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The biggest challenge in the collision repair industry is to keep it young.

The biggest challenge in the collision repair industry is to keep it young.

The idea of this post came to me just a few days ago while I was strolling with my family through Athens shopping district, buzzing with last minute Christmas shoppers. We walked into a small candle shop full of candles of all shapes, colors and smells. After a short chat with the owner I learnt that her business has been established in 1888, when candles in Greece were necessity, not decoration items. “How did you manage to survive until now, when light is available even on a smartphone we carry?” I asked. “We adopt and pass our knowledge to our next generation,” she replied.

Since this is the last blog post for this year, I wanted to put the current problems aside for a while and think about the future. So, what does the future holds for the collision repair industry? Optimists will probably think of stable growth. People are not going to stop driving cars for the time being, therefore accidents and repairs are still inevitable. However, our main concern is not the existence of the collision repair industry, but whether there will be enough skilled panel-beaters and painters to cope with escalating complexity of the repairs.

Younger people, who choose craftsmanship over white-collar jobs, have numerous choices nowadays. One could pursue a career as a computer hardware technician, security systems installer, mobile phones repairer, electrician, plumber, you name it. Businesses are hunting for people able to fix stuff with their hands. Actually employment in the trades is growing year by year, because Millennials think more practically. Why spend money and time for college, when you can easily find a well-rewarded job in great working environment after a much shorter vocational training or apprenticeship program?

Situation in the collision repair industry is changing, but not fast enough. I have read that the median salary for a painter in the United States is around 65.000 USD, but I am sure that in many countries this job is very much underpaid. From health and safety standpoint, bodyshop is still highly hazardous in comparison with other blue-collar jobs. So, why bother spoiling your health in a dusty and smelly workshop? In one of the past blog post “How to deal with employee turnover in a bodyshop”, I already emphasized that working conditions are hugely important for the young people joining our trade. Do not expect young guys to work in cold and dirty workshop, like their fathers and predecessors.

To sum up, whether you are an owner of a family owned business or a manager in a big collision repair group, your business future depends on the coming generation. Be it your son, daughter or apprentice, creating pleasant working environment in combination with the fair salaries, would be the bare minimum to keep the industry rolling. As the owner of the candle shop said, we must adopt and pass our knowledge to those who come after us. I would just add that the collision repair industry minds should not be only concerned about technological challenges and productivity, but also invest seriously on its people wellbeing. Otherwise there will be no one to hold a spray gun in the first place.

 

The Evolution of Automotive Coatings

Ceramic coatings from the painter’s point of view.

Undoubtedly, ceramic coatings, or nano/glass coatings, have taken the automotive aftermarket by storm. Let me refer to these products, by generic term “ceramic coatings” further in the article. Dozens of brands have appeared, and each of them claims the best results, ultimate gloss and protection, which lasts for years. Some colleagues of mine, those who are not coming from the detailing business, but from regular bodyshops, have been asking my opinion about ceramic coatings. From my humble opinion, ceramic coatings came here to stay, and there are some very decent brands, which deliver on their promises. Vehicles treated with such coatings look better than new, are easy to wash, and such a treatment raises the overall vehicle’s value. However, I do believe that not all the customers need ceramic coating, and that there is a big information gap. I hope to clarify some questions and bust some myths in this article.

What is a ceramic coating?

Ceramic coating is a liquid polymer based on SiO2 silica, which is applied to clean and polished vehicle clearcoat. The bond between the coating and clearcoat is not chemical, but mechanical. It means that there is no chemical reaction between the coating and the paint/clear.  The particles of ceramic coatings usually are much smaller than the pores of a paint/clearcoat, therefore they penetrate the paint film, and when cured, create a strong bond on nanomolecular level between the coating and automotive clearcoat. This is why many brands add the term “nano” to their products description.

Lasts forever?

Ceramic coatings are not permanent, but semi-permanent, meaning that after some time, which varies from producer to producer, it will wear off and loose its properties. In order to prolong the protective properties, a customer will need to visit a detailing shop for so-called maintenance, which varies from once per two years to a few times per each year. Nano or ceramic coatings are harder than traditional car paints and do provide better water and dirt repellence, but it is not like apply-once-and-forget system.

Hard like diamond?

