Case study: Behr in a China shop

This is a case study:  In 2008, Behr -- the well-known paint company based in California -- had a product line of paints and coatings ready to go to market in China.  But there was a problem.

Behr market in China
The products had no environmental, health and safety documentation in Chinese.

Specifically and for example: a material safety data sheet, or MSDS, must ship with any product that can be unhealthy for a customer or consumer. As when, for example, interior house paint can be unhealthy if swallowed or if workers use certain coatings in an unventilated workspace.  Most finished goods come with a data sheet detailing any dangers and precautions associated with use.

In terms of going to market in a foreign country, not having health and safety documents in the native language is a show stopper.  Why?  First because it's illegal. And second, because material safety documentation it is a serious corporate responsibility marker as well as a key corporate risk mitigation piece in an international market.  Not having the MSDSs accessible to workers and customers will delay a product launch until the documentation is authored, updated and ready.  This can take weeks or months the old fashioned way.

Such delays can cost millions of dollars in lost revenue and incalculable losses in market share as competitors take advantage of any stall.

As the deadline for going-to-market hovered in the 11th hour, Behr called their Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) provider.  The provider had already handled their safety document management for over 5 years at the time.  The company had been great.  But could they help with Chinese market penetration?

Fortunately, Behr called the right people.  As part of the MSDS management program for Behr, the SaaS company was able to create, web-enable, and publish (on a permissioned basis) all necessary environmental management, health and safety documentation in Chinese in record time so that Behr’s products could get to market as planned. This triumph of generating and granting appropriate access to key environmental documentation is becoming increasingly valuable as globalization becomes more and more part of manufacturer’s supply chain and customer base.

Race to market: it's a Behr

The race to market now happens in tandem across national and regulatory lines in a supply network.  It’s one thing for a manufacturing company to decide to pursue a foreign market.  It’s another thing to have the regulatory compliance data and documentation in order.

Compliance may not always distill down to just a translation issue.  Product compliance in a global marketplace can be a breadth of issues – from product ingredients that have restricted status, changeable from country to country, postal code to postal code, and year to year -- to unique disposal parameters for certain materials in certain geographical locations.

All such regulatory issues in manufacturing must be addressed and managed at the chemical substance level.  For instance, an MSDS management service can, and in this case does, leverage the chemical substance data in compiled MSDS data for almost unlimited compliance purposes.

Success begets success 

For Behr’s globalization effort, the generation of Chinese product MSDS and having those documents immediately accessible to users in China via web publishing was enough to make Behr’s a financial success story.  And yet, further success followed that dramatic event.

Once a single instance of chemical information is entered into the MSDS Vault, Behr is able to leverage the chemical that data. Subsequently, data can be extracted from the MSDS to list all the CAS (Chemical Abstract Service) numbers and ingredient percentages in use within each manufacturing location along with the specific gravity/density. Past and present inventory numbers can be and are used to determine the quantities of chemicals in any location at any given time that need to be reported.

“With the help of Actio’s MSDS Vault and MSDS Author, Behr has developed a dynamic, web-based system that simplifies many routine tasks and accomplishes our company’s fundamental MSDS responsibilities in near-real time," said Michael Butler, Director of Regulatory Affairs at Behr Process.

"The most innovative aspect of this project is that it harnesses a range of technological prowess," said Kathleen Hurley, spokesperson for Actio Corporation.  "Based on the internet and relational database architecture, this project created a new way to get products to market more quickly, safely and humanely.  Everyone benefits."

The Butler did it?

"We feel this system constitutes a 'best practices' approach that not only helps assure the safety and well-being of our employees and customers, but also makes our MSDS processes more efficient overall,” said Michael Butler, Director of Regulatory Affairs at Behr Process.

The product environmental, health and safety documentation service Butler is referring to, called MSDS Vault, received a massive upgrade in late 2009; most enhancements were on the back end to allow data storage and usage to scale.  The upgrade also included User Experience and functionality enhancements – the driving idea is that users can promptly locate and access critical health and safety and environmental protection data from any time zone in the world, 24/7.   The major implementation of authoring and publishing Behr’s safety data sheets is complete for now; however, Actio provides ongoing services including creating, updating, translating and ensuring appropriate access to key materials data documents for Behr.

Behr paints the town

Society benefits from this technology in terms of timely environmental, health and safety protection and provisions for workers and consumers.  All key stewardship reports are generated automatically, accurate, up-to-date, and presented in the correct language and in an easy to read format.  On top of that, the SaaS technology puts the reports in the right people’s hands – instantly, globally.

Actio congratulates Behr Corporation for its dynamic approach to global environmental regulatory compliance and the health and safety of workers and consumers worldwide.

The future of safety docs

The MSDS Vault solution that Behr uses is powered by Actio’s single, central relational database software technology.  In February of 2010, Actio announced that the Material Disclosure module connects to the MSDS Vault and securely – and by permission only – connects with suppliers to obtain product ingredient data.  The software automatically collects, warehouses and distributes compositional information on raw materials used in a product supply chain.

With the Material Disclosure functionality, suppliers log into a secure portal to input product regulatory and compositional information about their products, then securely manage the “publishing” of content to requestors throughout the supply chain.  Product disclosure documents requested by customers and regulatory agencies are automatically generated and can be customized on the fly. For customers who make frequent requests, material suppliers can assign the customer a user name and password, as well as designate certain parameters on information that can be accessible to that customer.  And that’s just the beginning!

Material Disclosure software is about visibility into a product and its supply chain.   Material Disclosure works with MSDS data on the chemicals in products and takes it to the next level.

The next level is pursuing environmental, health and safety data back through the supply chain to the components, the solder, the ingredients, even the source, of a product’s materials.  Conflict minerals are prevalent in the news lately.  The world needs an innovative software that can track where everything came from, and how it was created or extracted, and what the by products were and whether there are any regulatory flags on it in any country or locale.

For more on how this challenge is met in today's global supply chain, go to

Here's the original news release about Behr's go-to-market success in China.

Kathleen Hurley