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A Cost-Benefit Analysis of Custom Masking

Is a custom masking design worth the investment? John Gill of Caplugs outlines the considerations to keep in mind when choosing between an off-the-shelf masking solution or a custom-made one.
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John Gill is the international sales engineer for Caplugs. Visit caplugs.com.

Q: I’ve heard custom masking might be a solution to help me complete finishing work faster and more consistently, but I worry about the cost. Is custom masking worth investing in?

Simple operations are often the most desirable in business, particularly when it comes to the world of manufacturing. Simple processes are easy to repeat, ensuring greater consistency in the finished product. These processes are also easier to learn, making training new staff more streamlined. It can also make manufacturing faster through the ease of repeatability.

Yet, when it comes to masking, the simplest choice — a made-to-fit solution — is not always the most popular.

The masking process is often done differently at every place you look. One business may hand tape all protected areas and edges on their products, requiring extensive labor and time for each part. Another may use an off-the-shelf solution that isn’t quite perfect, but cuts some of the time out of preparing each part for finishing. Finally, some businesses use a custom-made masking solution that goes on the part in a fraction of the time, achieving a perfect fit that leads to greater production speed and product consistency. But is a custom design worth the investment?

What’s behind the mask

Of course, no two product lines are the same, and while catalog solutions can work for many applications, unique shapes, contouring, fittings, threading and other requests or requirements can complicate the masking process. This is where a customized solution can be a major benefit.

For many production lines, masking is a hands-on task, involving the application of masking tape, cutting and trimming to achieve the desired fit around edges and working carefully to avoid damaging the surface of the product being finished. This also means that work can only move as fast as the worker completing masking can prepare products, not to mention the costs associated with that worker’s labor — both applying the masking tape before painting or other finishing work and removing masking after treatment.

And what happens if that masking expert is off, gets injured or leaves the company? Your masking expertise is gone, leaving you to rely on other employees who may not know the process or be able to complete the work as quickly.

Standard caps and plugs can be used to streamline the process, but may not fully achieve the necessary coverage. For example, you may use a standard cap product to cover an exposed, threaded connection during painting, but also need to mask an area below the fitting beyond what the cap properly covers. This may lead to using both a cap and masking tape — still getting the job done, but requiring extra steps for each part.

Finding the right solution

As so many infomercials have said over the years, “There’s got to be a better way” ­— and there is. Custom masking can deliver the exact fit you need and help eliminate time and inconsistency in your process.

Custom masking can take a variety of forms, depending on the exact needs for your product. For operations that rely strictly on surface protection during a treatment process, a die-cut masking solution can be the right answer. A die-cut mask can be measured and made to fit the exact shape you have and position exactly in the area you need to protect during finishing. These fitted designs are then produced on a roll to make application as easy as peeling the shape off and sticking it to the part. This can eliminate the need to custom trim tape to fit an odd or unique shape and result in less time spent both preparing and removing your masking during production.

For more complex components, a custom plug or mask may do a better job of meeting your needs. As with the example above, working with a masking solution partner can allow you to develop a protective part that can deliver speed and consistency to your masking process. For instance, a custom cap with an elongated neck could make covering your component and protecting a predetermined area below as simple as sliding on a cap in seconds. This can lead to substantial time saved during operations, not to mention reduced inaccuracies in production that can save you from having customer headaches or scrapping inconsistently finished parts.

Cost versus gains

With so much to potentially gain, it’s easy to see the appeal of a custom masking solution. However, there’s one word there that so many get hung up on — custom. Custom masking is often thought of as a high-cost option that will drive up the price of manufacturing. But when you really look closer, it’s often a better financial decision to invest in a custom solution. Let’s explore why with a few examples.

Labor Savings

Say you manufacture 1,000 units of your product a month, and it takes your employee 5 minutes to mask and remove masking for each unit currently. Over the course of a four-week month, your employee has spent a little more than 83 hours just completing masking work. If you invest in a custom masking part, that time can drop substantially. For our example, let’s say masking time drops from 5 minutes to 1 minute. In turn, that reduces your labor cost to just under 17 hours — a savings of approximately 66 hours of labor per month, and tens of thousands of dollars saved on masking labor over the course of a year.

Overall Part Savings

However, to save that time, you first need to have the custom part created. This involves working with a partner to analyze your needs, develop a custom mold design and produce the new protective masking. This will obviously lead to a higher cost for masking compared with off-the-shelf tapes, plugs or caps. Building upon the example above, if you spent 15 cents per produced part on your masking and that cost quadrupled with a custom masking solution, it would increase your production costs from $150 per month to $600 per month. While significant, even with this change, the savings from labor will offset the increased masking cost in most cases, making the overall production more affordable. You can even find greater savings if your custom cap or plug can be reused in the manufacturing process.

Process Improvements

Beyond the benefit to the bottom line from faster production, however, is the long-term improvement that adding custom masking can make to your overall processes. For example, being able to perform masking faster can allow you to increase the rate of production, making it possible to scale up operations and increase manufacturing volume. This can reduce the lead time for order fulfillment or make it possible to ramp up production to meet increased customer demand. A custom masking solution can also result in more consistency in your finished product, reducing waste and loss for products during finishing and treatment work while reducing customer issues and complaints.

New Opportunities

In addition to the reduced labor cost, the saved time means you also can find other job duties for your staff. This could make your business more able to adapt to other projects of needs or lead to increased productivity in other areas of your business. Finally, over the longer term of production for your product line, a custom masking product can pay for itself multiple times over. As the initial cost and investment in developing the right protection is used in your manufacturing operations for months or even years to come, the time and labor savings increase, meaning even more money saved over an even longer period.

Reducing the complexity of simplicity

Finding a faster, cheaper and better way to complete your masking doesn’t have to be difficult or cost-prohibitive. When you work with a skilled masking partner, they can analyze your needs and process to help create a solution that is affordable and repeatable, working to streamline your processes while keeping your costs in line. Optimize your operations and realize the gains you can make in your production process by choosing the right part for the job — a custom solution, purpose-built for your exact masking needs.