Most of the brands in protective coatings claim that their product withstands mechanical stress (scratching) equal to 9H. Customers and applicators use this figure all the time, without actually realizing what it means. Personally I didn’t like Physics at school, but thanks to my studies in the military school, I have some understanding of hardness as a physical parameter (the rest skills acquired remained completely unused). Hardness is not measured in just one way, and, in fact, there are several methods to test and measure material’s hardness (coatings in our case). The difference between the measurement systems is substantial. For example, if you use Mohs measuring system, then 9H would refer to almost the highest level of hardness, which is the level of corundum (a form of aluminium oxide). The highest level is 10H, which is a diamond. I wish there would be a coating, which could deliver such protection, but it is not achievable for the time being. There is a simple test to check the credibility of the statement. If you take a dried crystal of any ceramic coating and try to scratch the glass surface, you will realize that it is not possible to leave a scratch. Glass is much harder as a material, and, as we know, only diamond (10H hardness), can scratch and cut a piece of glass. So, what is this 9H measurement on ceramic coatings ads? In fact, there is another measurement system, which is used to measure hardness of a material, and it is called Wolff-Wilborn test, or simply pencil test. This system was initially developed in order to standardize production of pencils. Probably you have noticed already that all the pencils carry a certain marking, like 2B, HB, H1 etc. So, according to this system, a surface which cannot be scratched by pencil with 9H hardness at 45 degree angle can be characterized as 9H hard. Of course, this measurement has nothing to do with diamond. Therefore the promised 9H hardness is nothing more than a marketing trick.

Clearcoat vs Ceramic Coating

It is very important for a vehicle owner to understand what additional protection properties would a ceramic coating offer to his vehicle. In fact, the customer will be paying big money exactly for the difference in scratch resistance between the clearcoat and chosen ceramic coating. But are the parameters of the equation always the same? Of course not.  Simply because clearcoats from different car manufacturers are not the same either. If you compare the clearcoat’s hardness of the European, and, especially German vehicles, with the Japanese vehicles, you will realize that the German clearcoats are much thicker and harder. Therefore, if you apply a ceramic coating on a Japanese or Korean car, the improvement of scratch resistance properties will be noticeable. If you do the same application on certain BMWs, for example, the difference might be negligible. Of course, my explanation is too general, and the only way to understand how hard is the clearcoat – try polishing it. Key scratching test is not advisable.  From our experience, the highest improvement of hardness on a vehicle after ceramic application will be up to 2H. Not more.

Car accident. Now what?

While it is great to discuss how shiny will a vehicle look after ceramic coating’s application, let’s not forget that ceramic coatings do not protect from accidents. Sorry if I ruined your day. I wish there were such coatings (or maybe not, what are we going to sell then to bodyshops…). In reality though, vehicles with ceramic coatings are actually much harder to repair. This is a very important piece of information, which coating applicators usually never give to their customers. Let me explain why actually the repair of the coated car is a headache for car painters.

Imagine that a vehicle protected by ceramic coating has an accident, where its rear door is damaged and requires a paint job. Very few people, besides car repair professionals, know that in many cases in order to make the paint job invisible for the human eyes, a certain procedure – blending or fading out – must be done. This process is necessary to “trick” human eye into believing that there is perfect paint match between the painted part and the adjacent areas. In our case most probably rear fender and front door will be also partially sprayed. I don’t want to get into details of the blending process, because for the car painters it is a part of their everyday job, but for the common car owner it is unnecessary information. Simply speaking, a car painter, who is performing the blending process on a coated vehicle, will need firstly to remove completely ceramic coating from the adjacent parts. This must be done in order to avoid delamination of the new clearcoat from the surface covered by ceramic coating. Normally we apply a blending thinner to soften the old clearcoat and avoid visible border. However, ceramic coating is invisible, and, if a painter doesn’t even know that the vehicle was protected, it will definitely cause problems.

How to remove ceramic coating?

One can remove ceramic coating by sanding (which is okay on the repaired part, but not on the adjacent parts) or by polishing. The problem is that there is no visible sign whether the ceramic coating has been polished out or not. In fact, all the risk and extra work lie on the shoulders of a car painter. Will he get paid for this additional task? I don’t think so.

The very minimum what a professional detailer and ceramic coating applicator should do is to keep customer informed what should be done if the vehicle has an accident. He must provide all the information how the coating can be quickly and safely removed as well.

