Smooth Operations at Top Quality Industrial finishers

By Eileen Dallabrida

Founded only 11 years ago, Top Quality Industrial Finishers is growing up fast.

Brothers Eddie and Oscar Camacho and Kevin Walto launched the fledgling business in a 4,000-square-foot shop in New Castle, where they established a niche in industrial powder coating and spray painting.

The business grew as Top Quality landed contracts providing finishes for the defense industry, including the control keyboards installed in tanks, working as subcontractors for two Class-A machine shops for the Boeing Co., Olympic Tool and Machine Corp. and Folsom Tool and Mold Corp., both in Aston, Pa.

Top Quality also handles custom colors for the metal grids that hold Armstrong ceiling tiles, installed at Starbucks and other commercial operations.

In 2007, Top Quality moved to larger digs, a 30,000-squarefoot light industrial space in Wilmington, where they provide painting for small machine shops, in addition to the company’s larger accounts.

“We provide painting for about 25 fabrication and machine shops in the tri-state area,” says Camacho, company president.

With seven full-time employees, the partners looked forward to a prosperous future.

Still, operations at Top Quality were not as smooth as the company’s powder-coated finishes.

There were glitches in the masking area, where workers cover screw holes, bushings and other parts that are not to be painted.

It is an exacting, labor-intensive task, requiring more than 20 different sizes of adhesive-backed masking papers, tapes and buttons. Misplace a button and paint will obscure the threads in a hole, meaning screws and bolts will bind up. Improperly applied paper results in blurred edges where there should be clean, crisp lines.

The process was taking longer than it should because workers frequently misplaced tools, losing them in crumpled piles of paper. Work would be interrupted when an employee could not locate the appropriate masking material for a job.

“If they couldn’t find it, I would have to go and find it for them – even more time lost,” recalls Walto, operational manager.

In shipping, packing materials were brought in on carts. Workers wasted time looking through the cart for the supplies they needed to pack products and send them off to customers.

Top Quality turned to the Delaware Manufacturing Extension Partnership (DEMEP) for help in streamlining its operations. Accredited by the National Institute for Standards and Technology, the non-profit organization’s mission is to substantially improve the quality, productivity and profitability of Delaware manufacturers by identifying, transferring and implementing best practices.

DEMEP sent in John Barone, a field agent who recommended a Five-S program, adapted from a Japanese method in which manufacturers sort, set in order, shine, standardize and sustain in order to boost efficiency, profitability and safety.

  • Sort refers to going through a work space and keeping only what is necessary to complete the job at hand.
  • Set in order means putting everything in its proper place – and finding ways to make it easy for employees to return an item to its proper place.
  • Shine translates to regular cleaning and maintenance. • Standardize refers to making the new work habits part of the daily routine.
  • Sustain means keep up the good work. Integrate the new systems and procedures into employee education and training. For starters, DEMEP analyzed the layout of the work areas, meticulously mapping the flow of production in both the masking and packing-and-shipping departments. Two or three people work in each area, depending on demand.

The mission was to find ways to literally eliminate steps and the resulting waste – as in the time workers spent walking from place to place to retrieve tools and materials.

“In masking, we looked at everything that people did that was not masking and made it go away,” Barone says. “Rummaging around for tools is not masking. It’s waste.”

The solution was to organize tools on pegboards, with shadow outlines designating where each tool should go, immediately alerting workers to a missing knife or scissors.

“When someone needs a tool or materials they can find it in one minute instead of 10 minutes,” Walto says.

Masking tapes and buttons are organized by size and stored on shelves. There is a built-in trigger that tells workers when materials are running low, a bold and simple line on the shelf with the word “reorder.” Employees are authorized to fill out forms to order fresh supplies.

“That eliminated the problem of people grabbing the last one and not realizing they are out of it,” Barone says.

Walto says the headaches created by running out of masking materials were cured immediately.

“The reordering system has worked so well for us we are now using it with paints,” he says. “It is a beautiful thing.”

Tool boards also were installed in the shipping department. Packing materials are organized and close at hand, stored on strategically placed racks and hanging on the walls.

“When you need something, you just reach out and grab it,” Barone says.

Employees no longer return from lunch to find carts of materials in the middle of the work space. DEMEP identified delivery sites for skids that don’t impede the flow of packing. Without adding a single square foot, the shipping area now appears more open and spacious.

“There is no clutter, no boxes all over the place,” Walto says. “The aisles are clear so we have plenty of room to work.”

The work force has internalized the new procedures, making for a more streamlined, orderly operation. The principles work so well, Camacho applied them to his personal life.

“Our shop is a lot cleaner and organized after Five-S program,” he says. “I used the same system in my garage at home.”

Masking now takes 10 percent less time, which has enabled Top Quality to free up hours for additional orders.

“Packing and shipping now is 15 percent more efficient, which reduced labor costs by 5 percent,” Camacho says. “We also reduced our setting up time for painting about 8 to 10 percent.”

More efficient labor has helped the business to improve the bottom line.

“DEMEP helped us to increase our profits – and decrease our stress,” Walto says.