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When Eric Turner joined Houston Plating and Coatings (HPC) in 2001, while still in college, it wasn’t in a high-profile position.

“It was below entry level, let’s put it that way,” says Turner, now HPC’s vice president and chief operating officer. He was a forklift operator for the shop’s operations, which included electroless nickel plating and several different kinds of spray coatings, many of which were used in the expanding oil and gas markets.

A few years after Turner joined HPC, Bill Howard and a team of investors purchased the company and began to transform it from a typical job shop that took all comers to one that focused on high-end coatings and processes.

Almost 15 years later, HPC finds itself atop the Products Finishing Top Shops Benchmarking Survey as the No. 1-rated liquid and powder coater facility in North America for 2019. The shop has been named a Top Shop for several years in both the plating and liquid/powder categories, and has worked itself into being one of the best in both fields.

“Bill and his team really turned this company around, and it is nothing like it looked back when I started,” Turner says. “We’ve instituted many standards and procedures on how to perform these coating operations the correct way and in the best way for our customers. It truly made a huge difference in how we operated.”

Outstanding Numbers, Big Growth

For the recent survey, HPC clocked in with an on-time delivery rate of 98.03%, and a first-pass quality yield of 99.99%, operating just over 20 hours a day supplying a busy gas and oil industry in the south Texas area.

HPC saw a 22% growth in sales from 2017 to 2018, and is expecting at least a 20% jump in sales for 2019, while operating at about 75% percent capacity and churning out just over 2 million finished parts.

“We have a huge amount of customers and they are located all over,” Turner says. “We fill about 150 orders a day and even I’m amazed, when I walk through our shop, at how busy we can be at times. But we have good people here and good processes that they follow, and it just flows very smoothly for us.”

HPC has grown to be one of the largest such service firms in the Southwest by providing its customers with electroless nickel plating, salt bath nitriding (SBN/QPQ), zinc and manganese phosphate, and a wide variety of spray coatings at its south Houston and Humble, Texas, plants.

Howard became president of HPC in 2003 when he assembled a group of investors to acquire the company from its founder, Joe Crutchfield, and began adding services and facilities to meet the energy industry’s forecasted growth.

“During the 2015-2016 energy downturn, we consolidated and streamlined most operations while adding additional capacity, making HPC an even better, more efficient company,” Howard says. “We have recently contracted to be the first U.S. coatings company to acquire near zero emission coating booths that will be installed at both plants, which will enable us to not only eliminate virtually all greenhouse gas emissions but also permit expanded services without concern for exceeding permit limits.”

Understanding the Supply Chain Process

Prior to purchasing HPC, Howard had no finishing experience in his career. He was an accountant by trade for the former Arthur Andersen firm, and had actually retired. But when scandal hit the firm and his retirement nest egg went south, Howard decided to revive his career and was advised to purchase HPC along with a few other investors.

One thing Howard was very good at was supply chain systems, and he studied them to see how his company could get products coated and to the customer more quickly. He spent so much time analyzing data and systems that he eventually wrote a research paper with several Texas A&M professors called, “Supply Chain Reengineering: Vendor-Managed Services, A Case Study.”

The synopsis of the published paper: “Reengineering of a coatings supply chain program where the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) transfers the roles and responsibilities associated with the corrosion protection phase of the production cycle to its coating supply chain partner, thereby enabling the OEM to focus on its core manufacturing processes.”

Howard and Turner say installing quality control systems into the shop’s operations has helped improve their overall efficiencies and made their customers happier with their work.

“When I first started, our reject rate was through the roof,” Turner says. “But once you go down the trail of implanting certain standards — and it can be a painful trail for many — then you immediately begin to see improvements all around.”

The shop employs about 80 and plans on adding more, if they can find the right candidates. HPC offers numerous employee incentive programs, such as bonus and raise programs, and tuition reimbursements.

“Our big advantage is we have very low turnover, which helps as we try to be consistent as possible in our operations,” Turner says. “We really have a great culture and a great mindset, and that has been the real reason we have grown and improved the way we have.”