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“Competition is not only the basis of protection to the consumer, but is the incentive to progress.” Herbert Hoover

This year I reached my 20th year in car refinishing industry. I loved it, prospered, lived my ups and downs, and I wish my journey will continue for a long time. I have been privileged to work with  and learn from colleagues in all the inhabited continents. While our industry goes through the rough times now, just like most of the other businesses, I could safely tell that one of the greatest challenges is the lack of proper, honest, forward-thinking competition…

 

Let me be straight, I love the competition, though being the owner of a rather small player on the field of car paint products. Being small can be a great advantage when flexibility, personal touch and best customer service is required. Competition has played a huge role in the automotive business altogether. Remember Big Three – Ford, GM and Chrysler? The rivalry between those legendary companies put the automotive industry to the whole new level and through rough times of the Great Depression. Imagine what would be the cars if Ford would rule the industry with his efficient but boring black T Model? Not much left for car refinishing business, I guess… There are countless examples of how competition changed not only the the industry, but the world. I am writing this article on my iPad, which is one of the wonderful things born from fierce competition between Apple and PC.  The list is endless.

 

The reason I mention all these is because I see a real problem with competition in our trade. Big Four (sorry Sherwin-Williams you are not in this list, at least in Europe) mainly compete on the expensive gadgets, like Moonwalk or Fillon’s Daisy Wheel and acquisitions. I don’t see any significant product development for at least last 10 years. Same technology in different packaging.

 

More than 3 years ago I wrote an article “Is “buying” bodyshops business by paint companies sustainable?” I have to say that nothing changed and probably got worse. More or less busy (?) bodyshop is approached by big paint suppliers with cash. Nobody talks about products benefits, but only the check amount. The problem is that bodyshop owners usually bite in front of cash check, but never actually look in depth of the offering. Is it suitable for their business? What about the long run impact? Is it worth loosing your freedom of choice? Maybe it is better to take a loan for this desired equipment rather than signing a slavery contract?

 

I have learnt that nothing in life comes for free. I strongly advice to choose the paint supplier based on his offer and service, not on his “freebies” …

 

UV or not UV?

Those of you, my dear readers, who have taken part in a trade fair as an exhibitor, know how exhausting it could be. However, trade fairs are still the best way to meet new people, catch up with colleagues and learn new things about your industry. Today, when the Collision Repair Expo in Melbourne closed its doors, I look back and think, apart from meeting new and old friends and colleagues on this fair, I definitely take with me the understanding of one future defining technology – UV curing coatings.

While UV technology is not something completely new to the collision repair industry, yet it is now, when all the major automotive paint producers actively market it. During the last three days in the Melbourne Exhibition Center I had an opportunity to get some deeper knowledge of the UV-curing products’ advantages over the conventional 2K coatings, and the challenges, which follow this trend.

Some of you may ask the question: ”Why do the major players in the automotive refinishing industry start marketing UV-cured products now?” Well, benefits of such materials have been known before – ultra fast drying, zero sinking (shrinkage), no heat curing (great for sensitive areas), one component materials (no hardeners required). Yet, what are the challenges? Is adopting UV technology an easy ride? There are a few obstacles though – high initial investment in equipment, products cost (UV materials are expensive) and resistance to change from the painters, when especially the benefits are questionable. Let me analyze what I mean.

Initial investment

One of the largest obstacles for any new technology is the cost and complexity of the associated equipment involved. On this direction I can clearly see some development for last couple of years. For example, I saw some new players entering UV-curing equipment, like the UV-curing brand Lihtan. Australian designed Lihtan brand attracted many visitors in Melbourne Collision Repair Expo this month. Milton Da Silva – cofounder of Lihtan – told me during our conversation in Melbourne that the interest for the UV technology is at its pick; this is why he works closely with all major paint brands to offer affordable and reliable UV light systems. Already many premium automotive coatings manufacturers approved Lihtan UV equipment (www.lihtanuv-a.com). It goes without saying that the more manufacturers of the related equipment appear, the better.

