Profitability in Finishing

How profitable is the finishing process in your business? Unless we analyze finishing as a process separate from the rest of a job, we may not know if we’re making money or losing money on the finishing itself.

The profitability of finishing takes considerable effort to analyze accurately, especially if you do customized work, where no two finishes are alike. We need accurate measurements of materials and labor costs to estimate a job accurately.

Material costs can be calculated by measuring the amount of material consumed per unit. That unit may be square footage or a unit of product. Each step in the process consumes materials differently. Finishing material manufacturers give us guidelines as to the coverage we can expect from stains and finishes. Our usage may vary. Sealers and topcoats are influenced by factors that we can calculate such as:
transfer efficiency of our equipment
solids content of the products we use
dry mil thickness required for the finish at hand
Using this data, we can calculate the approximate cost of materials for the whole finishing process.

This is a theoretical cost. It will vary by the skills of each finisher and the performance of the equipment. To see if our theory of these costs coincides with reality we need to look at the actual costs for each material after the job is completed and compare the results with our initial calculation. Where we find discrepancies, we need to figure out why and take corrective action either in our calculation, the techniques employed, our equipment or facilities.

After we’ve done this analysis on a various types of finishes, we get a more accurate idea of what to expect for yields on the variations we encounter in future jobs. For example, once we’ve analyzed a finish that includes a glazing step, the material costs for future jobs with glazed finishes are easier to accurately predict.

The same procedure works for labor costs but the variation from one job to another is greater and harder to predict. This is due to variation in skills from one finisher to another as well as variations in performance, even by the same finisher. What we’re looking for is an average time it takes a finisher to complete each step in the process per unit of measure. Additional variation is encountered by the type of work. Flat line work is drastically different than finishing Windsor chairs, for example.

Another important factor to consider is to make sure that our procedures are standardized and these standards are communicated clearly to all finishers. The finishing foreman must maintain accurate documentation on each type of finish that is created. This documentation must include step panels and finishing schedules. Naturally, the better finishers are trained, the more consistent they are in completing each step in a timely manner.

Reaping the benefits

In addition to making our estimates more accurate, our analysis can help us find out where we can improve our process. If we monitor the materials and labor hours for each step, we can identify problems more accurately. Often we can recognize when a particular step takes longer than it should.

The problem may be inadequate communication or training. It could also be a problem with your facilities. Do you have good lighting? Is the flow of product efficient throughout the finishing department?

It is possible that the product coming into the finishing department has more defects than it should. Mismatched grain, defects in materials and damage from mishandling all take significant time to remedy when they come into the finishing department.

To find the answers to these potential problems, it’s best to have the input of the finishers themselves as well as some opinion from outside the department. On the one hand, finishers are the ones in the best position to detect issues since they’re the ones doing the work. On the other hand, an outside perspective can often see things that are harder to recognize from within the department. Seeking potential improvements needs to be done on a regular basis. Sometimes resolving one issue makes another more obvious. There’s no substitute for accurate information and feedback to improving the profitability in finishing.