Increasing competition in today’s global marketplace dictates that manufacturers constantly evaluate their overall finishing operations to assure that they are running as efficiently as possible. While leading manufacturers make spot checking part of their normal maintenance routine, recurring problems translate into lost production time and costly re-works. Conducting a periodic full-scale audit of the finishing operation allows manufacturers to focus on overall performance as well as on specific problems, and find practical solutions to improve the bottom line.
A good finishing audit involves an entire team of professionals, the plant manager, finish room supervisor, coatings supplier, and quality control and environmental representatives. All team members work together to identify problems based on their own data. It also uses a detailed checklist to evaluate three critical areas: quality issues, material usage, and regulation compliance issues. It also provides detailed, booth-by-booth written recommendations for improving finishing operations.
The most common finish problems deal with quality issues, which can result in costly re-works. The audit team takes all aspects of the finishing operation—plant layout, ergonomics, production requirements, materials, and other important criteria—into consideration. Each segment of the process is evaluated. Resolutions can include:
- Equipment upgrades
- Improvements in operator technique
- Changes in finish room layout
Making companies more efficient with finishing materials can reduce material costs, and reduce emissions, clean-up and waste disposal costs. To verify material consumption, the audit team must thoroughly evaluate equipment performance by relying on existing data. However, the most accurate method is the use of a flow meter to determine exact usage and to evaluate whether or not finishing equipment is set up properly. In this test, finishers spray a certain number of parts with existing equipment and pressures. After testing the new spray equipment, finish operators use that equipment to spray the same number of parts. The amount of finish material used in each test is measured and compared. Mil build is also compared to verify results of the test. Results will indicate if a more efficient method exists for spraying necessary materials. In fact, after quantifying material usage, disposal and emissions costs, and lost time due to multiple daily color changes, a number of high-production companies find that dedicating guns per color can improve efficiency dramatically, something that was not explicitly apparent until a comprehensive audit.
Manufacturers have realized large returns on both large and small investments. Obviously, improving efficiency is a key component to improving the bottom-line; but the critical changes responsible for these improvements cannot be identified and instituted without a comprehensive finishing audit.
Regulation Compliance Issues
he final evaluation component of a good finishing audit involves conducting a pseudo-inspection of the finish room using a checklist from the Environmental Protection Agency and various state pollution prevention agencies. Since the adoption of the National Emissions Standards for Hazard Air Pollutants (NESHAP), companies must be vigilant in following regulations. Infractions are expensive due to fines as well as lost production time. Auditors can evaluate the finish room based on regulatory criteria and give companies a head start on reconciling any potential infractions.
Putting It All Together
Recently an OEM customer sought a solution to a problem he was having with inconsistent mil coverage. The finishing operation was experiencing air control problems and was having trouble staying within the tolerance range on mil specs. After conducting an audit, the OEM manufacturer identified specific problems relating to maintaining adequate fluid pressure and also relating to spray gun atomization.
The audit results noted that the inability to control fluid pressures from the tanks was the likely cause of the fluid delivery fluctuations experienced on the finishing line. By adding additional regulators to control fluid pressure, the audit team was able to resolve this problem.
With regard to improving spray gun atomization, the team recommended reducing air consumption to reduce air volume and increase transfer efficiency. To achieve this, they introduced a new model of HVLP technology that operates at lower pressures and less cfm, which resulted in reducing the psi from 60-25 psi (and also reducing air volume). Reducing air consumption made the HVLP spray guns more efficient, allowing the manufacturer to improve overall transfer efficiency, and also kept the finishing operation in compliance with regulations.
The net result of all the changes? This manufacturer was able to stay within the tolerance range on mil specs and reduce labor costs by keeping finishers working on new product rather than on costly re-works. In addition, the OEM reduced coating costs because of overall increases in transfer efficiency. The bottom line benefits to this specific OEM were about a $150,000 savings per year in labor costs and coatings use.
The Final Analysis
A good audit team knows the manufacturer’s processes and equipment and can pinpoint problem sources whether equipment, coating or substrate related. The team asks questions and observes the finishing operation during the normal course of a shift. In addition, team members must be active members of various market segments of the manufacturing industry and key professional organizations so that they can focus on the root causes of finishing problems and develop a comprehensive strategy to solve those problems. Once the audit team concludes its evaluation, it should provide a thorough written report of proposed changes to improve quality, material usage, and effectively deal with compliance issues. This report serves as a checklist for audited manufacturers who will ultimately bear the responsibility for making any finish room improvements.