Plastonics’ Bob Zimmerli calls it “brutal,” as does Burkard Industries’ Jay Burkard. Kettle Moraine Coatings’ John Heyer calls it “very intimidating.”
At the other end of the spectrum, SourceOne’s Ivan Reed says it’s “welcoming,” and Micron Metal Finishing’s Brad Watt: “encouraging.”
Call it what they may, the irony is that all of these powder coaters volunteered to undergo the exercise of peer evaluation by eight or nine others as part of the “20-Group” program sponsored by DuPont Coating Solutions.
The concept is simple: Several times a year, bring together a group of non-competing powder coaters to a fellow member’s plant and have them go through the inner workings with a fine-tooth comb, reporting back their observations in a no-holds-barred format designed to improve efficiencies, quality and the bottom line.
It’s constructive criticism that is designed to share best practices, generate new ideas, and make an often good thing even better. That golden advice is why participants are willing to endure the assessment.
“I think our first time, most of the 20-Group were lenient,” says Gloria Enders, president of Freedom Finishers (Benton Harbor, MI). “But our whole company agreed that next time we get assessed by this group, we would prefer the ‘brutal’ side of it, so we can push ourselves to be the best we can be with their help.”
“There’s nothing brutal about it,” says Watt. “If you want to get the most value out of it then you need to prepare for it, welcome it and encourage feedback and input you can get from your ‘free’ consultants. Nobody holds back when assessing, but of course you don’t want them to.”
Says Zimmerli: “When you get feedback about what is good or bad, it only makes you better.”
The 20-Group program started in the fall of 2002 when DuPont asked 14 custom coaters to come to Houston to sit on an advisory board called the “Star Coaters.” From that meeting, the peer evaluation plan was hatched, says SourceOne’s Reed, who attended the 2002 meeting and took part in the first review in 2003 and dozens of others since.
“The benefits have far outweighed any costs or time spent with the groups,” says Reed, who recently retired as a division manager at the Lincoln, NE, plant. “The knowledge that we have learned from each other—about how to improve our powder systems, that there is another correct way of doing things, that when we do an assessment we are there to learn —I have learned far more than I have been able to teach.”
UNDER THE MICROSCOPE
The most recent 20-Group met at Burkard’s Clinton Township, MI, plant in December, arriving on a Thursday evening for dinner, spending all day Friday at Burkard Industries going over a specified assessment list, then reconvening Saturday morning to review their findings and present to Jay and his wife, Dona, owners of the company.
There are several groups spread out across the country, and despite its name only 8–10 companies partake in each regional group. The actual ‘20-Group’ name comes from a practice dating to the 1940s when auto dealers would meet as groups and exchange ideas, discuss best practices and look for new ways to sell cars to the public.
The ‘A-Team’ as the Midwest group calls itself, includes Advanced Industrial Coatings of Stockton, CA; Cost Effective Coatings of North East, PA; Freedom Finishing from Benton Harbor, MI; Kettle Moraine Coatings of Jackson, WI; Microfinish of St. Louis, MO; Plastonics of Hartford, CT; SourceOne of Lincoln, NE; and Burkard, the guinea pig for the weekend.
DuPont Coating Solutions personnel facilitate the meetings, but each group gets to set their own agenda for the gatherings. Besides the A-Team, two other groups exist: the All-Stars and the Masters.
All of the members started out as part of DuPont’s Star Coaters program, a fee-based partnership between DuPont and some of its top powder coaters. The advantages to the plants is they often get discounted pricing on supplies and equipment, special training by industry experts, certification from the company, and a rebate of 1% of their coating purchases to be used for training, consulting services and equipment.
TRIPS TO EUROPE
The Star Coaters also sponsor a European trip every other year for members to visit plants and factories in Germany, France, Spain and other locations to see best-practices in those countries, too.
“Learning about the European ways of pretreatment, the lack of safety, the extrusion and how they are handled have all been valuable,” says Reed. “Learning how the French work together in the same geographic area at the French Star Coaters show was certainly interesting.”
Kettle Moraine Coating’s Heyer went on a trip last fall to Belgium, Austria and Germany to tour six plants and witness their operations.
“It was very fascinating seeing how the plants there do things,” Heyer says. “I was very impressed with the investments being made in top notch equipment and facilities. I looked at these tours as opportunities to see how companies on a different continent do the same thing my company does. In many ways there are many similarities—after all, they are doing the same thing. But often there was something we could learn from, such as when I saw a better way to handle a particular racking challenge we face.”
