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Tag Archives: automotive refinish

If you want to have a successful car repair garage, this is the most important trait you must have.

Last week I had a minor health issue, and I had to visit the on-duty hospital during the night. I will skip all the hassle and long waiting in the Greek state hospital. It is awful. It is worth writing about, but not in Etalon Refinish Blog. However, while waiting in an uncomfortable chair for my turn to see the doctor, I realized that there is a similarity between health care providers and automotive repair professionals. But how?

From my point of view, the feelings we experience when we get sick or have an accident with our car, are very similar by nature. These feelings are sadness, distress, anxiety, disappointment and extreme discomfort. In both cases, a person seeks for understanding, quick relief of the pain and, most importantly, for compassion. The very nature of the collision repair business is closely related to negative events and accidents. Nobody likes to have an accident, even if nobody is heart; the view of a crashed vehicle is very unpleasant itself. Right?

In the relation to the above-said, I can conclude that if a car repair business owner wants to be successful, he or she needs to show his understanding of the customer’s feelings. He must express compassion and willingness to guide the customer through this negative experience quickly and as hassle-free as possible. There are many ways to do this. For example, a bodyshop could offer a courtesy car, help to complete the paper works with the insurer, or simply spend a few minutes listening to what the customer has to say. Being compassionate will always pay back with the returning loyal customers and good referrals. Recently, I stumbled upon an ad, where the bodyshop owner was offering a 15% discount for those customers who had to pay the damage from their pocket. In fact, any small move, like the above, will count.

To summarize, I would like to stress one more time that understanding the customers’ feelings are of utmost importance for any business, especially for the people involved in customer service in difficult life situations. About six years ago, I wrote an article with the name “4 things a car painter and a doctor have in common”, but I could add now another thing – a good doctor and a car painter both must be compassionate…

 

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.

 

Spray gun vs iPhone. What a dilemma.

This blog post is not about the new technology in automotive repair industry, nor about its challenges or best practices. This post is about a crisis we definitely have in our industry. This is the human resource crisis. No matter how precise the color matching is, or how fast clearcoats dry, if we don’t have skilled, motivated and proud painters, the industry’s future is not bright. In fact, this post blog comes as a continuation of one of my recent articles “The biggest challenge in the collision repair is to keep it young.”

Just last week we had a round of presentations of new Devilbiss spray gun DV1 on the field. Usually I enjoy this part of my job. What can be better than a direct, unfiltered contact with the end users of your products? While the presentations were “business as usual” , one encounter left me very concerned and in doubt.

My sales manager and I visited a very typical for Greece bodyshop. Average size, family owned workshop of three people. The painter was actually the owner’s son, and the next generation of the business. After initial formalities and casual chat, I asked the young guy about his spaying equipment arsenal. It turned out that he is using two spray guns for basecoat and clearcoat applications. One was a Devilbiss GTI – the very first model of the iconic blue spray gun by the British manufacturer. The other piece was a SATA 2000 model. Both spray guns were purchased many years ago by the painter’s father, and they have obviously seen better days. Looks like a good potential customer, you may think. I thought the same exact thing. However, the youngster looked very indifferent and reluctantly asked for the price. The average retail price for a premium spray gun, regardless of the brand is slightly above 700 Euro in our part of the world. If you take in account that with a quality piece of equipment like Devilbiss DV1 or SATA Jet 5500 (I don’t mention other brands, but the list is not all-comprehensive) one could save massively on materials consumption, improve color matching on difficult metallic colors and decrease re-works, purchasing such gun is a no-brainer. Well, for me at least. However, my prospect customer had a different opinion.

“That is too expensive”, he replied indifferently and took a brand new iPhone XS Max out of his pocket. He started clicking through some Viber messages and turned his back to us. Our pitch came to an end.

En route back to my office I was thinking a great deal about this young man. I wasn’t thinking about the rejection. No. If you are in sales, you know that rejection is just a part of everyday life. What stroke me most is that the “professional” painter didn’t show any interest for something new in his industry. It wasn’t the question of money, of course. Someone who can afford buying an expensive gadget worth about 1300 Euro, can afford investing in his job. Unlike pricy phone, the last technology spray gun (or any other piece of equipment) will earn him money. The problem is that investment in his work is not something he wishes to do, and it is important to distinguish between investment and pure expenses. Purchasing a piece of equipment is definitely an investment. Buying a new phone, unless you are mobile app developer, is an expanse.

To conclude, I would like to say that there are people in our industry who struggle to make both ends meet. Probably not everyone, especially in crisis-hit Greece, can buy a DV1 or similar spray gun. However, a serious sprayer would rather save money for a gun, rather than for a phone. This is my humble opinion.Chances are that this bodyshop will not survive until the next generation, unless the owner changes his attitude.

 

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.

 

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