The 797 Max-Frame Z-Trak(TM) mower in an example of a product painted at the MetoKote InSite paint center at John Deere's Fuquay-Varina, NC, U.S. facility.
The company found a willing partner in MetoKote Corporation of Lima, OH, U.S., a supplier of coating services that include electrocoating (e-coat), powder coating, liquid paint, and specialty coatings.
The MetoKote-John Deere partnership actually began when MetoKote installed a custom in-house coating system at the John Deere facility in Augusta, GA, U.S. more than 10 years ago. According to Tim Klopfenstein, director of Marketing for MetoKote, while John Deere was moving its compact utility tractors to the Augusta facility, it realized that painting was not one of its core competencies and contacted MetoKote about not only installing a coating operation, but manning it over a long-term contract period as well. "That's how we developed the InSite(TM) approach," says Mr. Klopfenstein.
Spencer Morton, supply management specialist for John Deere, says the objective at the Fuquay-Varina facility was to outsource the paint process to MetoKote, but have products painted to John Deere's specifications. "We wanted to get them integrated into the facility and the process as seamlessly as possible," explains Mr. Morton.
According to the agreement between the two companies, John Deere owns the building and leases a portion of it to MetoKote annually. The InSite paint center occupies approximately 15,000 sq ft of space in the Fuquay-Varina factory. The rest of the manufacturing facility makes use of nearly 285,000 sq ft of space. MetoKote owns the equipment and employs the personnel to operate its portion of the facility. "They made the initial investment in the equipment to set that up," says Mr. Morton. "We own and are responsible for the conveyor system, which transports parts into the paint center, but once those parts go into the paint facility, all the equipment, processing, and the employees responsible for the painting belong to MetoKote. All the equipment is amortized over the contract period."
Mr. Morton says that the two companies have a 10-year contract for the paint center. In addition to the capital equipment installation, MetoKote also controls the material, upgrade, energy, and environmental requirements.
When asked about the type of parts that are handled by MetoKote's paint center, Mr. Morton says that any part, from body panels to frames, that requires paint - except for the color yellow - goes through the InSite paint center. John Deere has two different manufacturing lines in operation at Fuquay-Varina. One line produces the commercial mowers used by landscaping contractors, while the other produces lawn mowing equipment used to maintain golf course greens. However, while the manufacturing lines are separated according to equipment type, the two lines meet at the InSite facility and go through the same painting process.
According to Mr. Klopfenstein, parts enter the paint center via a conveyor and are cleaned and pre-treated in preparation for a primer of e-coat. After the primer coat is applied to the entire surface of a part, the part is thermally cured. The next stop is a top-coat booth for either green or black powder. "That is where we apply the color and UV-resistant coating," says Mr. Klopfenstein. After being cured again, the part is transported via the conveyor and dropped off at the point of assembly.
According to Mr. Klopfenstein, one of the added benefits of the InSite model is simplified logistics. "The appeal is that you don't have to put it [the part] on a truck and ship it somewhere else to have it coated," explains Mr. Klopfenstein. "John Deere eliminates freight dollars by not having the parts trucked all over the country just to be painted." And, he adds, the process only requires five MetoKote staff members.
In addition to reducing costs, outsourcing eliminates the necessity of a company becoming a specialist in an area outside its manufacturing expertise, according to Mr. Klopfenstein.
"Because of our expertise and history in all facets of coating operations, we can predict the long-term expenses of a customer's operation with a high degree of accuracy," says Mr. Klopfenstein. "We understand our customers' industries and operate an A2LA-accredited performance test lab, so we can recommend the pretreatment chemicals, primer, and topcoat that meet the customer's goals for performance, appearance, and throughput. We process all the necessary quality and environmental certifications the system will need, and even provide all the trained personnel required to operate the system."
More importantly, MetoKote says it can incorporate features that allow for changes in the coating process down the road. "That helps the coating system to remain viable for the long term," notes Mr. Klopfenstein.
MetoKote's full-system management expertise has been utilized at several points in the MetoKote-John Deere relationship. "There have been many instances where MetoKote has recommended and implemented very cost-effective adjustments to our coating operations," confirms Debora Murphy, manager of Supply Management, Commercial Mowing and Golf and Turf for the John Deere Commercial and Consumer Equipment division. "For example, MetoKote has helped us with product racking techniques, coating fixture designs, and coating material selections.
"With MetoKote's assistance, the coating operations have been seamlessly integrated into our facilities," Ms. Murphy continues. "Because it has operated so smoothly, we've been able to focus our attention on other areas of manufacturing." Mr. Morton agrees that John Deere's agreement with MetoKote allows vital resources to be used elsewhere in plant operations. "With the operation of this facility, we don't have to dedicate or have a segment of John Deere employees focused entirely on paint," he says. "From the terms of management and resources, it's like outsourcing a part of the operation."
MetoKote has also designed the coating system to easily adjust to John Deere's future volume requirements.
"The expectation is that in the next year we will be putting more volume into the paint facility," says Mr. Morton. "We've considered several different areas; we're looking at either adding yellow in the mix of coatings, or additional green capacity, which would require them to make modifications to the facility and create additional painting capacity for green or yellow."