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U.S. Paint Improves Performance with Preactor® Advanced Planning and Scheduling Software
February 2009

U.S. Paint is the market leader of coatings for exterior automotive parts, such as mirrors, trim, spoilers, molding, bumpers, grills, and other plastic parts. With manufacturing, laboratories and R&D based in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S. Paint has 100 employees with annual sales of $25M. The facility is 150,000 square feet under one roof, producing 1.5M gallons of coatings a year with batch sizes ranging from 1 to 2,100 gallons. U.S. Paint holds ISO 9001:2000 and ANSI/ISO/ASQ Q9001-2000 certifications.

Founded in 1931, U.S. Paint Lacquer and Chemical, St. Louis, Missouri, specialized in varnishes and lacquers for the carriage market. Over the next 36 years, U.S. Paint expanded into the aerospace industry with revolutionary aliphatic urethane, two-component paint system.  In the 1970’s, Grow Chemical Corporation, specializing in automotive and anti-corrosive coatings, purchased U.S. Paint Lacquer and Chemical and changed its name to U.S. Paint, Division of Grow Group. Grow Chemical became a licensee for Nippon, Oil & Fats of Tokyo, Japan to support the Japanese automotive transplants in the U.S.A.  U.S. Paint introduced AWLGRIP urethane and epoxy technologies into the marine market. In 1989, Nippon, Oil & Fats, (NOF) purchased U.S. Paint, Division of Grow Group and is incorporated as a free standing U.S. corporation.  At its market focus, U.S. Paint Corporation specialized, developed and manufactured state-of-the-art coatings worldwide for the marine, aerospace and industrial industries.

With over $50 million in sales, U.S. Paint realized that quality and image were the determining factors for the success of their products in addition to meeting demanding technical requirements. In 1998 U.S. Paint invested $7 million to renovate and expand its R&D and manufacturing facilities to modern standards to meet customer expectations. NOF Japan made a strategic decision to shift out of the coatings market and focus primarily on biotechnologies.  In 2001 U.S. Paint's marine and aerospace markets were sold to Akzo Nobel. U.S. Paint Corporation realigned and focused on the development, manufacture and support of advanced one component and two component coatings for plastics.

In 2003, U.S. Paint management group purchased U.S. Paint Corporation from NOF and shortly thereafter realized growth in the power sports and automotive trim.  The success was the result of providing customer-focused product development and superior technical service support to its customers. At the same time U.S. Paint enters into a licensing agreement with BASF.   Currently the breakdown of U.S. Paint’s business is 45% power sports, 40% automotive and 15% industrial. U.S. Paint’s customers include Subaru of America, Honda Motorcycles of America, Yamaha Motor Manufacturing Company, Kawasaki Motor Manufacturing, Nissan, Toyota, and GM-Suzuki joint venture vehicles.

U.S. Paint’s commitment to quality is well known with a reputation for the cleanest paints in the industry with products with wide workability windows. The clear coats are easy to finish for difficult applications.  U.S. Paint customizes technology and builds products for its customers while retaining the highest levels of reproducibility and consistency from batch to batch for its products. In 2007, U.S. paint had zero color complaints from its entire customer base. In 2006 and 2007, U.S. Paint had zero customer complaints for dirt or contamination. The focus on customer service and quality is the driving force behind U.S. Paint.

Other examples of their commitment to quality: 

  • Since 1979 with 2.2M units painted, U.S. Paint has received zero warranty claims from Honda
  • Yamaha has filed no warranty claims to U.S. Paint
  • Since 1998 Kawasaki has filed no warranty claims against U.S. Paint

It should not come as a surprise that U.S. Paint as an automotive supplier is focused on lean manufacturing, constantly improving the processes to be fast while cost effective. The internal program of constant improvement is what led U.S. Paint to Preactor.

