The “new normal” is a phrase that I have been hearing and saying a lot lately. When the Covid-19 virus started circulating, I must admit that I could not fathom the impact that it would have and how each part of our lives would be affected. Now that we are in it and have accepted our present working conditions, it has become quite clear that a lot of things will not go back to “normal”. So, what does that mean exactly?
The impacts are going to be different for everyone, but I would like to look at one part of a process that we see a lot in our industry. If you work in or have been around a painting, coating, or printing process or even companies that make inks, paints, or coatings, you have no doubt seen or used a Zahn Cup. If it was not a Zahn Cup, it might have been a Ford or a Shell Cup. Regardless of the type of cup or device, measuring viscosity is a key component to all these processes. For the most part, a lot of companies still have someone that must stop what they are doing and sometimes interrupt the production line to dip a cup in a tank and use a stopwatch to manually take this measurement. If the reading dictates that the material is out of spec then they must add something, usually either solvent or virgin material, to bring the viscosity back into range. This add is usually in an amount dictated by the experience of the operator – not an exact science.
It is important to note that at most companies this operator does have a main job to do and taking this measurement is an additional task. If there are multiple shifts you have multiple operators taking these measurements and making subjective adjustments. One of our customers had fourteen separate tanks that needed to be tested. It would take half an hour just to make one test because that is how long it took to get into the tank. Not only that, on occasion he had to interrupt that line. In total he would spend one-third of his day just taking viscosity measurements and was only able to get one measurement per day on each tank. Their answer to this process and quality nightmare was to purchase an inline viscometer from us and trial it on one tank. This enabled them to have continuous readings all day long. This automatic adjustment allowed them to change other processes, too. They saw the benefits so quickly that they decided to purchase three more sensors within three months of implementation. The Production Manager said that he anticipates over $1,000,000 in savings from the combined impact of installing one sensor! This technology also allows them to create a new paint line which will be a “game changer”.
What does measuring viscosity manually have to do with the “new normal” post Covid-19?
Most companies that have been deemed non-essential have had to lay off most of their employees. In some states the compensation for being laid off is higher than their normal wage. It may be difficult to get these employees to come back to work. In other cases, companies will not be able to afford to bring everyone back. This means that workloads will be increased, and we will have to reprioritize to fulfill orders. Companies that have not automated certain parts of their process, like viscosity measurements, might be forced to take another look at their options. They might see this as an opportunity to make changes to streamline and cut costs that are unnecessary. The guy that was dipping the Zahn Cup might be able to do other things or because of cutbacks, you might not have anyone available for this task.
Most companies have investigated automating this process. If they have not investigated, then they have thought about it. Cost is usually the prohibiting factor. Others have tried, but chosen a product that was difficult to use, or the vendor did not provide proper training. Either way this bad experience held them back from trying again. Then again, other companies figure why change the way that we do things if it is not causing a big problem. Whatever the reason, now may be a good time to reevaluate this process. If you would like help, try reaching out to us at www.viscosity.com.