In an industry characterized by variation and customization, it is crucial that coatings manufacturers depend upon a reliable software system to meet customer needs and increase profits. As process manufacturers, these companies must be able to create, distribute and administer formulas, reduce workoff, and ensure that batches conform to product standards -- despite a number of variables, including seasonal variability, changing regulations and availability of raw materials.

It is important to recognize that in order for coatings companies to compete in such an environment, they need to go beyond simple deployment of off-the-shelf inventory and planning software systems, and implement an integrated product lifecycle management (PLM) solution that enhances the entire product lifecycle -- from concept to market. PLM software enables companies to drive revenue growth and sustain a competitive advantage by speeding time to market, increasing R&D productivity, and integrating product development into the supply chain.

Most PLM software was designed by and for discrete manufacturers, meaning that process manufacturers using such software encounter numerous problems, starting with converting units of measure, continuing through lot tracking, and ending with batch adjustment and optimization. While all PLM software is similar in concept, there are aspects, such as using workoff in succeeding batches, that are foreign to discrete manufacturers. As a result, it is important that process manufacturers can rely upon a software solution specifically designed to meet the needs of process industries -- such as coatings manufacturing.

The Optiva Application Platform

We wanted to create a new type of product development software for formula-based manufacturers to give chemists a common platform for developing new formulas and sharing existing ones. Today, the Optiva application platform is the only comprehensive product development application software suite specifically designed for formula-driven process manufacturers. It creates an intelligent product information backbone within an enterprise for capturing and sharing knowledge, eliminating redundancy and streamlining the journey from concept to customer efficiently.

A coatings company typically deals with raw materials that have their own unique characteristics. For example, pigments may vary considerably in hue, saturation, covering power and cost, while binders or resins may vary in viscosity and density. A formulator may choose different pigments, binders and solvents in varying quantities to achieve a particular specification, but once a formula is defined, it remains relatively stable. Batches made on a given day will conform fairly closely to the standard formula, and will usually depart only as much as the incoming raw materials depart from their standard specifications. Some paint manufacturers make custom items, but would rarely do so for a single batch of paint. It is common to tint to order -- that is, one or more pigments may be added to a quantity of premixed bulk paint (usually white) to match a color sample. It is uncommon, however, to design a new combination of pigment, binder and solvents for a single order. The blending of off-spec batches of paint into succeeding batches of similar paints (workoff) is virtually universal. Similar patterns are common throughout the specialty chemical industries and throughout process manufacturing in general, especially among package-to-order or private-label manufacturers. A typical paint manufacturer might be characterized as one who formulates to specification, then manufactures and packages to formula as closely as possible.

To allow for the customization of existing paint formulas, coatings companies must be able to manage the entire development process, including the variability inherent in new product formulation. This variability includes seasonal variability, changing regulations, availability of raw materials, and a variety of other factors, all of which cannot be managed with inventory and planning software. For example, a paint formula may contain data like "Add water to the 1,000-gal mark" or "Adjust pH to 7.5." This is usually presented as a text instruction, which means that any raw material additions implied in the instruction cannot be passed to an inventory planning or control system. Sometimes, a formula may allow for substitutions for an ingredient, or include conditionals ("If the viscosity is high, add solvent until it is within range"), or provide for workoff if available. It is very difficult to interface this kind of data to conventional inventory and planning systems for the simple reason that they must have clear and precise data to do their jobs.

A Set of Formulation Tools

The Optiva platform is designed to meet the needs of paint companies where conventional inventory control and planning systems cannot. While the formulating environment is defined by change and customization, vendors of inventory control and planning software tend to think like accountants, not formulators, and end up producing software that must operate in a mode too precise to be useful. By contrast, a system designed by chemists for chemists can accommodate the peculiarities of process formulation.

