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Adopting A Holistic Approach to Finishing - Step Number 1

18. September 2019 17:14

By Joe Baggett, Innovative Wood Process Solutions

Before we get started with Step One in the finishing cycle, I want to emphasize why this is the starting point. Two reasons:

  1. Finishing usually creates the most perceived value in finished wood products, and
  2. A strategy at the outset should align with creating a finish that can be branded and marketed, and that gets your customers excited so it is imperative that it must occur at this point. If it occurs later on, there most likely will be issues with permitting or application.

Step One is about creating the performance, aesthetics and value in a finish that gets people excited. The big starting point here is what comes first.

I would encourage this part of the discovery and development process not be connected, or disconnected as much as possible, from the current state of any competitor or other wood finisher. It should be based solely on creating a coating system that is game-changing and difference-making.

Holistic Wood Finishing Process Cycle

The main questions to develop this strategy are below. I would encourage this discovery to be planned and executed as a project involving Sale/marketing, Engineering, Finishing, Production and Executive Leadership.

As the questions are answered I would also suggest developing a one-page document of the coatings strategy that references hard samples supporting the answers to the questions below. 

I am very grateful for KCMA for their leadership in developing finishing performance standards. These standards are a great starting place and for many is great place to establish coating performance that meets their strategic needs however some coatings strategies demand higher performance than KCMA standards. This is great place to start and will help give context to answering the questions.

Performance: 

  • What scratch/abrasion resistance would create more, better or new value to current or future markets? Typically, a nickel mar test is the starting point for this standard but there may be a higher demand for high performing coating needs.
  • What film build would provide that “feeling” your customers would love when they touch it? This can be objectively measured by dry film build gauges in mils. Along with the film build how soft to the touch does in need to be?

Moisture/Chemical Resistance-

  • Does the KCMA spec suffice or is there added value to higher resistance to moisture and chemical exposure? This the typical edge soak test or in come cases being able to clean it with strong solvent such as acetone.

Elasticity/Adhesion/Creep-

  • As wood expands and contracts the coating needs to have some elasticity and creep without breaking the coating especially around sharp corners and profiles. What level is needed for the targeted coating? Also, sharp corners and profiles present an issue here for any coating. Defining the level the edge can be slightly broken in the whitewood goes hand in hand here with coating development. Usually a .020” rounding on sharp corners and edges is a minimum to prevent the coating from breaking in the field. Maintaining inner coat adhesion and adhesion to the whitewood is the goal here.

Color fastness/period of time-

How long do the stains, paints, clears need to maintain color after exposure to light especially UV and other elements light before they yellow, fade, flip, or turn amber?

Aesthetics: Stains, Paints, Clear Coats

  • Stains- Does the stain need to be more transparent/translucent or opaque, does the stain need to have depth in itself? People perceive stains differently depending on the market. Is the stain to cover up white wood color, change/tone whitewood color, bring out the grain, cover the grain, can any sanding marks be visible.
  • Paints- Do the paints need to have clear depth on top of them or can the depth of clarity exist with a colored final coat? Does the feel of the painted parts in the hand need to be super soft to the touch especially with high gloss? Specifically, how long would the parts be warrantied not to yellow or flip colors?
  • Clears- How much film build is needed to create the target depth of clarity on top of stain or paint this should be objectified in DFT mils (dry film build)? The dry film build will always have an impact on the moisture/chemical resistance and elasticity. Too little will allow moisture to enter in areas beginning in corners, joints etc. too much (beyond the coatings rating in WFT/DFT and the coating may crack or craze after final curing and temperature/humidity change (this is also applicable to paint). How clear does the film build need to be?

Gloss/SheenWhere will you set the target for gloss and sheen? Usually a 60 scale is used for this but establishing a sheen or gloss level is important. Sometimes people perceive the finish solely on the gloss level. But this is changing. The gloss level needs to be defined on a scale such as the 60-scale set within a range. Just as a reference high gloss is 90 plus, medium gloss is 20-30, and dull or low gloss is 0-10.

Depth of clarity- What is the target depth of clarity for the coating being developed? This how far the clear part of the coating sits on top of the stain or paint in dry film mil thickness. It may be determined by visual acuity but set in mils of DFT dry film build. This can also be measured with a dry film gauge in between coats. 