Cost of UV materials

This is probably one of the most important obstacles at the moment. With an aerosol UV primer retailed at more than 70 Euro per can, these products could hardly be described as affordable. What the suppliers of UV-cured materials need to do first – is to explain really well and in details how an ordinary bodyshop will benefit while paying such a high price. One could really claim, for example, that difference in drying time is not that big to justify the premium paid. If, on average, with IR lamp a spot primer would dry in 6-7 minutes, a UV primer would require about 2-3 minutes. Is the 4-5 minutes difference serious enough argument? The question should be answered by each sales rep selling UV stuff. On the other hand, if the UV technology really takes off, manufacturers will achieve economies of scale, and the prices may go down. Time will tell.

Resistance to change

By nature, a human being is reluctant to leave his comfort zone. This applies to all aspects of our life, including our work life. Therefore UV technology will have to go through painters’ and shop owners’ hyper-criticism, skepticism and doubt. However, there is nothing new here. Waterborne paints were met with a lot of criticism too, and now more and more collision repair shops switch to “water”.

I am sure that UV-curing materials will find their place in modern bodyshops only if the paint producers will explain and communicate legitimate, not just on PowerPoint slides, benefits for both painters and business owners. Those benefits must outbalance the expenses and costs of the materials for most of the bodyshops out there, and not only for the very top ones. Only if an average smash repair store profits by the novelty, we would be able to say with assurance that UV-cured technology found its place in the sun…

 

 

Color matching problems not related to the paint itself

Probably color-matching problems are among the most frequent paint defects in the car refinishing industry. It is also the main cause of expensive re-works and unhappy customers. In many cases, the poor color-matching is due to the darker or lighter appearance of the final result. Below I bring to your attention 6 parameters a painter should consider before the basecoat application:

Spray gun pressure

Unfortunately, many painters underestimate the importance of precise measurement of the spray gun inlet pressure. They either do not use a manometer at all, or rely on a poor quality analog manometer.

Outcome: Lower than designated pressure causes darker color result, while higher pressure – lighter color than needed.

Solution: Use a reliable manometer, preferably digital one, for each basecoat application job.

Humidity

Most of the paint manufacturers state the ideal humidity level for the perfect applications conditions. However, we do not have the possibility to control humidity levels easily. For your reference, ideal humidity level is between 30% and 50%, lower than 30% humidity is considered low, while higher than 50% humidity is considered high.

Outcome: Low humidity causes darker result, while high humidity – lighter result

Solution: Adjust viscosity based on the instructions from paint manufacturer, consider changing nozzle size and air cap with lower or higher air flow (consider switching between higher air volume HVLP technology gun and lower volume Devilbiss Trans-Tech or High Efficiency or SATA RP).

Temperature

Just like with humidity, every manufacturer advises the optimal temperature levels for the application. Unlike humidity, it is easier to adjust temperature levels in a workshop, but still there are limitations as well. As a rule of thumb, low temperatures can be considered the range from 15 to 20° C, normal – 20-25° C and high – 28-35° C

Outcome: Lower temperatures will cause darker results, while higher temperatures – lighter results.

Solution: Adjust viscosity based on the instructions from paint manufacturer, consider changing nozzle size and air cap with lower or higher air flow (consider switching between higher air volume HVLP technology gun and lower volume Devilbiss Trans-Tech or High Efficiency or SATA RP).

Thinning (dilution)

Every single automotive coating product comes with a detailed technical data sheet. Unfortunately, often painters either ignore those data sheets or simply continue to work with any new product the “good old way”. In reality, under thinning or over thinning will inevitably cause color problems.

Outcome: Under thinning will cause darker color shade, while over thinning will produce lighter than needed variation.

Solution: Follow the manufacturers’ technical instructions, labels and manuals. Use mixing cups with measurement marking, scales and mixing rulers.

Spray gun distance from the surface

Every sprayer has its own style and spraying technique, however certain standards must be respected. One of the parameters I refer to is a distance between the spay gun and the vehicle’s surface. Consider that normal distance lies within 15 to 25cm range.

Outcome: Too small distance will cause darker colors, too high distance – lighter variation.

Solution: Respect the advised distance between the gun and the surface.