Conclusion

As I already mentioned, ceramic coatings have become a part of the modern car care industry. Taking into account that car appearance is about 30% of its value, protecting a car will certainly pay off. On the other hand, not all vehicles will benefit from ceramic coating in the same way. In many cases, regular waxing of a vehicle will help in keeping the car’s clearcoat bright and shiny without spending hundreds of hard-earned euros or dollars on ceramic coating application. Another important consideration is the difficulties  ceramic coatings may cause during the process of accident repair. It is still unclear who should bear additional costs of the refinishing job. I also strongly recommend car refinishing shops to consider offering application of ceramic coating as an additional service to the customers. Instead of complaining why customers go to detailing shops, turn lemons into lemonade and earn additional income.

 

Automechanika 2018. Footnotes.

Yet another Automechanika in Frankfurt closed its doors. I haven’t missed a single event since my very first visit to Frankfurt in 2002, but I still feel a slight adrenaline rush when I enter the hall 11, where the majority of the refinishing stands are located. As a visitor and as an exhibitor, despite the decrease of the exhibitions’ importance in our business (actually in any business), I do enjoy the buzz and the energy of this venue. I guess it is in my blood already.

What I enjoy most is meeting people. Many of them I know, many faces are familiar, but we have never had a chance to be acquainted. Nevertheless, the vast majority of the players in our industry are known. “Oh, I remember this guy, he is Greek with a horse brand (Etalon logo features a horse).” – I overheard a whisper in Spanish while in the queue in cafeteria “Bellavista”. In some ways, all the people you meet in the paths of the fair can be divided in three categories: customers (existing, potential and former), suppliers (current, potential or past) and competitors (competitor is always competitor). Meeting customers is probably the most exciting, but simultaneously the most alarming. Where is he going now? I hope not to meet the other guys?

When you return from the event, like Automechanika, you are asked pretty much the same question: What new have you seen? To be short, apart from the long awaited new spray gun from Devilbiss – DV1 – I haven’t seen anything really new. Of course, I could have easily missed something. Correct me please if I am wrong. As you may have heard any business, industry or organization is going through the life cycle in different ways, like revolution and evolution. This process has been described by Larry Greiner in his paper called “Evolution and Revolution as Organizations Grow.” Sometimes this theory is described as Greiner Curve. Revolution is characterized by fundamental change, which affects the way we do something (repair vehicles in our case). Evolution, on the other hand, is an upgrade, an improvement of the existing products and processes. Our industry is going through evolution phase without any breakthrough in the horizon so far. In no way I mean that the evolution is not good; it just underlines that automotive refinishing business is a mature market.

 

While I didn’t see a particularly groundbreaking product, I must admit one significant shift in our trade – much better marketing. For many years, collision repair materials suppliers hadn’t paid attention to the look and feeling of their products. Probably this year’s presentations in Automechanika marked the shift on this matter. The best example is probably the packaging of the newest Devilbiss flagship spray gun DV1. It reminds me the box from the luxury Swiss watch.

Those of you, who attended the fair last week, would probably agree with me that SATA had the most chic stand from all. SATA for some years now dedicates their impressively big stand to a particular theme – “Sweet Sixties” this year. SATA’s team welcomed their guests in stylish uniform, while presenting a dedicated special addition SATA 5000 model. Great job from the marketing team. They totally dismiss a stereotype that everything German is well-built, but boring…

I left the fair with solid feeling that I really enjoy the industry I am in, and, as always, regrettably, I didn’t have enough time to spend with my colleagues, customers, suppliers and competitors (yes, I have very good friends with whom we compete). Friends from Australia, Argentina, Serbia, UK, Albania, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, France, Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Spain, Hong Kong, China, Kenya, South Africa, Italy, Norway, and, of course, from Germany, I will be looking forward to see you soon!

 

 

History of Generic Names in the Automotive Refinishing Industry.

In our everyday life, we use many words, which, in fact, are registered trademarks. As time passes, consumers use those words generically to describe certain products. Kleenex, Jeep, Post-it, Frisbee, Aspirin, Xerox, Google, Jacuzzi, are all registered trademarks, but we never think about it. Certainly, it is a great success for any company, when their trademark starts living the life of its own and becomes a common noun.

Car repair business is not an exemption. Certain trademarks are used as common nouns mainly in the local markets, while others became generic names worldwide. I thought it might be interesting to share with you some examples I heard while traveling all these years.

