May 15th, 2012
Title: Innovations in paint technology
Sub-title: New products and systems are improving paint shop efficiency, delivery times and quality.
Heinz Grau is an old school bodyshop man. He gets to work early, gives customers a fair deal and his handshake is worth more than any piece of paper. But as with many old-timers, Grau, who runs HG Garage Inc. doesn’t like change. So despite the fact that much of the industry has made considerable advances in paint technology, notably a massive move from solvent-based to water-based products he hasn’t budged. “The stuff we use is up to standard and our customers are happy,” says Grau. “So why should we change? It would cost us a fortune and would be a pain in the (rear) for nothing.”
Bodyshop pros like Grau, that have built long track records with loyal client bases, can afford to stick with old technologies. However many industry players, beset with tough competition and increased demand for better prices, service and quality, are streamlining the paint products and processes they use in a furious bid to stay out in front.
Industry suppliers, keen to meet new demands, maintain existing customer bases and to expand them if possible, are playing along, introducing new innovations that improve everything from solvent base preparation and application, sanding and polishing, to the actual painting itself.
The rush to new technologies
Mary-Ann Short, a marketing services manager at BASF, which deals with bodyshops across the country, sees the productivity pressures that industry faces every day. She readily admits that boosting efficiency by moving from solvent-based paint to water-based products, involves considerable investments in new equipment, workflow changes and shop layouts, but remains adamant that the benefits more than make up for it.
“You don’t just change because you are forced to, you do it because it makes good business sense,” says Short. “Water-based paints give you better production, throughput and color matching capabilities. Plus companies like us make it easier for bodyshops to convert their processes, by providing new training for the painters.”
Angela Baillie, a marketing specialist at Sherwin-Williams Automotive Finishes agrees that productivity is key. “There is a continuing need to ensure paint booths don’t become production bottlenecks in collision shops,” she says. “In fact the search for new tools to increase efficiency throughout all phases of collision center operations is a must in a tight economy, where time truly is money.”
By now most major Canadian bodyshops have taken the steps they need to adhere to the low Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) standards regarding solvent based paints that were introduced in 2010. True, many, particularly smaller independent shops are still using solvent-based primer and clear coats. Others continue to have inventories of old solvent-based paint on hand, which they are entitled to work through.
However paint companies are constantly introducing new technologies. For example according to Baillie, Sherwin-Williams recently launched HP Process, a new system that encompasses primers, basecoats and urethane clearcoats, that takes the entire vehicle refinish procedure from primer to clearcoat in less than 50 minutes.
Other companies, such as PPG, have introduced new clearcoats, which are designed be used in its Aquabase Plus system. PPG’s new clearcoat enables bypassing of the baking cycle, making vehicles ready to be polished in as little as 30 minutes. Spies Hecker’s recently introduced low-VOC clearcoat was also put out in part to help boost bodyshop efficiency. According to Short, BASF for its part recently introduced No Bake Clears, a product used for small repair jobs, which as the name implies, requires minimal drying times and thus speeds the repair process enabling shops to increase both throughputs and revenues.
New equipment and enhanced workflows
Productivity improvements can also be leveraged by investments in new, high-performance equipment says Rick Boychuk, national sales director of Eurotech Spray Products, which markets the German-designed line of SATA paint spray guns to distribution networks and occasionally directly to end users. Use of quality guns, which have high transfer efficiency rates can dramatically improve bodyshop productivity says Boychuk. Eurotech which is in heavy competition with both IWATA and DeVilbiss, markets two major series, one to apply primers and another that applies clearcoats and colorcoats.
Last year, SATA, which regards itself as the “Mercedes of the spray gun market,” launched the SATAjet 4000B, which was modeled after the earlier 3000B version, which Boychuk says includes several features that will improve efficiency. The new gun is said to be lighter than the previous version, and have improved air, fan and fluid related features. Key, says Boychuk, is the new gun’s ability to break resin into smaller droplets, which makes for far subtler colors, a crucial attribute in an era where color matching is becoming increasingly challenging and important.
Another often overlooked area of the paint technology that can be considerably improved in many collision repair centers, is administrative processes. Many bodyshop professionals are tradesman at heart and regard anything that occurs outside of the shop floor, such as completing work orders, billing, filling in purchase requisitions, ordering and so on, as distractions from “real work.”
These tasks are thus often delegated to junior employees, and handled as an afterthought. However according to Baillie bodyshops can make significant productivity gains, by improving their inventory management processes. Bodyshops generally face two contradictory challenges when managing the various paint products stored in-house.
The first is the vast gains that can be achieved by keeping levels low. Having large qualities of paints, primers, clearcoats and other consumables on hand ties up valuable corporate capital. In addition, if not properly stored and tracked effectively, products may end up being dumped or forgotten back in low-traffic storage areas. That can lead to huge quantities of increasingly valuable floor space being essentially wasted. “Lean inventory management plays a key role in delivering an efficient production cycle,” notes Baillie. “Maintaining proper stock levels is critical to maximizing profitability and growth potential as well as promoting repair consistency.”
However bodyshops also need to keep enough stock on hand, so that the ordering process does not slow the workflow chain. To help clients do that Sherwin-Williams makes available to them its Lean Stock Inventory System, which according to Baillie gives them the resources to control their entire inventory. All the inventory manager has to do is to scan the barcodes through a kanban trigger and a replacement order is placed through the Sherwin-Williams Web-site. After delivery, the order is verified by the inventory manager and restocked. The system has gotten considerable positive feedback from customers who have tried it says Baillie.
As for Hans Grau, the old school bodyshop man recently moved his facilities from Dorval on Montreal Island to Laval. Upon reflection, he shows openness toward adopting some of the newer products and technologies. “I guess I will make the investments in time and money to move to water-based paints eventually if I am either forced to or the benefits to customers become to clear to resist,” says the industry veteran. “Sometimes you just have to go with the flow.”
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Peter Diekmeyer Communications Inc.