The Burkard Industries assessment included reviews of the company’s conveyor and racking line, its preparation and pretreatment area, the coating area and coating equipment and operation, ovens, quality control measures, storage areas and safety issues.
In each category, assessors were asked to rank on a 1–5 scale the conditions, cleanliness, methods and monitoring of the areas, including looking at hoses, nozzles, risers, hangers and others.
Watt says he and the other assessors have to look at the operations a little differently when they grab the clipboards and walk the lines.
“You need to put on your auditors hat,” he says. “Why are they doing what they are doing and is there control of there process? Do the employees know why they are doing what they are doing? Are there systems in place to keep control of quality and keep bad parts from going out the door? How is the efficiency of the products moving through their operation? We are all in the same business and understand how daily situations change our written plans, but we are trying to help each other be more productive and efficient.”
Heyer says he looks for improvements that can help the plant being inspected, as well as his own facility.
“My main thought process is to observe the operation from the standpoint of what can I learn from the facility I am visiting and apply to my company,” he says. “I look a lot at racking, run rates, the numbers of people staffing a line, management of product flow, controls in place through the process, and the documentation of everything happening. If in this process I see something I feel the company can do better, I will point it out.”
Cost Effective Coatings’ Rich King says he tries to learn as much as he can about the facility he is assessing.
“Over the years I learned it is important to understand what the strategy is for the assessed company, and what market segment they are trying to fill,” he says. “Then I look to see if their facility and their procedures match that market and the quality needs.”
Enders says: “My thought process going into an assessment is: What is it that I can do to help make this company I am assessing more efficient and profitable?”
The teams can choose to add special updates and reports on various business operations after the initial assessment is completed. The Burkard assessment team decided to have several members report on employee benefits, incentive programs, advertising and websites before calling it a day on Saturday.
The group reconvened Saturday morning for the facility assessment review at the hotel they were staying at before departing for home at noon, but not before outlining key takeaways from the experience.
Most who have undergone the microscope of an assessment say they are better for it. “Being part of a bigger group has answered many technical questions as well as many other business related issues,” King says. “We also were able to benchmark our pricing and costing against many other top companies across the country.”
Heyer says the process has helped him better manage the financial aspect of his company. “Our group has shared information on percents of each sales dollar being taken up by various costs such as labor, material, energy, etc.” he says. “This has helped point out to me both areas we need to work on and areas we appear to be managing well.”
TIPS AND TRICKS
Watt said he always picks up ways to improve his business when he takes part in assessments.
“I have picked up tips and tricks about everything from employee discipline to better masking techniques, safety games to application equipment, and successful website strategies to housekeeping procedures,” Watt says. “There are so many little things we deal with running a business, we can be much more efficient with the ammunition we give each other.”
The next step for group members is taking the assessment and suggestions from the inspections and implementing them into operations with their employees, which is often easier said than done.
“Since we are ISO certified and we want to continually improve, our employee’s felt the information we gathered was very useful,” Zimmerli says. “If it helps the company improve and keeps our customers happy, then they have a better chance of keeping their jobs.”
Watts says it was a little difficult to get employee buy-in at first.
“Our employees were a bit reluctant at first, but as they realized that the assessors were there to help and that they face the same issues daily, they opened up quite readily,” he says.
Heyer adds: “Overall, the employees have been very positive since they know it presents an opportunity to improve our company.”
SourceOne’s Reed said that while he has learned a lot professionally from the 20-Group and Star Coaters’ experience, he has also made lasting friendships in the industry. He and his wife, Carol, look forward to seeing familiar faces on the overseas trips.
“The help that we get and give to each other cannot be found anywhere else,” Reed says. “What other organization do you know that if you ask for any help or advice, you get eight or nine expert replies back that day? Not one person in this group holds any thing back; if we know it, we share it.”
Freedom Finishing’s Enders says the help she gets from the 20-Group is immeasurable. “I feel as though I have 18 consultants behind me,” she says. “They respond with facts and experience, without judgment. They are always honest and sincere, and steer me in the right direction. I receive support and guidance from my friends and consultants at no charge.” n
For information on the DuPont Starcoaters program, visit www2.dupont.com/Powder/en_US/programs_services/star_coater.html.