I can surely say that 3M is the absolute champion in creating trademarks, which become widespread names not only for one product, but also for the whole category. Let me bring to your attention four of these products.

3M PPS – 3M Paint Preparation System

No doubts, 3M employs brilliant engineers, who invent completely new and innovative products, which make millions in profit for the company and make painters’ life easier. PPS is a wonderful example, how you can create a new category of products from scratch. With 3M replaceable cups system painters save time, materials, money (on solvent used for washing) and effortlessly store the remaining paint for the future usage. PPS became a huge success, subject for the court disputes and patent infringements. Recently the patent for the original PPS expired, but I am sure that professionals in our trade will keep calling, even the competitive products, by the generic name of PPS.

3M Scotch tape

Scotch tape is another generic term, which refers to pressure-sensitive self-adhesive tapes. The use of the term Scotch in the name was a pejorative meaning “stingy” in the 1920s and 1930s. The brand name Scotch came about around 1925 while Richard Drew was testing his first masking tape to determine how much adhesive he needed to add. The bodyshop painter became frustrated with the sample masking tape and exclaimed, “Take this tape back to those Scotch bosses of yours and tell them to put more adhesive on it!” The name was soon applied to the entire line of 3M tapes.

3M Scotch-Brite

Scotch-Brite was introduced during the 50s as a line of flexible abrasives (mainly Aluminium oxide) based on non-woven polymer fibers. Nowadays you can find products under Scotch-Brite brand in every supermarket. In the collision repair workshops Scotch-Brite firstly appeared as hand pans for surface preparation of a car body, especially on the difficult-to-reach areas.

3M Bondo

Here is another great example of a generic term, which describes a two-components polyester body filler, mainly in the US market. Bondo was invented in 1955 by Robert Merton Spink, and later on the company and the brand were acquired by 3M, who understands very well how strong is the power of a brand, like Bondo.

Rupes BigFoot

Rupes is a well-known Italian tools manufacturer from the country’s industrial north and with a history of over 65 years. In 2010, Rupes launched a line of orbital polishing machines under the trade name BigFoot. Since then the company created a new current in both car refinishing and detailing business. What is amazing that dual action and orbital polishing machines had been in the market before, but it was Rupes, who made this technology known and widely used across the globe. Nowadays one can find a big range of Rupes BigFoot tools, chemicals and even BigFoot academy. Thanks to BigFoot, Rupes entered the market of car enthusiasts and professional car care specialists. Forthwith in many countries, people tend to call any orbital or DA polisher as BigFoot.

Mirka Abranet

Abrasives producers have been always experimenting with the bases for their abrasive products. Paper, cloth, fiberglass or even polyester film, all are widely used for the production of coated abrasives. One of the biggest problems during the sanding process is the dust and clogging. Mirka invented a sanding material where the base is a mesh with hundreds of small holes, which virtually creates dust-free working environment with better surface quality and healthier working conditions. They gave to this product a trade name Abranet, which is also very easy to remember. Not so long time ago Mirka’s patent on the mesh abrasives had expired, and since then many other manufacturers started offering similar products. Nevertheless, wherever you go, both traders and bodyshop professionals still call those products Abranet.

U-Pol Raptor and Easy

U-Pol is the UK producer for the automotive refinishing products, and boasts 70 years of successful operations. U-Pol actually have two products, which can be considered as generic terms: Raptor protective coating and Easy body filler. While the latter is used as a generic description of body fillers in the United Kingdom, the first – Raptor – actually named the whole category. Raptor is a two-component durable urethane based protective coating for surface protection under the toughest climatic conditions and mechanical stress. Initially it was mainly used as truck bed liner, but now the applications vary from the marine and agricultural sector to off-road vehicles and general industry. Even though you can find very good alternatives, like Novol Cobra or Etalon Alligator, still end-users call them Raptor.

Sika Sikaflex

Sika is a multibillion Swiss conglomerate, which produces hundreds of products across different segments. In the auto body repair industry, Sika is known for its protective coatings, adhesives and sealants. I can confirm that in Greece, for instance, when a panel beater comes to a shop, he most probably asks a PU sealant by Sikaflex name, regardless of the brand he is actually buying.

The above list is non-exhaustive, of course.  It would be great to learn what trademarks have made to the podium of brands with overwhelming recognition in your market?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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