Color Me Core Competency
Paint and coatings suppliers tailor make services for customers
The only way to properly sell another company your expertise is to offer it in doses. Rather than prepackaging service plans, a prescription that directly fills each customers’ needs is developed. Like much of the industry, paints and coatings companies are no strangers to this idea and are well versed in offering differentiated services to a number of customers simultaneously. Two companies entrenched in offering such technicolor problem-solving are MetoKote and PPG.
“We operate over 150 systems on a daily basis throughout our organization. No two of those systems are exactly alike. They’re all designed for something unique and different, for a specific need,” says Tim Klopfenstein, director of marketing for MetoKote.
This type of service differentiation crosses over into manufacturing layout as well.
|Metokote technicians work on an agricultural chassis in the paint booth.|
|This batch of automotive B pillars is moved to the clean room after receiving electro-coat.|
Complete involvement from a paints and coatings standpoint means inclusion prior to the actual plant design/layout. Such involvement allows the paints/coatings suppliers to drop the paint shop in the most desirable spot for efficiency. This is known as a “footprint” situation.
This is the preferred way of doing business because it allows the paints/coatings people to delineate their job-specific spatial requirements. However it is also common to offer reverse engineered paint shops based on a limited amount of space. Situations like these are known as “shoehorn” situations. This is not discouraged by paints/coatings suppliers as it gives their engineers more experience at problem solving while offering them a chance to wow customers with that know-how.
Additionally, the capability of offering such services in the midst of logistical difficulties will only broaden the possible number of customers.
“First of all, you do it in a way where you don’t have to take shortcuts. The advantage in what MetoKote brings to the table in addressing that is we’ve got people around who are strong on the engineering side in terms of developing coatings equipment.
That expertise comes to light when you’re faced with specific examples of difficult scenarios. Being able to design that equipment in limited spaces is something we’ve done in the past — but again it’s much friendlier to design a paint system and then design the plant around it,” Klofenstein says.
Tower Automotive has a partnership with MetoKote for coating the frames it produces for Dodge Durangos and Dakotas. In this partnership, MetoKote assumes responsibility for 100 percent of coatings operations.
This particular situation was a “footprint” where Tower and Metokote consulted before the plant was laid out which provided MetoKote with exactly the space they needed. According to MetoKote, the coatings area was online six to nine months post-contract.
“We’ve got information that we give them going into the contract arena so they understand what they are going to bring to the table and what we’re going to bring to the table as far as expertise, capital and personnel,” he says.
The line at the Tower plant takes on palates of six frames at a time and runs them through a two hour process, separately, which includes a 20 to 60 minute bake session at 325-350? F. There are seven MetoKote employees on hand in the plant. — three of which are hourly employees, as well as a line leader and a lab tech who analyzes bath and paint conditions.
Another overall benefit of bringing the coatings facility in-house is the elimination of shipping damage. In cases where frames are taken off-site to be coated, the final products aren’t seen again before delivery to the customer. The elimination of shipping the frames and then shipping them again, after coating, eliminates the shipping cost and gives the piece of mind that comes along with seeing the frames in a completed state before shipment. Rather than having suppliers get the last inspection of your product prior to delivery.
Dennis Taljan, global director of decorative products for PPG describes a situation where PPG was asked for ideas on how to speed up a customer’s line based on the company’s product offerings.
“For instance, one automaker last year said ‘we’re building a couple hundred thousand units a year and we’d like to increase that by 50 percent. Can you tell us what you have from a product offering perspective that would allow us to do that?’ In which case we go in and analyze the line — find the pinch points — we find some of the issues. Then we came back and presented five different scenarios based on that — on how they could in fact increase their line speed based on some new product technologies.”
PPG also gets help from its application center in Flint, Mich.
“At our applications centers we have the ability to install any equipment that might be relevant,” says Taljan. “Whether it’s a new electrostatic gun, a rotary atomizer or anything we have to have in there and we evaluate it. What we try to do is work in partnership with the key equipment suppliers — we’ll provide paint they’ll provide equipment. Then we see how the products interact with each other.”
|Automotive trim pieces go into the zinc phosphate pretreatment dip tank prior to the E-coat. |
PPG has a number of people who are actually application engineers/design engineers or mechanical/electrical engineers who interface with the equipment manufacturers. So when PPG goes in and looks at a sight it can also look at it from the perspective of how many atomizers will you need. How many robots will fit in? What type of spacing do you require? What kind of thermal energy you need for curing?
“We have knowledge in all these areas which allow us to be thorough in what we do — which then leaves the decision to the automaker whether to take our recommendation or not. We spend a lot of time making sure we know how all the equipment works,” Taljan adds.
Manufacturing know-how in the paints and coatings arena isn’t the only type of outsourced expertise. Color formation/design is also a service offered to automakers by paint companies. According to Taljan, color development/ design is another commonly outsourced core competency.
“When you are looking at design we tend to think of color from that terminology -– as a design concept. We’ll do everything for certain customers. As far as market trend analysis, the coordination with interior suppliers, the looking at exterior structures and using all of the relevant fashion information to put together an approach. Sometimes customers give us a name… like ‘sturdy’ or ‘toughman’ or something like that and they ask us to come back and give them a profile around that. Or give us color schemes that coordinate with that… or give us an approach to a vehicle. Or they give us a line and ask us what color goes with a line. In other instances it’s a case of them sitting down and explaining their concept in words and then we come back with color, shapes and combinations to them. So design is probably the oldest form of outsourcing, I would think, in terms of the automotive industry enlisting the aid of the coatings companies as well as interior suppliers to give them options for the feel of their vehicle.”
This history with such customers allows a further understanding of how to work in accordance with these customers.
“One thing the automakers don’t do is really let you get inside the final vehicle decision. I mean they really prize design. The shape of the body the final design is often kept under lock and key,” say Taljan. “One of our significant offerings is to be able to work in that kind of environment where they tell us something but not everything. And then we try to think like them — we spend a lot of time with their people.
This is where our customer intimacy is a very important part of it. I don’t think this is the kind of thing you can do with a CAD program or a phone conference.
You have to sit down with somebody. You have to talk to somebody. This is where walking outside on a summer day and seeing shades of green and having people comment about what they like about them has an impact on how we can provide a service for that part of the industry.”