Once the formula has been developed, the job of the R&D chemist is completed, but the formula still has to get into production. To bring a formula into production, it must first pass through a number of approval steps, including purchasing, marketing, cost analysis, production, regulatory and sales. Optiva provides a procedure to define all the steps necessary, then track the formula through the approval labyrinth, showing graphically at each step how far it still has to go and when it will likely be finished. Second, many formulas need to be localized -- that is, they must be altered in various respects to match the manufacturing facility in which they will be made. This localization may include changing the units of measure, translating instructions into another language, substituting locally available ingredients, adding information about the local plant and equipment, and changing cost profiles. Third, the formula may have to be physically moved from the R&D database to one or more databases around the world, and this move must be done with careful regard to security. Finally, the performance of the formula in actual use should be monitored, and changes to the original formula made where appropriate. All these tasks, which apply mainly to larger companies with multiple plants, may be executed with the Optiva platform.

Regulatory Compliance

No coatings software package is complete without some means of handling the many regulatory issues that all chemical manufacturers face. Over the years, many systems have come on the market to handle MSDSs, ingredient labels, right-to-know laws, DOT shipping labels, SARA reporting, international requirements, and other thorny regulatory issues with varying degrees. Formation Systems analyzed many of these packages and found several deficiencies. First, most regulatory packages base their calculations on a formula. In process manufacturing, however, there is often a fair degree of variation between what the formula says should happen to a batch and what actually does happen to a batch. In some cases, the variance between batch and formula is enough to invalidate the MSDS that is sent out to customers, and may also affect labels and reports. Clearly, the regulations in place intend for the chemical company to report what really happened in production, not what was supposed to happen. To that end, the Optiva regulatory design always looks for the batch history record as the best representation of actual production, and will only default to the formula if no better data is available. Another breakdown of many regulatory packages is that they fail to consider the laboratory; in particular, when an R&D lab sends out a custom-made sample for evaluation, very often the MSDS must be produced by hand, since the regulatory system cannot "see" lab batches. This can be a serious problem, since it generally means that expensive chemists have a large clerical burden that ought to be handled automatically. The Optiva platform integrates the R&D laboratory into the regulatory world, ensuring that policies and procedures are applied correctly everywhere.


Without a well-designed formulation system, enterprises are forced to unnecessarily exhaust significant resources to deliver products to market on time -- reducing manufacturing efficiency and ultimately rendering the company unable to compete. The similarity can be drawn to a construction company building a house ad hoc, without clear blueprints or a supervisor to ensure that all components come together as designed, meeting all building regulations and utilizing all supplies. The result is a much longer, more expensive process to deliver a high-quality product to the end user.

"Good ideas are lost all the time. This includes recipes, routings, specs, suggestions and patents. One chemicals manufacturer had such dramatic duplication of work in product development that a PLM application from Formation Systems cut the number of unique formulas by 90%," said Kevin O'Marah, AMR research analyst, in his July 31 report, "Product Lifecycle Management Needs to Come from the Top."

An effective formulation system can make major differences in the creation of new formulas, in approving, distributing and managing formulas throughout the enterprise, in adjusting batches to specification, and in matching materials to requirements. These differences include the following.

  • Enhanced time to market for new or improved products
  • Reduced costs in the materials required to meet specifications
  • Fewer hassles and lower costs in meeting regulatory requirements
  • Increased productivity for expensive resources (chemists, technicians, schedulers)
  • Improved monitoring of product integrity worldwide
  • Assurance that local conditions are taken into account and local requirements are met
  • Lower losses from workoff
  • Fewer unexpected scheduling changes from batch non-compliance
  • Fewer hits or adjustments per batch, resulting in lower labor and equipment costs
  • Enhanced customer satisfaction
Process manufacturers work in a highly variable environment. Variability is inherent in this environment, and attempts to eliminate it are doomed to failure. Instead, the rational course of action is to learn how to handle the variability and profit from it. Process manufacturers are inherently different in this respect from their discrete counterparts. Discrete manufacturers can tighten specifications on their suppliers to reduce the variability with which they must contend. They must learn to deal efficiently with the variability imposed on them by their manufacturing arena. The Optiva platform consists of state-of-the-art computerized formulation applications designed specifically for that purpose.

For more information on software, contact Formation Systems Inc., 144 Turnpike Road, Southborough, MA 01772; phone 508/303.6200; fax 508/303.6250; e-mail; visit; or Circle Number 82.