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Tag Archives: automotive body repair

What a painter should learn from coronavirus pandemic?

Nowadays press, internet and television bombard us with threatening statistics about COVID-19, or coronavirus in plain English. Everyday a new country is added to the list of infected areas, numbers of sick people with a death toll statistics cause panic and fear. Dust masks and hand antiseptic disappeared. People from all over the world have been chasing for any protective masks to sell to China (50% of all masks worldwide are produced in China, by the way). Yet, I am not writing this article about the virus itself. There more than enough experts and non-experts speculating about this subject anyway.

Last week I visited one of our customers in Greece. During my visit, a painter walked in, asking for the dust masks P2. “How many are there in the box?” he asked. “Twenty?” “Give me five boxes. I have three kids at home”. The guy paid and left within a minute. My distributor laughed after the painter left. “His name is George (I changed the name, of course), and he has never used any respiratory protection neither for prep jobs nor for painting. At least he knows now that there are different masks, like P2 available.” “This virus will do well for these folks”, he added with a smile on his face.

It was somehow funny, but alarming at the same time. The painter took these masks obviously because of all the panic around coronavirus. But, why would he expose his health to toxic dust and solvent fumes? How happened that a very distant danger of the exposure to the not-so-deadly virus outweighs the everyday, very real work hazards? I have no reasonable answers to these questions.

We all have people we love and care about. Often a car sprayer is the only person to provide for his family. Not using personal protection in a bodyshop is not only stupid, but also unfair in relation to the close family, especially children. They need you healthy and well. Car paint sprayers have about 90 times higher risk of getting asthma than other working population. Therefore, the chances of dying from breathing related illness if infected by COVID-19 are negligible if compared to the health issues caused by unprotected work as painter. Personal protection products are affordable, widely available from the paint stores and there are no excuses to avoid using them every time you grab a sanding machine or a spray gun. Stay healthy and, please, protect yourself!

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.

 

What force is the ultimate drive for change in the collision repair industry?

Insurance companies’ role.

I admit that it is a tricky question without an obvious answer for everyone. However, I believe that insurance companies – the main payers of the repair bills – push the collision repair industry forward. Some of you may disagree, claiming, not without a good reason, that insurers often prevent bodyshops from having healthy margins and nourish unhealthy competition and excessive consolidation. In fact, these statements are also true. On the contrary, insurance companies are probably the most efficient businesses as to calculating risks and optimizing costs. And yes, repair bills are just costs for them. Being themselves in a very competitive market, insurers push the collision repair industry towards costs optimization, starting from the accident itself all the way to the repaired vehicle delivery to the customer. The repair process must be safe (they hate law suits), smooth (extra communication and claims handling is expensive), and, above all else, fast! Hours billed by bodyshops is the key component of each invoice to be paid, therefore it ought to be as low as possible. This immense pressure from the insurance companies inevitably cause rates cutting, so only the strongest and fine-tuned bodyshops survive. One could feel a victim and cries over it, but the rest of us will think of how to cope with this harsh reality and turn lemons into lemonade.

Conflict of interests?

For the bodyshops though, at first glance, the math is working just the opposite. A bodyshop is earning money according to the hours billed. The more, the better. So, is it a never ending conflict of interests? Not necessarily. A truly productive bodyshop usually has much shorter vehicle repair cycles and substantially more hours billed per day. This idea is extensively covered in the book «The secrets of America’s greatest body shops» by Dave Luehr and Stacey Phillips, which I strongly recommend you to read. Yet, how to achieve the desired productivity? It is easier said than done. In one sentence, productivity depends on each and every person, who is involved even remotely in the repair process. But this is the subject of the next articles.

Economies of scale in a bodyshop.

Coming back to the initial question, I want to stress once again that insurers are not necessarily on the other side. In order to get more business from them, you need to understand their way of thinking and their goals. Faster and cost-efficient repairs mean happier customers, less costs on the curtesy vehicles and better profits. If your bodyshop provides that, then workflow will be continuous, and you will never have to worry about new customers. More work will trigger economies of scale and empower you with greater bargaining power in relations with your suppliers. The last, but not the least, the business with strong relationships with insurance companies will always have much higher price tag in case you desire to sell it! A potential buyer always evaluate the customers base, prior to evaluating premises, equipment, personnel and other financial figures. For me, being able to sell your business at a good price is a recognition of your lifelong effort and success. Keep this in mind…

If you own an independent bodyshop, this article is for you.

In case you run a bodyshop (or in fact any local business) you definitely spend time thinking of the way of advertising your business. In fact, in our digital era you may have already started building your digital footprint on social media, through a blog and a busness webpage. However, you need to keep in mind that people need bodyshop services usually when a collision accident happens. Not a very pleasant event. What do you do when you need a car repair specialist? You ask friends and relatives for a recommendation. Everyone has an uncle or friend who repaired his car after an accident. Usually  they  refer a bodyshop in the neighborhood.  Nobody wants to drive the damaged vehicle to the other side of the city. The key words are “reference” and “neighborhood”. In the past I have already stressed how the word of mouth” creates a competitive advantage for a paint supply business (8 proven ways to increase sales in a car body and paint shop). In this post I will elaborate further how to grow bodyshop’s positive word of mouth by giving back to the local community.

