Looking at Ways to Take Control of the Finish Department
Finish Room Problems
While there is the rare occasion that there
is a problem with a can of finish, it really happens a lot less
often than you think. I have to say that most of the problems
that you will encounter are people problems. Sprayguns and
sanders don’t make mistakes, people with sprayguns and sanders
Start by asking “Where in the finishing
chain do the problems come from”? Was the problem created in the
finish room or did the piece arrive there with the problem
already in place? Improper moisture content, mismatched wood
color and sanding irregularities are elements that are usually
out of the finishers control but yet the finisher must correct
them. You have to ask, how often are the bottlenecks in the
finish room caused by people up the line from the finishers?
Remember the system chain theory? If your finishing department
spends an abnormal amount of time prepping parts before they
finish them, then you should look at the department that
performed the work on the material before it went to finishing.
Finishers get blamed for taking time to fix other peoples
After you figure out where in the finishing
chain the problem originated you have to figure out what were
the weak links that caused it. Usually the culprit is a process
problem. Process Problems
usually show up as color inconsistency, orange peel or
adhesion issues. They are usually application dependant and can
often be traced back to insufficiently trained personnel. Yes it
might be an equipment setting or an application technique that
is causing the problem, but it is something that the finisher
has the most control over. The exception, of course, is when
management is requiring the finisher to do something in a way
that might be causing the problem, such as not providing enough
heat in cold weather for finishes to cure or allowing enough
time for stains and finishes to dry properly.
When analyzing the cause of a problem it
can get frustrating when we “think” that we are doing everything
the same as we always have and all of a sudden the process
doesn’t work. This is the point that we have to look at not only
the procedural elements but also the human and environmental
elements. There are many events that have an influence on the
finishing process and there are many variables in each of these
events. Every physical, chemical, procedural and environmental
element in the system has an effect on the final outcome.
Sometimes the changes are obvious, sometimes they are not. Did
the temperature change or did someone different spray the job;
things that may seem insignificant to you may be the real
I like to tell people that they will be
most successful at analyzing a finishing problem if they "think
like paint". Stated another way...if I were a finish, what would
make me do that? Most finishing problems can be broken down into
a few simple causes and if you have a thorough understanding of
finishing fundamentals then you will have the ability to
logically deduce why something happened.
The best solution to any problem is to
prevent it before it happens. Education and training are the
best way to do this. That’s why you are here. I find that many
finishers simply know the “how”, but not the “basics of why”.
why is the key to success.
Finishing Team and Game Plan
There are companies that let their
finishers be the sole authority in their finishing system. While
I have the greatest respect for finishers I do have to remind
you of People Fact #3: Humans are creatures of habit. We feel
comfortable with what we know and mistrust things that are new.
We are resistant to change. I believe in the Team approach.
Develop and review your
finishing system as a team
You will get insights and a
perspective that you might not have even thought about.
Having people see their job through other person’s eyes can
have a real impact.
Everyone who works on a
piece, from architect through cabinetmaker will have a hand
in determining the ultimate success of the finish.
Experiment. Try new products and techniques. You could find
that there are better ways to use what you already have.
Develop written operating
standards and procedures.
Have predefined sanding,
finishing and maintenance schedules. This helps eliminates
surprises and makes sure everyone knows what is expected of
them. It also helps in the time estimating function.
Share responsibilities The
“it’s not my job” attitude simply does not make it.
Have a brief team meeting
at the beginning of the job to discuss the project and get
peoples input and ideas. This will not only help with
problem solving but it will get everyone on the same page
from the very beginning.
One of the added benefits of following these procedures will
be realized when it comes time to train any new people in
the shop. You have a lot of the important information
written down and there is a team of people to go to for
support. Also if you lose a member of the team, the
knowledge base stays behind.
Cabinetry with an Eye Towards Finishing
Consider the finishing process when you
build your cabinets. Leave off cabinet backs to reduce
overspray. Assemblies that can be sprayed flat rather than
standing up will be easier to finish. Leave off hardware to
avoid having to mask it.
Finishing face frames first and then attaching them to the cases
with pocket screws will eliminate having to mask off melamine or
Select your pieces of wood for color.
Cabinetmakers need to understand that it is easier to select
wood that is naturally close in color, than it is to try and
make it that way with stains and toners. While it is true that
wood is a natural product, the greater the difference in color
the more work it is going to take to correct it. Stains have
their limits. No stain is going to blend in 2 woods that are on
opposite ends of the color spectrum when they are placed right
next to each other.
Scheduling can affect the logistics of
optimal work flow. For a cabinetmaker it might not make a lot of
difference if they are cutting wood for this job or for that.
You have to remember that there are no fences or jigs in
finishing, it is all hand technique. This is very evident
especially when it comes to applying color, as in stains,
glazes, toners and paints. When you are in a groove and then you
have to switch gears to something else sometimes it is hard to
get back in that same color mode again. As a result the already
difficult job of attaining color consistency gets even harder.
Something else to consider is that all parts should be complete
when the finishing process begins. If someone forgets to make a
part and it is only discovered at the end of the finishing stage
you will have to repeat an entire finishing sequence for just
one part. This is very expensive.
A fair amount of equipment clean up might
be required when changing over from one job to the next. Flip
flopping back and forth between jobs will result in an increase
in the amount of time and solvents used.
Scheduling and estimating can go hand in
hand. Obviously if the estimated cost/time is understated then
there will not be enough time allowed in the schedule to do the
required work. Best case scenario is that you miss your delivery
date. Worst case scenario is that the finish department, and
others, have to put in overtime to meet the due date. This
situation exacerbates the whole unprofitability issue because
not only was not enough charged for the job in the first place,
but now you are paying overtime wages which further increases
Happiness is a positive cash flow, but good
scheduling has to be based on realistic timelines. In the finish
room you have to account for the fact that chemical reactions
are taking place. Solvents need to evaporate, finishes need to
cross link and dry. Coatings companies spend millions of dollars
researching and developing their high performance products. You
are paying for that performance. If you don’t allow enough time
for the chemistry to take place then not only are you are not
getting everything you paid for, but you setting up conditions
that could lead to future finish failure. A simple example is
not allowing a stain enough time to dry. This could promote
adhesion problems which could lead to finish failure 3 to 6
You also have to remember that the lower
the temperature that longer these chemical processes take.
Remember that a 12 degree change in temperature will change your
dry time by a factor of 2. Accommodating this fact will save you
significant amounts of money and grief.