Technology Interchange—3 Steps to Improve Profitability in Powder Coating Shops

Posted on Tuesday, January 24, 2023

By Aaron Halonen

To compete and maximize profits in today’s business environment, powder coating shops need to take three basic steps with their business: digitize, automate, and optimize. Not only will these actions improve business performance, but they will significantly improve workload, stress, quality of work life, and both employee and customer satisfaction.

To digitize is to move your coating operation and business operations to a system that improves the flow of work and enables growth (see Figure 1). To automate is to find every repetitious work element in your process and set up your platform to execute those tasks to save time and prevent errors. To optimize is to take full advantage of the actionable insights from your platform to ultimately improve profitability and efficiency.

Let’s look at how this works.

1. Digitize
Your work orders, quotes, packing slips, and the like take a lot of effort to process, and replacing them with modern solutions that have a user interface optimized for powder coating and features that work well is a step that will make your team more productive. Once you are digitized, those work travelers will absorb rich data as they mature in your process, and that data is fed to your information system to provide actionable insights to improve your operations.

Ask any team that has transitioned to a modern system, and they will tell you that you should have very little paper in your process, and once you switch, paper seems old-fashioned and slow.

A great step to take in digitizing your enterprise is to integrate all activities into one system. Ideally, your inventory, purchase orders, quotes, packing slips, invoices, work
orders, cert reports, scheduling, capacity planning, customer notification, and dashboard are all in one solution.

And just like many other things in your digital life, each team member signs into their tablet when they start working. The accountability that comes with having your name on each action you take yields quality improvements immediately.

To really drive a high quality of life improvement for your team, a cloud-based platform will liberate them. Not only will they make production plans while in the back of the plant (from their cell phone), but the team can change production plans on their phone from home, which enables them to quickly adjust to pressure from a customer with minimal disruption to their personal time. To appreciate the impact this has, be encouraged to interview a shipping and receiving leader or a general manager, or anyone who now will easily do everything from their tablet or cell, to understand how much nicer their day is.

2. Automate
Once you are on a modern platform, it is critical to take all the draining work that your team does and automate it.

If you spend hours every week preparing quotes, consider using your platform to automate this process, from estimating and creating the quote, to monitoring customer views, to the approval routing process.

Many teams dedicate significant labor towards the creation of reports for the owners and managers. This activity can be virtually eliminated by automating all production, profit, quality, and performance reports. Owners always want real-time reports, so not only is your effort wasted here, but it is always a bit dated by the time it reaches your owner.

When your operations leaders snap a picture or video showing how to rack a certain part, they should be able to upload it to the work instructions from where they are
standing at the time, and never have to advise an employee again on that task, as your platform will show that instruction when that part number hits the racking station next time.

If your utilities company or powder provider gives you a price change, you can now automatically change pricing on all parts affected with a few mouse clicks.

To avoid your front office spending time taking calls from customers asking about the status of their orders, simply automate customer notification of part status with your platform, to eliminate this non-value activity.

Take the guesswork out of quoting with automated quote creation based on each key part parameter such as surface area, mil thickness, parts per rack, weight, paint code, and predicted labor time.

3. Optimize
Now the excitement really starts, when you take full advantage of your powder coating operating system to amp up profits, quality, and production.

Your platform should provide profit margins on each work order. This is a game changer for the management team, as this shows where quotes need to be changed, longer production runs are needed on a given part to hit desired margins, and endless other insights.

In this environment, now you can quickly batch runs for different colors, grab a certain customer’s orders and prioritize them, and other scheduling maneuvers. You can also see where certain workstations are overloaded in the coming days, and quickly reroute parts or change schedules to accommodate this.

If your platform has a powerful search engine, now that every work order, quote, employee action, invoice, etc., is digitized, your team can be on the phone with a customer, trying to root cause a quality issue from a work order eight months ago, and you can find every last detail about that work order in seconds.

As quality is so important today, both for reputation and for your own financial efficiency, your powder coating platform can easily show where your reworks are coming from, which operator or material type might need attention, what properties are trending out of spec, and many other insightful elements.

Finally, your customers will surely notice their improved service when you are regularly giving them those automated updates, they are always getting deliveries early or on time, and their documentation is now so much better.

If you can see that your team is leaving money on the table due to a lack of insightful information on how your plant is performing, or you see customers getting better served at another shop, or there is just too much laborious work—be encouraged to look at modernizing your shop as discussed here. Look for a platform that is easy to adopt and learn, and that is designed for the powder coating industry, with all its chaotic last-minute customer orders and loads of different product types.

Aaron Halonen is president at Steelhead Technologies.