Services Meet Solutions

Gary S. Vasilash

"Solutions" are not only answers to problems, but in the case of PPG's Optima Solutions, the term can also relate to the array of paints and other chemicals that the firm handles. Optima Solutions's underlying principle is assuring that manufacturers achieve top performance in their paint-related operations.

When some people think of PPG Industries (Troy, MI), they think of paint. Which is not surprising, because arguably, it is one of the Big Three of paint suppliers in the domestic auto industry (with the other two being DuPont and BASF). Like its competitors, PPG has electrocoats and powder coats. Primers. Base coats. Top coats. Clear coats. The whole line-up. But there is something a bit different about PPG's offerings compared with its competition, notes Scott A. Follett, global director, Total Service Solutions, PPG Automotive Coatings. Also offered are pretreatment chemicals. Adhesives and sealants. Oven cleaners. Booth coatings. Strippers. Detackification chemicals.

One More Thing

As you may have noticed from Follett's title, the company also provides services. Although service offerings weren't organized into a line of business until 2001, the genesis of the organization goes back to 1986, when PPG worked with GM at both the Lordstown Assembly Plant and the Lansing Craft Centre, in the Reatta paint shop. This was followed in 1989 by another major project, when it began working with Ford on the automaker's initiative to manage fluids within its manufacturing operations. As time went on, PPG began working with other vehicle manufacturers (GM, DCX, Fiat, Mitsubishi, Renault, Toyota, and VW) on management programs. So a decision was made to simply create a single organization to handle the services part of the business. Among the Optima offerings are chemical management, filter management, process management (phosphate, e-coat, paint mix, detack), turnkey paint line cleaning, and spray booth management.


More Paint?

One thing that undoubtedly comes to mind: Doesn't this services operation—known as the "Optima Solutions" business—mean that PPG is interested in selling more paint and other chemicals? Of course. It is a business. Follett admits it. He goes on to point out that there are some mitigating factors. For example, the first thing that they do when talking to a potential client is to conduct a customer value assessment, a survey of the operations. They request that someone from the facility participate in the survey. "That way," he says, "the numbers are theirs, not ours." The objective of the assessment is to capture the total cost of performing that operation, and then determine whether Optima can reduce the cost for the customer. As Patrick G. Harshall, manager, Optima Solutions, Americas, puts it, "What we mean by ‘value' is total cost reduction." Cost reduction through such things as materials usage reduction, vendor simplification, and process optimization.

Follett also points out that there are independent management companies that provide services, companies that don't have the proverbial axe to grind—or in this case, a portfolio of paint shop products to sell. He suggests that while there may be a sense of objectivity, he questions whether there might not be more of a downside to this inasmuch as the independent operator lacks the familiarity with the chemicals involved: "If you don't have first-hand experience, how effectively can you manage?" he asks.


Who Wants to Clean?

One interesting aspect of what Optima Solutions does for its customers relates to a reason why many companies outsource operations—but which they don't necessarily talk about. That is: The job is outsourced because it is something that no one really wants to do it. Apparently, cleaning the paint line—not just flushing it, but actually stripping it—is something that people aren't necessarily keen on doing. It is the kind of thing that gets put off for a variety of reasons (including the fact that cars and trucks need to be painted before they can be shipped, so downtime is something that is to be avoided). Cleaning is often done when a plant is shutdown for vacation. Harshall says, "If you go in and tell them that they have a problem because of the condition of the paint line and they haven't experienced one, they won't believe you. But if you go in after someone has run four days in a row when they've had red spitters on light blue vehicles, things happen." As PPG has the chemicals and the know-how when it comes to paint booth cleaning, they're ready to help not only in making sure that the lines are clean, but that the process is performed in the optimal manner.