Car refinishing industry is going through times when larger organizations buy the smaller rivals or push the independent shops out of the market. Consolidation of the market share can be seen on all levels in our trade, starting from jobbers and warehouses to collision repair workshops themselves. In fact, an independent bodyshop has little instruments to protect its business. Nevertheless, the bodyshop can profit from its human touch and the perception of being part of the local community. An active and giving back part of the community. If the people in the area are feeling that you are one of them, they will prefer to bring their vehicles to you, regardless of where insurers want to steer them to.

What are the ways to genuinely serve the local community?

There are plenty of ways how bodyshop owners could contribute to the local community and build positive image for their businesses. Below I bring to your attention a few examples.

– Be a sponsor of the local sports team. It is an old and well-tested way to play an important role for your neighborhood. It doesn’t matter what sport it is. Team sports usually draw more attention, however you can support a talented tennis player or a boxer. Do not go only for the highest exposure sports, which may require significant funds. The earnest effort to support even one athlete will not go unnoticed.

– Offer to refinish free of charge some community vehicle. It could be a school bus, fire brigade’s vehicle, police or any other car of communal usage.

– Help someone in need to fix her vehicle. If you have noticed an elder person with an old car, offer to paint it for free. She will be your best ambassador forever.

– Give a free advice on car care for automotive enthusiasts. Show them how to polish their vehicles and to protect it from scratches. It will be your best move ever.

– Be involved in the local community life. I mean truly and genuinely involved. It is not only about giving money, but also time. By spending time with local people for the common good, you will earn respect and trust. Trust is the key in the collision repair business when people turn to you if a collision accident happened.

To finish, I would like to stress that giving to the community is not the same with advertising. These are two different things. Both are needed to build brand awareness and drive business to your shop. Nevertheless, do not confuse those two things. Giving back to the community must be done without crying for attention, because people can sense easily when the effort is not coming from the heart.

 

 

Collision repair industry greatest innovators.

Innovation is probably the most cliché-ridden word in the modern corporative marketing. Most slogans, corporate mission statements and annual reports include the “innovation” word or its derivatives. Innovation, by definition, is a new product, process or method, which changes the usual, established set of product features and ways it is used. True innovation, however, is disruptive; it breaks the old rules and sets new standards.

Automotive industry has been always associated with novelties and break through ideas. Starting from Ford’s moving assembly line, which was afterwards implemented by virtually any manufacturer on the planet to electric cars and modern driverless cars. Tesla is a great example how a brand with no history can create value in the industry dominated by companies with more the hundred years of experience.

So, vehicle OEM coatings and refinishing industry is not an exemption. Automotive paint has been developing since the first car was produced, despite the fact that in the beginning paint wasn’t viewed as key sales factor. Remember Ford’s saying: “A customer can have a car painted any color he wants as long as it’s black.”

Unfortunately, there is little information available online about who was the first to invent certain, now commonly used, products. For example, polyester fillers, replaced lead many years ago, but I didn’t manage to find a reliable source about it. Neither could I find information about which paint manufacturer was the very first to introduce color mixing system. However, below I bring to your attention just a few products, which changed automotive OEM and collision repair process dramatically. Not all of these products are of the same importance, but they are definitely worth mentioning.

3M

Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company (here comes 3M) has the word “innovation” as its corporate slogan, and people in this multibillion and multinational company really mean it. There are countless patents in various industries. Below I name just a few 3M innovations, which have had undeniable impact on automotive refinishing industry. These products names, like Scotch-Brite or PPS, have become common names even for the products of competitors.

  • Waterproof paper was invented in the early 1920s and is still used in automotive refinishing workshops around the globe, especially in the places where dust extraction is not an option.
  • Scotch, is the first pressure sensitive masking tape, which was invented by a young lab assistant, Richard Drew in 1925.
  • Scotch-Brite sanding and cleaning pads, developed in 1950s, are so versatile that this brand name is well-known to both to craftsmen and housewives around the world.
  • Trizact and Cubitron are unique abrasives lines, which outperform in their category most of the competitive products.
  • PPS (paint preparation system) is a broad category of products, with the disposable plastic cups in the core of the category. PPS has been a subject for patent wars, counterfeits and imitation.

Binks

In 1887, a maintenance supervisor in a department store, Joseph Binks invented a machine to paint walls. Even if his invention was primarily used for painting buildings, Binks created a solid foundation for the future spaying equipment. Binks brand is still well-known, especially in light industry applications.

Devilbiss

Devilbiss is another great example of long history and innovation, which changed automotive industry from painting vehicles literally by brush to what is now a symbol of the industry – a spray gun. The brand was founded in Toledo, Ohio in 1888, when Dr Allen DeVilbiss invented a device for spraying medicines. Later on his son Thomas adapted the original atomizer to create a spray gun for the coatings application. The rest is the history…

Dupont (Axalta Group now)

Duco was actually the first dedicated automotive paint, developed for Ford in order to reduce drying times of the paint from days to a few hours only. Actually Duco was a nitrocellulose paint drying through solvent evaporation, which was used in the refinishing industry for almost 100 years.

 

It would fantastic if you, my dear readers, could share your information and views about the automotive coatings industry’s brightest minds and innovative brands.

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