Recently, I spent eight straight days in a liquid paint facility working to find the cause of severe craters in the clear coat. The work started at 6 a.m. and continued through the dinner hour. Testing, meetings, analysis and speculation comprised the day - and tended to interrupt our sleep as well.

During this process, one chemist muttered that applying paint is a "Voodoo Science." To me, this implies that he sees coatings and their application as some type of art rather than as a true science. To this end, he joins a host of people who have expressed the notion of art being involved in industrial painting.

Now I have been involved in painting since 1971, so I understand the feeling that chasing some paint problems is like chasing ghosts, and it may lead one to think that there is as much art involved as science. However, I cannot agree.

There is so much science involved in coating formulation and application that control of it is difficult. It is a chemical process with thousands of variables that are difficult to manage; not much like a cutting, punching, drilling or bending operation where precise machinery and maintenance can provide extremely high consistency and accuracy. It is better to compare it to an old car that you have to pump the pedal twice and pound on the dashboard before it will start. Temperamental, unpredictable, frustrating and difficult are all words that come to my mind, especially after having spent eight days trying to slay the fisheye dragon. But is this art? No. It is science! A difficult science perhaps, but, it is science nonetheless.

Experienced painters may disagree with me. Many facilities rely on the long-term employee to control paint viscosity during times of atmospheric change, adjust spray guns visually, and explain why what worked yesterday does not work today. Certainly this experienced employee uses more educated reckoning than precise measurement. And yet for every variable, there is a precise measurement. Temperature, humidity, distances, speeds, fluid viscosity, paint formula, air velocity and many other measurable variables affect coating application. How many of them are routinely measured and controlled? I say not enough. If we do not measure and control them, can we really expect consistent output? The more we measure and control a paint system, the less reliant we are on the art of painting.

Because many companies are not clear on their quality standards, it is no wonder that they also do not routinely measure and control the system. Acceptable quality is too often left to the discretion of the individual. Work is rejected that was acceptable yesterday, or work is accepted that was rejected on the day shift. Sound familiar?

If you prefer to treat coating as an art, you will get by as long as you have a fairly stable system and good people to run it. But if you treat coating as science, you can get a quality standard that is exactly what you want - and you can get it every day and every hour. Build the system with the equipment and features that are necessary to control the process in a consistent fashion that meets or exceeds your quality expectations. Maintain it carefully for best results. And measure and control the system instead of playing Harry Potter every week.

Did we solve the fisheye problem? As I write this, we have eliminated 98 percent of the craters and we are working on the last 2 percent. We will get them out because we are using science to study the process and make corrections. If we rely on art, it will be a longer and much more difficult process.