In 2000, it was becoming clear to U.S. Paint that while customer service levels were high, management of the shop floor was increasingly difficult, and if these problems were solved that higher customer service levels were possible.  Increasing work-in-progress levels were choking the shop floor. While morale was high - employees viewed the high levels of WIP as evidence of company stability - the risk of losing agility and the speedy responsiveness of U.S. Paint was of increasing concern.  The typical problems in scheduling the shop floor were:
 

  • Manual planning board
  • Work load too large to manage manually
  • No effective method to manage revisions to the schedule
  • Schedule generation using 3-6 various tools, reports and internal systems
All of this resulted in
  • Few or no methods to evaluate schedule performance
  • Poor shop floor discipline, poor sequencing
  • Missed due dates and missed commitments
  • Inconsistent resource utilization
  • Could not locate, and therefore could not properly manage bottlenecks
  • Unable to predict customer service issues
What U.S. Point sought to achieve was:
  • Shorter cycle time
  • Ability to commit to customer needs quickly
  • Increase due date reliability
  • Minimize WIP and WIP inventory valuation
  • Ability to effectively react to schedule changes  
Preactor was found to be a highly effective, electronic finite capacity scheduling package with significant advantages: 
  • Very flexible and configurable, even by the user
  • Low cost installation
  • Play “what if” scenarios
  • Manage changes by prioritization
  • “Early warning” ability to communicate what’s going to be late, how late, and effects of expedites
  • Ability to capture key data
  • Fast commitment capability
  • Better utilization of resources
Some obstacles needed to be overcome before fully exploiting the advantages that Preactor offered. The first was training end users on a package that offered a level of automation that many had not seen before. The next was setting up the hardware by integrating bar-code systems and positioning stations to update information strategically on the shop floor.
Part of the Preactor value message is that end users can deploy the software without extensive IT support. This was the case with US Paint. Ryan Luter, materials manager and Preactor project lead explains: “We broke down our processing into individual, distinct, stages.  We then created a way in which to record dwell times into a database, thereby building a baseline for each step. 

With those baselines, we created the individual routings for the various types of batches we manufacture.  We then worked with Fraser Bonnett at Quinn & Associates to implement a method for moving information between our database and ERP system in order to minimize duplication of entry.  An example is, as each batch's stage is completed and updated in the database, we import those statuses into Preactor which completes that operation.”

Very quickly, U.S. Paint began to realize a return on their Preactor investment through reduced WIP levels. The reduced WIP levels translated to uncovering capacity, in contrast to the earlier perception that U.S. Paint suffered from a capacity shortage. Cycle times shortened and delivery reliability increased. The visibility provided by the Preactor graphical user interface led to quicker and better resolution of problems in production. U.S. Paint realized the following benefits from adopting Preactor:



  • 50% decrease in work-in-process
  • 20% decrease in production lead time
  • 20% reduction in total finished goods inventory as a direct result of reduction in WIP and lead times

Also in 2007, U.S. Paint has zero customer complaints for late shipments.

“Breaking each batch up into individual jobs through routing was key,” emphasizes Ryan. “Being able to schedule each step cleared the way for throughput.  We were able to finish the batches that we began.  Second, the ability to visualize ‘finite capacity’ increased our communication to the customer.  We were able to better balance priorities as it became clear when we began to reach capacity.”

As part of the process improvement initiative, U.S. Paint wanted a more visual and accurate means to chart performance and integrate the process into the daily routine. The goal was to increase throughput by supplying shop floor with reliable tools for measuring performance. Towards that end, U.S. Paint wanted to generate and post cockpit charts, set goals for performance, and identify bottlenecks and make recommendations. This process was to be a continuous loop to monitor and correct problems to increase overall the management of the shop floor.

Luter adds: “Once the reduction in work-in-progress became the norm on the shop floor, the reaction from the shop floor was interesting. Workers came to me worrying that business had taken a downturn, and I found myself explaining that work flow was going to be smoother because paint batches were scheduled just-in-time by using Preactor.”

Gregory Quinn, president of Quinn & Associates, the reseller of Preactor to U.S. Paint, adds: “The value proposition of Preactor for U.S. Paint is powerful. U.S. Paint is yet another long-term user of Preactor which demonstrates that the benefits of Preactor are not only in fixing short term problems, but the benefits continue year after year. Couple this with the low life cycle cost of Preactor, the return on investment of Preactor is unmatched in the field of scheduling software.”