They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. When it comes to finishing, that couldn’t be truer. All finishes are like works of art, but only the customer can say that a finish is beautiful. One of the biggest challenges that all finishers face, whether painter or powder coater, is the fact that the customer has the final say as to the acceptability of the finished product. No matter what the thickness, gloss, color, or texture is, if the customer does not like it, it is not good. It is, therefore, the responsibility of the finisher to take the time to quantify, as well as possible, the finish and inspection requirements of the customer prior to accepting a purchase order.
Case in point: One of my customers has extremely high quality standards for their finished products, and for good reason. Their customer expects a class “A” finish on all parts of the product, and the inspection criteria are relentless. The pre-treatment, masking, and defect requirements are well defined in their specifications, and our ability to meet these requirements was an ongoing struggle. The product was very large, two colors, and required extensive masking and preparation to provide the functional and aesthetic finished “masterpiece”. The source inspector had the final and undeniable control over what was “acceptable” and what was “unacceptable”, and therein was the problem. Depending on the mood, time of day, and pressure to produce, one part that may have been bad today, may have been good tomorrow.
This is not to criticize the ability of the inspector. His/her job was to make judgment calls on a highly a subjective product. The problem was in the method if inspection, which was not clearly defined in the specifications. In this case, the product was inspected completely for defects, which, when identified, were marked for repair. After repairs were made, all markings were removed and the product was re-inspected. The second round of inspection usually turned up a new set of defects. They were marked, and the process continued until the inspector felt that the product was satisfactory for approval. As you can imagine, this process was extremely time consuming and costly, and generally was done regardless of resource requirement. Inevitably, some products were accepted that were identical to other products that were rejected. Eventually, the job was lost due to cost over-runs and an eventual dissatisfaction by the customer. It is my opinion that all of this could have been avoided.
The inspection criteria should have been a cut and dry specification that was either met or not met, as a machined part can be measured for tolerance in a “go-no go” circumstance. Finishers, however, are not often afforded that luxury. Even if the thickness is within spec, the powder is cured, the pre-treatment coating weight is correct, and the color and gloss are within manufacturers recommendations, the bottom line is that the customer cannot be forced to accept the finished product on good terms if he/she does not like it, unless there is an agreement stating this before the job is finished.
One way to prevent this problem is to require a first article approval. A production part is finished and accepted, and then kept for reference. Any part comparable to the standard MUST be accepted. This is usually not possible as finishing is usually the last link in the chain of production, and when we get it, it’s already late! Also, the cost and size of the part may not allow for a standard to be made and kept for reference. Clear and concise specifications are another way to prevent these situations, however, the inspection method must also be clearly defined. The power to accept or reject is a considerable responsibility for any inspector, especially when tens of thousands of dollars are at stake. My advice is to look at the total value of the job, and decide whether or not it justifies a meeting specifically to address acceptance issues. Spend the time and money to ensure that there is no question as to what is expected. Only when both customer and vendor agree to what is acceptable and how it will be deemed thus, will both sides be protected.
For if you leave it subjective, you just might feel the wrath of…the inspector from Hell!