Bodyshop Magazine


September 28, 2013


Title: Efficiency tips on using abrasives

Subtitle: Properly leveraging this underrated input can provide a major productivity boost


One key to building optimal bodyshop efficiency lies in what is often regarded as a routine task: sanding, more particularly the effective use of abrasives. In today’s tough economy, experts everywhere oweveare perusing financial statements, asking tough questions about how to get materials expenses down. Abrasives naturally inevitably enter the picture.


The challenge, as major providers such as Norton, Mirka Abrasives Canada, Walter Surface Technologies Canada and Sia Abrasives acknowledge, is that good abrasives cost money. However as one knowledgeable insider, who deals regularly with questions raised by the “green eyeshade” folk notes, while there are ways of cutting down on the use of quality abrasives, or of using cheap (often lower-end) alternatives, things need to be kept in perspective.


“Maximizing efficiency is critical both from a customer satisfaction perspective and for the bottom line,” says Joseph Chrys, an automotive aftermarket manager at Norton. “Higher quality products support those goals. They offer a quicker cut, and sustain it longer while achieving the desired finish. This helps reduce consumption, as less discs (or sheets) are used which reduces the number of steps taken in the sanding process.”


Can more savings be generated from labour or materials?

John Booth, president of Mirka Abrasives Canada agrees.

“Data from an AIA survey taken several years ago showed that 50 percent of sales related to labour costs, 38 percent to parts, and less than 1 percent to abrasives,” says Booth. “While shops need to watch expenses, you want to harvest the easier gains first.” A bodyshop would not want a worker it charges out at $60 to $90 per hour, taking an extra 15 minutes on a job, to save a sheet or two of sandpaper he points out.


In short, the sandpaper you choose and how you use it, is crucial. Sanding sets the base, on which paint is ultimately applied. If that base isn’t perfect, the vehicle’s look will suffer. A good abrasive penetrates the substrate, removes chipped material and leaves the resulting surface area smooth, so that coatings applied later will adhere properly.


The advent of vacuum sanding

Mirka produces and markets a range of abrasive products, which gives Booth a bird’s eye view of the latest industry developments. These include the advent of vacuum sanding, a category which he “guestimates,” has tripled its overall market share during the past decade. Sanding creates huge amounts of dust, which vacuum sanders help clear up by sucking up powder residue, debris and paint chips, which can cause a mess in bodyshops.


The move to vacuum sanding has occurred in tandem with the advent of the waterborne movement which has taken place across North America forcing bodyshop technicians to sand finer to achieve optimal fishing prior to applying paint. Waterborne coatings require air movement, as opposed to heat in order to dry properly notes Chrys. This has boosted vacuum sanding in order to reduce dust in bodyshops.


Another problem with excess dust in bodyshops, is that it can also lead to breathing and other health problems, though these are hard to quantify, a challenge which continues to slow growth in the category. That’s because a direct link between a shop environment and diseases or disabilities suffered down the line is hard to establish.


Many shops thus find it tempting to focus on the short-term expedient of keeping things as they are. The upshot is that they leave open the possibility of significant health issues coupled with potential unfunded legal liabilities down the line. This is somewhat surprising as in many cases, the owner suffers just as much as the rest of his staff from an unclean or dusty shop.


“You can either use a hose on your sander now, or you can vacuum your lungs out later,” says Booth, with a hard chuckle which clearly expresses the seriousness with which he regards the issue. “However that is just the tip of the iceberg as far as benefits go. The process also saves on cleaning time, and increases efficiency because there is no need to cover material and equipment to protect them from dust. (Furthermore) net sanding products virtually eliminate clogging.”


Chrys agrees. “The first piece of advice I would offer any technician, is that the proper safety equipment be used and precautions taken at all times,” he comments. “A clean work environment can help prevent potential falls. As for the (sanding) products themselves, operating speeds and back-up pads are sometimes overlooked, yet are also very important from a safety standpoint.”


Maximizing an abrasive’s life and performance

As far as maximizing an abrasive’s life and performance, the equipment used matters a great deal, says Chrys. “Some of these aspects are well known in the industry,” he notes. “For example a body man will use a 3/16 stroke DA in order to remove stock faster, while the painter and the detailer will use a 3/32 stroke DA to ensure a more consistent finish.”


“The backup pad used can make a significant difference, through both its firmness and balance,” he adds. “Firmness can hinder or help stock removal, while the balance will make a difference in the life and efficiency of the sandpaper being used.”


Chrys also recommends the use of a higher quality random orbital sander, because all else being equal, a sander that does not vibrate is more comfortable to work with, which in turn improves the performance of the sandpaper being used. “The more a tool vibrates, the less of its energy is going to the sandpaper,” he explains. “The opposite it true as well.”


And finally, an area must be spic and span prior to commencing sanding. “It’s important to use a cleaner designed for the substrate to be cleaned,” says Chrys. “This is especially true for bumper. Any dirt, dust and residue on the sanding surface, will cause the sandpaper to load faster and will significantly reduce its life.” Finally, Chrys says that implementing standard operating procedures in bodyshops, coupled with regular training are major keys to boosting effective use of abrasives throughout the industry.




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