Once all the questions have been answered, make a strategic summary in a one-page document. The main question here is what is or would be important enough to the customer (end user, builder, architect, distributor etc.) that would drive the value of the coating to be game changing/difference making? Sometimes they don’t know what that is until you put something great in their hands. I know sometimes there is a perception that a market will not bear the cost of high performing coatings but taking a great coating system to market is how that changes. In the following articles of this series we will cover how high performing coatings systems can be applied in a cost-effective manner. 

 

A Holistic Approach to Finishing

27. August 2019 10:38

I am reminded of a scene from the old movie Unforgiven where Clint Eastwood looking to exact revenge walks into a saloon and asks who owns it. The bar tender raises his hand and claims to be the owner, and Eastwood shoots him dead.

Gene Hackman who plays a corrupt sheriff exclaims that Eastwood just shot an unarmed man, to which Eastwood replies, “He should have armed himself.” To remain cutting edge in finishing we need to always “be armed” with the best information and questions.

In the first couple of articles we focused on the “How" questions we ask and the ways they shape our worlds. We also noted how some parts of the woodworking industry have become so specialized that they are their own world.

Don’t get stuck unarmed in an obsolete world. Let’s remember the best answers come from the best questions, and the best questions provide the deepest understanding.

We will start with finishing as it always seems to be the most popular area of concern. The future isn’t what it used to be. Industrial wood finishing in regards to chemicals and equipment has changed more in the last 25 years than it had in the previous 100. You can expect it to continue to outpace the rate of change for other parts of the wood industry due to increasing environmental regulations, demand for higher performance, usability, and the effort to lower costs.

In the last five to 10 years there have been major coatings and technological developments in curing and application, so the future will most likely never be what it used to be. That's why you should adopt a holistic approach to stay abreast of technological developments that can create the highest value for your wood finishing processes.

Some may question if there is a high-level holistic process that really applies to all wood finishers. I would say yes, unequivocally.  Let me say that every year I hear or experience first-hand wood finishers who order equipment or make plans to move to a new coating and don’t do the environmental due diligence and or don’t develop a coating that performs at a high enough level to meet the customer's expectations.

Sometimes the equipment waits for long periods of time before it can be used due to environmental permitting. If the finishing journey doesn’t start at the starting point, eventually the environmental regulatory agency or the customer will bring it back to that starting point.

That said, to be a leader in finishing and create the highest value, every question in regard to a successful finishing journey is best asked from the standpoint of what would be game-changing and revolutionary in regard to creating the highest value for the organization and the customer. 

A finishing journey that starts by asking how others are succeeding in finishing and then seeks to emulate them,  assumes too much.  The value of another’s experience is to give us hope not, to tell us how or whether to proceed.

Holistic Wood Finishing Process Cycle

No great finishing system was ever created by copying another finishing system. That said, many small- to medium-sized wood finishing operations who want to scale up don’t start at the starting point. Sometimes they don’t even realize the environmental permitting they follow. I have seen shops make major coatings plans and investments before considering it. This occurs with larger wood finishing operations as well though less often.

The good news is there have been more innovations in coating formulations, coating application and curing technology and environmental controls in the past few years. Harnessing these innovations using a holistic approach is the key. Sometimes we delude ourselves into thinking that following a holistic process like this with good questions and understanding will take too long and cost too much. If that is a concern, I want to share a few good reasons for why it is better to use holistic approach:

a. Most wood finishers don’t know their target and true transfer efficiency or track it on a regular basis. Just like rough mills live and die by hardwood yield the best finishing operations live and die by transfer efficiency.

b. An estimated 80% of the perceived value in finished wood products comes from the performance and aesthetics of the finish. The average amount of time, effort, understanding and organization in wood finishing operations isn’t proportionate to the perceived value.

c. The majority of accounts/customers that are lost due to quality are issues are classified as finishing defects.

d. Finishing equipment has the highest rate of obsolescence in cost and time compared to other woodworking machinery.

e. More wood products are being sold unfinished than ever before or are being purchased as pre-finished components then sold with other components and larger assemblies.

f. Ignoring environmental regulations and permitting thinking that it costs too much will always result in higher costs and potential other business/operational problems down the road.

g. The highest value finishes are the ones that help create a brand and have the value and performance that get and keep customers excited. This isn’t a cheap fast process.

