Recession. It started as a whisper late in ’07, primarily among talking heads in the financial sector, as news of the subprime mortgage woes and resulting credit crisis at the large banks began to spread. By mid-January, the whisper had turned into a buzz that was impossible to ignore. All the chatter is enough to make anyone in business nervous. While economists are still divided on whether a U.S. recession will actually occur, everyone agrees on one thing: It feels like a recession. Banks aren’t eager to lend money, and consumers aren’t eager to spend it. Whether growth simply slows or stops altogether, the effect on many businesses is the same. The prospect of lower sales and profits has many companies tightening their seatbelts in preparation for what could be a wild ride in the coming months.

But sitting tight and doing nothing might be exactly the wrong way to weather a challenging economic environment. Whether your finishing operation has already felt the effects of a slowdown or is simply bracing for the possibility, implementing processes and technologies that improve efficiency, productivity and quality can have a substantial impact on where your profit margins end up during 2008.

This issue covers several technologies that can help finishing professionals gain a competitive edge. For example, plural-component coatings, also called reactive-cure or two-component coatings, can reduce energy costs related to curing when compared to single-component materials. Some reactive-cure coatings can be applied in substantially less time than conventional formulations, enhancing production efficiency and increasing throughput. Such coatings can be optimized by using cutting-edge fluid handling systems that eliminate pot life concerns while simultaneously reducing the amount of waste produced.

Modern quality control technologies also offer ways to improve efficiency and cut costs. For instance, precise thickness measurements can ensure that material is being applied correctly, with a minimal amount of waste, and can reduce the number of customer returns due to finishing defects. Advanced ultrasonic coating thickness measurement instruments are providing a way for finishing professionals working with wood and plastics to achieve accurate thickness measurements nondestructively, thereby saving material costs. New temperature measurement technology can allow weathering tests to provide a more accurate picture of how a coating will perform over time, thereby helping to ensure the long-term satisfaction of customers with a given product, and possibly leading to repeat purchases due to brand loyalty. And the advanced data management capabilities of today’s quality control instruments can help finishing professionals streamline their analysis efforts for improved quality and productivity.

We can’t control the economy. However, we can position our businesses to have the best competitive advantage, regardless of what the future might bring. Lean, cost-effective operations that produce high-quality products will be better able to shrug off a downturn, and will be ready to reach new levels of success when the economy rebounds.