigment doesn’t quite match are re-run. The poor drying is because of a new operator or adverse weather conditions, etc. Your processes are a bit slower but as long as you are making a profit, there is no reason to change.

Oftentimes shops can be stuck in a reaction cycle. You know the mentality:

“This is how it’s always been done and it works well enough.”

In today’s shops, that mentality doesn’t work anymore. While you are maintaining, your competitors are innovating. Eventually, their better methods will bite your bottom line harder than you can handle. And when you decide to do something about it, it’s too late. Your only option is often to shut your doors and call it a day. You just can’t compete anymore.

Instead, the solution is to welcome innovation.

Solutions in Paint Processes

Of course, all is not lost. There are tools out there that can help improve your processes and improve your competitiveness in this global market by cutting waste. A good example of what good can come from rethinking a process was recently published after consultants from Trans Stellar and the Department of Industrial Engineering of Mercu Buana Univeristy in Indonesia, helped a local firm map out their paint process with a value stream map. Here is what they found:

Process Activity Time (rounded to the second)
Degreasing Soak
Drain
602 – (Value Added)
10 – (Non-Value Added)
Rinsing 1 Soak
Drain
120 – (Value Added)

6 – (Non-Value Added)

Surfacing Soak
Drain
120 – (Value Added)

6 – (Non-Value Added)

Phosphating Soak
Drain
901 – (Value Added)

5 – (Non-Value Added)

Rinsing 2 Soak
Drain
121 – (Value Added)

4 – (Non-Value Added)

Oven Brush
Hanging
Oven
420 – (Non-Value Added)

205 – (Non-Value Added, Necessary)

900 – (Value Added)

Painting Paint 31 – (Value Added)
Curing Oven
Remove
901 – (Value Added)

185 – (Non-Value Added, Necessary)

Totals Value Add

Non-Value Add

Necessary

Total

3696

451

390

4537 seconds (almost 76 minutes)

 

After interviewing the teams involved, the consultants performed a Root Cause Analysis and found that most of the waste created during the process came from 3 areas:

Area Waste Root Cause
Degreasing Overproduction Transportation Overproduction from previous processes/scrap

Poor work conditions and damaged transportation gear

Oven Transportation

Waiting

Extra-Processing

Improper layout

Lack of Capacity

Excess brushing leading to damaged parts

Curing Over-Processing

Transportation

Damaged hangars and conveyor

Poor work conditions and damaged transportation gear

 

Based on the visible causes, the following improvement plan was implemented:

Area Waste Improvement
Degreasing Overproduction Transportation Improve lead time, safety stock, and scheduling

Repair transport gear. Future plans for improved flooring and lighting

Oven Transportation

Waiting

Extra Processing

Improve spacing and invest in new durable hangars

Improved hangar spacing. Future plans for bigger oven

Improve training and tools to decrease excess brushing

Curing Extra Processing

Transportation

Fixed the damaged hangars and auto-conveyor

Repair transport gear. Improved floor and lighting

 

Of course, these solutions seem obvious on review. But plant management needed some convincing of the idea that shutting down production for a day, and spending that time repairing the warehouse, could net such great results.

A few months after the initial visit, the consulting team returned to the paint shop once all the suggested improvements had been implemented and it was found that the lead time for received parts had decreased by almost 20%, or from 4537 seconds to 3645. This included a cut in non-value add time by 300 seconds. In other words, with 5 days of work, the shop was back on schedule due to the added production capabilities. By the end of the quarter, the shop was able to cut prices to capture more customers, which increased profits.

As always, properly applying lean thinking principles to operations always has a net positive effect that pays for itself. However, can these benefits be taken further?

Solutions in Technology

The coating industry is no stranger to technology. From chemicals to applications, changing the way things are done has been a staple. Along the way, there are always small refinements that need to be made to ensure that the products you deliver meet or exceed the needs of your customers.

Some of these solutions are so common that you probably don’t even think of them as a new technology. Thinks like:

  • Paint rollers
  • Paint shakers and mixers
  • Digital color matching
  • Spray guns
  • Curing ovens

Added to paint-specific innovations are other general manufacturing innovations, like:

  • Barcode scanners
  • Point-of-sale software
  • Accounting and financial software

All of these innovations, and more, have served to improve the output per employee around the globe, which has led us to the world we live in, where a new car can survive years of salt damage and a 30-year-old exterior wooden deck is still usable due to galvanized nails and treated and coated lumber.

While the limits of technology have not yet been reached, one of the places where the coating industry has lagged somewhat behind its fabrication partners technologically is in enterprise resource planning (ERP) and management.

While fabricators around the world have been adding or improving their ERP systems, many paint shops are still getting by with jury-rigged solutions that can help with some of their business, but not all. Even with that being the case, the benefits of a full-featured ERP, which includes capacity, maintenance, HR, timekeeping, finance, and sales management (at least) is an essential tool for any manufactory for the 21st century.

Being a smaller organization has its own group of issues when implementing an ERP. Things like the costs of adding the hardware to run an ERP system and the IT department to run it can be deal breakers.

The solution is to look for, and implement, an ERP system that can integrate all the other standard functions with the unique needs of your paint line. Recent reports from a mid-sized manufacturer that includes paint lines have shown that after implementing a vision system and integrating their paint line onto their ERP they saw a decrease in scrapped parts, an increase in productivity, and less customer shipping delays.

A vision system is a series of cameras connected to the ERP. These cameras are set up to capture images of the painted parts as they are moved along the line where they monitor and measure the paint coverage, density, and pigment to ensure the parts are well within the desired range. By having the vision system communicate directly with the ERP, details from the paint are immediately provided to necessary departments. For example, QA will receive a notification if parts start falling outside the acceptable fault range.

Conclusion

Keeping a competitive lead in your sector requires a methodological approach to your processes. Seeking to only maintain your status quo will eventually lead to decreased returns. Ensuring your shop is running lean is half the battle when it comes to staying competitive. Adding the right software that communicates with your existing hardware and can keep pace with your expanding production line should be your first step in growing your business. These smaller investments (in more efficient processes and better data) can lead the way to larger ones, such as new tools and infrastructure.

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