Speed of spraying

Similarly, speed of paint application is very individual and varies from sprayer to sprayer. However, extremes are not good.

Outcome: Spraying with too low speed will cause darker colors, while spraying at excessive speed – lighter color than expected.

Solution: Follow the paint and spray gun manufacturers’ instructions.

 

Automotive Coatings Chemistry 101

To be honest chemistry wasn’t my favorite class at school. Probably it was because of the teacher, but I didn’t succeed in getting an A on chemistry no matter what. However, life is unpredictable, and sometimes things you wish to avoid, become part of your life or career. I began my entrepreneurial path with trading chemical raw materials for coatings manufacturing, and now I am in automotive refinishing business, where the greater part of products are chemicals. I don’t know if you experienced my difficulties with chemistry, but if you use or supply automotive painting products, then chemistry is important for your work too.

Chemistry is an exact science

You may wonder what this article is about? Well, I intend to stress the importance of understanding and respecting chemistry as science, and not just any science, but an exact one. Chemistry is in the heart of the automotive refinishing industry. Paints, clears, primers, bodyfillers, sealants and other paint related materials are developed based on the fundamental rules of the applied chemistry. We all know that.

The exact sciences are characterized by accurate quantitative expression, meaning that the reaction between the chemical elements happens in accordance with the quantitative parameters of these elements.

You do not need to know the chemical formulas, but understanding the essentials is the key to success in our trade. Failing to do so will cost you money and reputation. Below you can find the most common examples how chemistry can “punish” you if you didn’t learn the lesson.

Adhesion problems

Unfortunately adhesion problems are very common paint defects in collision repair works. Painters many times fail to understand that adhesion of one material on another depends on two parameters: mechanical bond (this is why we use abrasives to create the right scratch pattern for the subsequent coating’s bonding) and chemical bond, which happens on the molecular level. If you do not remove the waxes and release agents from the new OEM bumper, for instance, it will cause flaking. Similarly, silicone particles can not mix with any other liquid, therefore the so-called “fish-eye” defect will appear on the contaminated surface. Proper surfaces preparation and following the TDS will help to avoid unpleasant situations of poor adhesion.

Problems with curing of 2K materials

If a clearcoat’s technical data sheet says that the mixing ratio is 2 parts of clear to 1 part of hardener without any thinner (or “reducer” as our American colleagues call it), it means exactly that. Not 5%, not 10%, not “I am used to do it like that all the time!” Period.

Similarly, if you add more benzoyl peroxide hardener to polyester-based body filler, it will not speed up the curing process, simply because the crosslinking between hardener and resin can happen only given a certain amount of available styrene and polyester molecules. More benzoyl peroxide will not “find” free elements and just stay unused, causing problems like bleeding.

Problems with expired products

You wouldn’t eat smelly meat or drink expired milk, would you? Just like we respect the shelf-life of our food, we must respect the indicated storage times on your fillers or clearcoats.  I have seen dozens of times how easily painters mix and use coatings, which are expired. While sometimes one can get away with this, in the majority of cases problems are almost guaranteed. It is worth mentioning that even similar products, but from different suppliers may greatly vary as to the shelf-life of the materials. You can find in the market primers ranging from 12 to 36 month’s storage. Needless to say that treating all the primers the same way is a big error. Careful stock management and implementation of the logistic practices like FIFA (first in, first out) will save money both for the bodyshop and coatings supplier.

Incompatibility of the coatings

In chemistry there are two main scenarios how two substances can react in case of contact: no reaction or intermixing or some kind of reaction. In the paint shop we observe both of them. When hardener is mixed with clearcoat, we have chemical reaction, which leads to fast curing of the mixture and crystallization. This is a desirable outcome. On the flip-side, we do not want any chemical reaction between bodyfiller and primer, for example. What happens if we spray etch-primer over the bodyfiller? Aggressive acids in the etch-primer will react with bodyfiller, causing lifting and adhesion failure.