Let’s look at how to get started with the holistic process in the graphic above. Let me first say that this process is most successfully done with a combination of leadership and technical knowledge and that is why there is an abstract picture of leadership in the middle of the graphic.

1. Start every question in the context of what is game-changing and difference-making; first ascertain the value, performance, aesthetics, and cost that would make a great finish for the wood products that are being brought to market. What finish would help make a difference in the brand? If the new or revised finish doesn’t do these things it probably won’t make that big of a difference.

2. Have discussions with several coatings suppliers, equipment suppliers, and other design and technical specialists. Engage the marketing, brand, product development, and manufacturing leaders in the organization to develop key insights. Use third-party labs to perform tests. Sometimes for high performing finishes, these test results can be used as marketing materials. What we want to do is develop a winning strategy for finishing.

3. Make up a one-page document that states how the winning finish will perform, aesthetically appear/feel and what value it will have in cost to manufacture and what the customer would be willing pay for in the context of experiencing a great finish. It helps to make this as objective as possible.

When this process isn’t used many people just ask how can we do what we have been doing better? Very seldom does an improvement of an existing finishing system in simple formulation or application make a big enough difference to be a difference-maker or game-changer.  I encourage everyone who has a stake in creating game-changing/difference-making finishing systems to create something new! The next four articles will dive into specifics for each step in the holistic process from the graphic above.

Questioning How Your Plant Operates Is Hard, and Why the Answer to How? Is Yes!

4. July 2019 22:42

By: Joe Baggett,  Innovative Wood Process Solutions  

The best answers come from the best questions. And from the best questions come the deepest understanding.(although sometimes we won’t like the answers to those "best questions.")

Let's take a look at how we can learn to ask the best questions. As the skills for each area of wood manufacturing (fabrication, finishing, programming, etc.) become more specialized, managers must adopt a type of strategic learning to be able to tap into and harness the specialized skills of department managers. In other words, you have to figure out how to become a temporary "expert," while asking the right questions to guide the conversation and discovery, in the context of the actual “world” of wood manufacturing.

It seems there is always a noteworthy business that is closing down (like Wood-Mode) or shifting to Mexico (like MasterBrand ) or even exiting the business (like Masco).  Somehow under new ownership or at a new location, these businesses are able to start fresh and succeed, or else they never re-open, like Cardell. 

And that is largely because the former leaders have not asked the right questions - or didn’t want to. While that may seem harsh or even irrelevant during this strong economy, it is important for organizations that endeavor to create strategic learning organizations that constantly reinvent themselves. Wille Peterson in his book Strategic Learning says “failure is seldom caused by what the environment does to us; it is caused most often by what we do to ourselves”.

According to an old friend and industry colleague (he’s wood industry leader John Huff), people will believe 25% of what they hear, 50 percent of what they see, and 100 percent of what they want to believe. John and I often joked together about how biased our own thinking processes were, and we struggled with what we could do to overcome our own preconceived ideas and beliefs.

In all these queries, l realized the outcomes on projects are more of a product of the questions we ask - even when we don’t always consciously understand that those questions actually come from our pre-conceived ideas and assumptions. Most of the things we ask or assume come from thought patterns that were based on “What to Think” behavior. These were formed from the way we see the world in which we work and live, day-to-day.

But that view of the world is a product of our own background. It is the sum of our education, exposure, belief systems, and culture. In re-engineering or starting up a plant, we have to be open to set that aside. Here’s a good example and thought exercise on that concept:

I’m a big fan of the Peter Sellers Pink Panther movies. In a scene from “The Return of the Pink Panther.”  Sellers was checking into a hotel and saw a dog sitting next to the front desk manager. He asked, “Does your dog bite?”

The manager looked up and said, “No.” Sellers reached down to pet the animal, which promptly bit his hand, pulling off his glove. Shocked, Sellers immediately retracted his hand and exclaimed, “I thought you said your dog did not bite!” The hotel manager looked up and said, “That is not my dog.” Context is everything for asking the right questions.

