Finishing Disconnect

Cognitive dissonance is a psychological term used to define the condition that results whenever an individual attempts to hold two incompatible, if not contradictory, thoughts at the same time.


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Cognitive dissonance is a psychological term used to define the condition that results whenever an individual attempts to hold two incompatible, if not contradictory, thoughts at the same time. Often enough, it results in a kind of vague feeling of uncomfortable tension in the individual holding the contradicting thoughts.

Even though this tension may exist only on the subconscious level, I’ve become convinced that I’m feeling it these days. The source: a seeming disconnect between my notion of the importance of the finishing industry and the perception of the general public.

Being a part of the industry, I absolutely believe in the vital role of a product’s finish not only in a consumer’s initial buying decision but also to the long-term usefulness of the product. At the time of purchase, a product’s finish can convey utility, elegance, ruggedness, quality or any number of other desirable characteristics. Over time, finish quality has a huge impact on the product’s long-term durability and appearance.

Some folks seem to grasp this. Ford Motor Company, for example, is touting “Chrome Edition” vehicles in some parts of the country. Featuring a chrome mesh grille and 18-inch chrome-clad wheels, the cars and trucks sell for a premium over “regular” vehicles. Obviously, someone at the company has an understanding of the value of a unique finish.

On the other hand, one of the main sources of thoughts that conflict with my views on this topic is also one of my favorite television shows. It’s called “How it’s Made.” (OK, I admit my TV viewing habits may be just a bit outside the mainstream.)

In a nutshell, the half-hour show, which airs on Discovery Channel at various times, chronicles how a wide array of consumer goods are manufactured. Over its run it has documented production processes for literally hundreds of items, ranging from the mundane—toilet paper and rubber mats made from recycled tires spring to mind here—to sporting goods, vehicles such as helicopters, trucks and ATVs, food and beverage items and off-the-wall stuff such as artificial eyes.

Each 30-min show covers manufacturing of four products. Take away time for commercials, and you’re left with segments lasting about five min each. Granted, that’s not a lot of time to go into much detail about how these products are really manufactured, but it’s a lot more information than most people normally get. It might even be enough to start some young viewers thinking about possible careers in manufacturing, which is not a career path valued by our society or taught in our

The unfortunate result of this lack of education is that large segments of our population have never seen the inside of a factory. Many people seem to think their cars, mp3 players, PCs, cell phones and just about every other manufactured item they depend on every day spring fully formed from some unknown location by some form of alchemy.

But I digress. The state of manufacturing education in the United States is a possible topic for another column.

No, the issue here is the amount of time spent on finishing operations—or, more accurately, the lack of time spent on finishing operations—for manufactured goods featured on “How It’s Made.”

In nearly all cases, finishing is shown just as an afterthought, covered in just a few seconds at best. Here’s a powder booth. See how the spray guns move up and down. Here’s a plating tank. The products are dipped in the liquid on racks and come out shiny. It’s all over in less than the time it took you to read this paragraph.

At least the producers don’t discriminate in terms of the type of operation being performed—they don’t care if it’s painting or powder coating, plating, anodizing or something else. With very few exceptions, they barely show it.

So, I’m asking myself, who’s got it right? Are the marketers at Ford on the right track, touting special finishes to add consumer appeal for some of their vehicles? Or are the producers of “How It’s Made” correct in giving finishing operations such little attention?

You can probably guess where my sentiments lie. For many products, finishing may indeed be a relatively small part of the overall manufacturing process. But a product’s finish—good or bad—can have a huge impact on consumer perceptions of quality at the time of purchase and over the life of the product.

If you’ve read this far, thanks for sticking with me. I think I feel better now.