Problems caused by using wrong thinner/reducer

Many products in the market are designed to be used with certain thinners (reducers) in order to get the desirable viscosity. Unfortunately, not all thinners are created equal. In the paint workshop you can find different types of thinners: acrylic thinner, base coat thinner, nitro thinner and epoxy. All of them have different base and purpose. One of the most common mistakes I have observed is using of nitro-based solvent in the 2K primers and clears (for the cost reasons mainly). The vast majority of 2K materials in the collision repair shop are made on the acrylic-urethane resins. If you use nitro thinner, for example, which is much faster than acrylic ones, it may cause gloss reduction and orange peel effect.

Good news

When you are taking exam at school, you are not allowed to use any help or source of the information. The good news is that in our business not only we have the cheat sheets available, but we are encouraged to use them as we wish. I am talking about TDSs or technical data sheets. I am confident that if every painter used TDS whenever doubtful, the amount of the paint defects and costly re-sprays would have dropped significantly. Nowadays, thanks to the internet connection and smart phones, you can find the needed information within just a few minutes. TDS is the best source of information for every single product you use. Chemists and technicians worked hard to put the necessary information together for you, so use it. No need to re-invent bicycle… Well bicycles are more about physics, but this is another subject though…

 

 

What cars will you repair by 2050? Or will we repair any?

Collision repair industry has always been affected in a direct way by what vehicles people drive on the streets of the modern cities. Repair processes are dependent on the colors, type of metal parts used, and, beyond a reasonable doubt, on the safety technology employed.

It is obvious that color shades and various types of special effects influence the refinishing jobs, and the type of steel or, ever-growing usage of aluminum and composites, in car bodies, dictate the panel beating processes. However, I strongly believe that it will be the new technology on collision avoidance that will change our industry the most.

Collision avoidance systems

The opinions about the extent of the technology and its effectiveness vary. Similarly, the automotive experts do not have the same vision on how the collision avoidance technology will affect the repair sector. A number of advanced collision avoidance systems are already introduced, primarily on the luxury vehicles. For example, forward and reverse collision warning, adaptive cruise control, collision mitigation and lane-keeping devices, are all present to certain extant in many car models.

Autonomous vehicles

I have recently read the KPMG report on the auto insurance market. It claimed that automotive insurance, and, hence repair market, will almost disappear by 2050. The reason for that is the prediction that there will be no accidents on the roads, mainly because of autonomous technology, which will reduce accidents frequency by 90%!  Another research though, from the American Automobile Association revealed that 75% of American drivers are reluctant to use self-driving cars. I think people will not like the idea of being helpless passanger in their own vehicles. Additional aspect to consider is the cyber security. We do not want the possibility of hacked car in the hands of terrorists or criminals. Many issues to consider before removing steering wheel from our cars, don’t you agree?

From my point of view, the reality will be somewhere in the middle. Just like ABS brake technology and ESC (electronic stability system) didn’t prevent the vehicles to crash.Of course, electric vehicles with a sophisticated safety features will hit the roads in the very near future. Buy personally, I doubt that the impact on the everyday number of the road accidents will be that decisive. Growing population and increasing urbanization (by 2030 more than 60% of the population will live in the cities) in combination of the increasing need for commuting, will require more vehicles at affordable price.

The majority of car body repairs will take place in Asia

Most of the automotive sales growth will come from the developing regions of Asia-Pacific and Africa, where the vehicles price will remain a decisive parameter. The cost of the new technology is always high, so probably we won’t see much of it on the millions of cars driven in India or Vietnam. On the flip-side , in Europe and the North America governments already push the legislation towards safer vehicles. Therefore, safety technology will be compulsory in order to get the vehicles on the roads of the Western world.

Sum up

It is probably all too soon to assume that our industry will disappear within coming decade or two. Yet business will definitely be different. Already main automotive coating companies target the Asia-Pacific regions as the future source for the much needed for the shareholders growth. Vehicles in the not-so-distant future will be full of various sensors, and this will affect the repair process, including the paint film thickness. Increasing use of the aluminum, other non-ferrous alloys and composite materials will cause massive change in body works processes. So, if we get back to the initial question, from this point on, we will repair very sophisticated vehicles made of light-weight materials, powered by the electric engines, and … probably driverless. Let’s wait and see!

 

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