In my last blog, I mentioned most wood manufacturing companies have a “dungeon” – the place where equipment that is not in use or is obsolete, is stored. I asked if we had to write a report about the equipment not in use or obsolete, what story would it tell? In general, I believe it would tell about how there was a failure to derive increasing simplicity from increasing complexity.

The wood industry has become increasingly specialized and more complex while making some traditional methods seem “easier.” This increased specialization has caused some wood products manufacturers to keep it simple, while not taking full advantage of possible improvements and game-changing technology.

The average woodshop may not want to acquire the maintenance, operator or leadership talent to adopt and utilize the technology. Some manufacturers risk acquiring the technology, but don’t have the organization or strategy to apply it in a successful manner, and end up discarding it for simpler methods and machines. Some are investing in the organizational talent, culture, strategy and learning to apply as much cutting-edge technology as possible,but are is still years removed from what could be and should be the current state.

I recently visited a cabinet shop and was required to sign an non-disclosure agreement because they had switched to a new wood coating. While we observed the operation, we couldn’t help but notice the coating was a modern but typical post-catalyzed conversion varnish. This type of wood coating has been around for well over 30 years. It was new to them (their world) but in the actual world of available wood coatings, this is an older technology (in the actual world of woodworking). 

The increased specialization in the woodworking industry has created these two worlds. This is a good thing because we need to be constantly developing cutting edge technology but, to successfully apply it, we also need to put it into perspective and context. Strategic learning is the key to harnessing this specialization for its value and asking the right questions in the context closer to the actual “world” of wood manufacturing.

It starts by re-envisioning the way we ask our questions. Peter Block does great work in his book, The Answer to How Is Yes, in re-envisioning the way we ask questions. As Block puts it: 

There is depth in the question “How do I do this” that is worth exploring. The question is a defense against the action. It is a leap past the question of purpose, past the questions of intentions, and the drama of responsibility. The question ”How?”- more than any other question - looks for the answer outside of us. It is an indirect expression of our doubts.

Block gives us six typical questions that shape manufacturing operations, equipment and products more than any others and the way we could ask them differently that would have a profound impact.

  1. How do you do it? This the greatest assumption. The biggest question is what is worth doing and what matters the most not how it is done.
  2. How long will it take? The question how long drives us to oversimplify the world.
  3. How much does it cost? The most common rationalization for doing the things we do not believe in that what we really desire either takes too long or costs too much.
  4. How do you get these people to change? What would empower and create the environment for the needed organizational transformation? Also, what does it mean for me? 
  5. How do we measure it? Many of the things that matter most defy measurement. Our obsession with measurement is really an expression of our doubt. What measurement would have the most meaning to me and our organization?
  6. How have other people done it successfully? The value of another’s experience is to give us hope not to tell us how or whether to proceed.

If you look at the rhetoric in the woodworking industry you can see how the questions of “How?” proliferates in our thinking.  We constantly see "How To" advice in much of what we read, hear at conferences, attend and listen to in the woodworking Industry.  How to set up a profitable finishing operation, how to select the right software, how to select the right machines. 

If our default for developing great questions remains heavily on the “How” we will continue to be susceptible to the missteps resulting from the increasing specialization, and from other opportunities and threats. The best strategic solutions often require learning and knowledge we have yet to experience. The solutions take longer than what we want, cost more than what we want, require more or better people than we have. And they deliver results that we don’t currently measure.

I love the woodworking industry and want to see it rise to new heights, both on the national scale of manufacturers as well as the global scale. I want to see the small and medium-size shops realize their dreams and be recognized. I want to see the large manufacturers invest in technology and become even more strategic leaders in the global woodworking industry.

I truly believe that the most important contribution a leader can make is to make more leaders. It is my purpose in these writings to inspire and provoke new thoughts and passion, and evoke thoughtful but decisive action. I keep coming back to a need for us as leaders in the woodworking industry to revise some common thinking processes, an area we will continue to explore. 

