Changing Your Painting Process

Changing the way you do things can be difficult. But, Grote Industries embraces change by encouraging its employees to continually generate ideas to improve its manufacturing process. This philosophy made the switch to new electrostatic bells on the painting line a rather easy one...


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Change is an inevitable part of doing business. Without positive change, a company will become stagnant, losing ground to its competition. And despite its benefits, such as increased efficiency and higher profits, some companies avoid change as much as possible. To people at these companies, change can mean being taken out of their comfort zone or the loss of a job.

So, how do you go about implementing positive changes to your company, whether they involve an alteration of corporate structure or the implementation of new electrostatic bells on the paint line?

Making a Smooth Transition

Grote Industries, Madison, IN, is a manufacturer of light housing and mirrors for the transportation industry. The company uses a variety of finishes, including enamels, lacquers, vacuum metallizing and plating, to coat these parts.

Recently, the company was forced to make a change to the spray equipment on its paint line. Sheila Gibson, paint processing engineer at Grote, stated, "We had to do it because we couldn't get replacement parts. The equipment that we had was 20 to 25 years old, and the manufacturer actually was not making any replacement parts for it. And, I guess a company that knew that particular gun was going obsolete bought up all the replacement parts. So, when we needed any replacement parts, we were going to have to go to this company and pay whatever they wanted." Not only could Grote not get replacement parts for the guns, but the transfer efficiency was extremely low as well, around 20-25%.

Being forced to make the change put Grote in a difficult position. That's because when people are forced to change the results are usually anything but a smooth transition. According to one individual, "If employees don't like it, they're not going to make it work. They'll make sure it doesn't work."

But, fortunately for Grote, it has established a philosophy that embraces and fosters change. That philosophy is best exemplified by its requirement for buy-in from employees before making a change and its IDEAS program (see below)

Ask anyone at Grote and they will tell you the key to making a smooth transition and creating positive change is getting buy-in from those that will be affected most by the change. "On anything that we do, I don't make a decision even though it may be my responsibility," explained Ms. Gibson. "We have a committee, and the majority rules on whatever we do. If you don't have buy-in from everybody on the floor that's going to be using it, it's not going to work. I can guarantee it before we put it in."

So, before bringing in any equipment to test, Grote formed a committee of employees that would be affected by the change. "Both painters were on the committee. The people from load/unload were on the committee. The line supervisor was on the committee. And, we had some maintenance people on the committee," said Ms. Gibson. Including these people on the committee allowed them to be a part of the decision making process and alleviated some of the fear they might have had if the change had just been thrown upon them.

For Ms. Gibson, eliminating employees concerns and fears is crucial to creating positive change. "One gentleman's been in our paint room for almost 40 years. He always touched up parts. He doesn't feel like the parts are painted if he doesn't have a gun," stated Ms. Gibson. But, by including the painter on the committee, he could be confident that the new equipment would meet his quality standard.

New Electrostatic Bells

After examining equipment from a number of suppliers, the committee decided on PPH 307 electrostatic high-speed rotary atomizers from Sames Corp. These guns have provided Grote with several advantages and benefits.

While Grote's previous guns were also electrostatic, the technology has changed in the last 20-25 years. The improved electrostatic charging of the new guns means fewer paint particles end up as waste or overspray and more are attracted to the part's surface. The improved electrostatics of the new guns have increased Grote's transfer efficiency to 65%, which is significantly higher than the 20% it was achieving previously. With the improved transfer efficiency has come reduced paint use and reduced VOC emissions. In about 9 months, Grote has saved $10,000 in paint costs, which does not include additional chemical savings for Grote because it reduces its own paint.

Another advantage of the new electrostatic spray guns is the wide range of shaping air. The shaping air can create a narrow, penetrating spray pattern for intricate parts or parts with cavities, and it can produce wide spray patterns for predominantly flat parts. The shaping air, combined with the improved electrostatics, is important for Grote because its parts have a variety of geometries. "We do anywhere between 200 and 250 different part numbers on this line. We do quite a variation on the line and to find one piece of equipment that would encompass all of that was difficult," stated Ms. Gibson.

But, the most important benefit of all has been the reduction of touch-up required on each part. With the addition of these guns, Grote has eliminated touch-up on 60% of the parts it manufactures. The company feels it could eliminate 90% of the touch-up work it used to do, but there has been a substantial learning curve because of the company's large number of parts. The reduction of touch-up has also meant a more uniform finish from part to part, which is important for Grote since it serves the automotive industry.

While there is still room for more improvement, Grote has certainly achieved a positive change with the addition of the new electrostatic rotary atomizers. And it wouldn't have been possible without the input of all the company's employees.

Grote manufactures and paints a variety of parts for the transportation industry. Because of its diverse product line, the company had to find a rotary atomizer that could efficiently paint more than 200 different part geometries.

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