Joe Baggett is President of Innovative Wood Process  Solutions. Reach him at iwpsolutions19@gmail.com,    817-682-3631. www.iwps.biz

Before You Make Any Technology Investments, Let’s Visit the Dungeon

28. June 2019 11:45

By: Joe Baggett,  Innovative Wood Process Solutions              

Editor's Note: This is the first blog in a series by engineering consultant Joe Baggett

After years of leading engineering and technical service operations at major cabinetry and wood products firms, I determined that I would like to take what I had learned and use it as the basis for starting an engineering and consulting firm. So I began by thinking back on my career so far. In setting up this consultancy, I wanted to do something – and create something - new and different. 

On the equipment side, I did a quick survey of the machinery, infrastructure, and information technology for which I had been responsible. It shocked me when I realized that I had specified, acquired, installed and commissioned over 100 million dollars worth of equipment.

Then I asked myself what I had learned from all this. That’s what I plan to share with you in this series of articles about plant operations.

A question that has long plagued me was why the average shop or factory floor doesn’t look more like the show floor from IWF, AWFS or Ligna? I used to think it was for lack of funds or financing. So I asked myself if each wood manufacturer that attended these shows had a blank check, with no obligation funding to buy machines each year, would it really make a big difference in our industry’s operations overall?

The more I thought about it, the more I concluded, it would not. Yes, more machines may be bought and installed; but would it result in the average woodshop/factory being more profitable, stronger organizations, etc.? I would have to say no. Let’s explore why.

First, just ask and answer some blue-sky hypothetical

  • If the organization you are currently leading had 10 million in obligation free capital to invest in equipment, could you increase profitability by 5 to 10%, or more?
  • Would such investment strengthen your organization?
  • Would it bring health to the culture of the organization?
  • Would it fit with a holistic company-wide strategy?

I’ll go deeper into what’s behind my opinion on why investment is not the magic bullet in later articles. But suffice it to say for now, that after giving it a lot of thought, I determined that the most valuable contribution I could make to the woodworking industry through a consulting engineering practice wouldn’t be merely offering technical expertise, but to address, instead, the strategy – in regards to strategic thinking or what I call “holistic organizational thinking” - in which to apply it.

In re-engineering or green-fielding a plant, asking the right questions and in the right context is everything - especially as increased specialization and the creation of worlds within the industry such as Finishing, Bar Code Scanning, Shop Floor Control Software, etc. , come into play.

Let’s return to our questions about that hypothetical ten million dollar investment. One thing I noticed is that most wood manufacturing companies have a “dungeon” – the place where equipment that is not in use, or is obsolete, is stored. Sometimes that equipment isn’t very old, and not infrequently, there is a lot of it. Also sometimes it hadn’t been in service long enough to pay itself off. (Just think about what that $10 million in potential investment could buy.)

During this same time, I was beginning to take note of this phenomenon: the downturn in the economy was beginning. At first, I thought this accounted for the growing inventory of machines in those dungeons.

But there was another force at play. So let me ask another non-rhetorical question: What’s in your dungeon? If we had to write a report about the equipment not in use or obsolete what story would it tell? The story usually has less to do with the equipment itself and more to do with the organization, strategy, permitting and the market life of the product it was purchased to produce. If we did a postmortem on the equipment in the dungeon what story would it tell us?

Now, this where I would suggest that the obligation free investment in equipment wouldn’t have that big of an impact on the average woodworking organization if it was available. I would suggest that it would proportionately grow our dungeons.

I can’t tell you how many times we have resurrected a piece of equipment from the dungeon but in the context of making it work for the current application and needs. Always with the “it doesn’t work” as the starting place. This reaction is the anecdotal verbalization of this phenomena from “what to think” instead of “how to think.” The downturn in the economy only exacerbated the underlying problem. Holistic Strategy is the key to changing how we approach equipment acquisition and application.

Will Peterson says it best in his book, Strategic Learning:

“As strategic leaders, we have to derive increasing simplicity from increasing complexity. Information is universally accessible and becoming free to all. The internet offers it to us on a plate. No longer does the world belong to the ones with the most information, but to those with the highest ability to make sense of it; no longer to those who know more but to those who understand it better.”

Next time we’ll look at the idea of “asking the right questions," and why that is so hard to do.

 Joe Baggett is President of Innovative Wood Process   Solutions. Reach him at iwpsolutions19@gmail.com,    817-682-3631. www.iwps.biz