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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!

Variety of orbital sanding machines. Difference not to be ignored.

When we speak about different aspects of the car body repairs, usually we mainly discuss the quality of the materials, especially chemicals. No doubt, the final result of any refinishing job depends on paint, clear or primer used. However, it is of utmost importance not to forget how important is the preparation stage, including such a tedious task as sanding.

Just after the Christmas holidays, during the paint preparation workshop in the company’s training center, I came across an interesting question from our customer. This quite an experienced painter was testing different brands of abrasives together with our technical specialist. While I was discussing something with one of our sales manager, I overheard a heated discussion between the painter and our technician. The argument was about using P400 abrasive disc with 5mm orbit sander. “I only use 5mm orbit, and there is no need for any other model”, the painter said with confidence in his voice. “All these different orbit sizes are just made to make us buying more unnecessary tools”, he added. If you ever had an argument with a painter, you probably know that they are hard to convince about pretty much anything. “Show me the difference “, exclaimed the painter. Therefore, we decided to give it a try.

The rule of thumb

Probably you know the recommendations of tools manufacturers. For the abrasives with grits from P80 to P180 use a sander with larger orbit of 5-6mm, while for the finer sanding jobs with P240-P600 – orbit of 2.5-3mm. Some of the manufacturers also offer machines with rather big orbit of up to 10mm for demanding paint stripping operations; however this kind of sanding tools are not common. What is usually missed in those recommendations, it is the explanations behind this information.

In reality the theory behind is very simple. A large orbit allows the abrasive to cover bigger surface and to remove the “picks” of the uneven surface faster and more effectively. On contrary, smaller orbit covers smaller area, but more densely, leaving smoother surface.

From our internal tests, we found that 5mm orbital sander with the same abrasive and all other conditions the same, removes up to 20% more material than 2,5 mm orbit. This is very important especially in paint stripping or body filler sanding jobs. On the other hand, finer grits load up less when used with smaller orbits, like 2,5-3 mm. This allows achieving better quality surface at less time.

Take away

The choice of tools and materials is a painter’s undisputed prerogative, however we all should not ignore the common sense and facts. Doubt is good only when it pushes one to explore and search for facts. If facts are obvious, ignorance in this case is unacceptable. Using recommended sanders will save you time and money. Proved!

4 + 2 things car painter and a doctor have in common (revisited)

I wrote this article almost 7 years ago in February 2013, and since then many of our readers referred to it, and, actually, used it in the business presentations and discussions across refinishing industry. It is always fun to make comparisons of incomparable things. After the years, I came across of two more things, which are similar in both trades. I hope you will find those interesting addition to the list.

One could say that there is hardly anything in common between collision repair facility and, let’s say, your family doctor’s office. Well, probably it is true to some extent. Nevertheless, besides the fact that some auto paint professionals are called “car skin doctors”, there are some professional attributes we should borrow from doctors.

  1. Place your professional certificates on some prominent place.

Next time you will visit your doctor, pay attention to the walls of his cabinet. I am pretty sure that his diplomas and certificates will be right behind him nicely framed! It is not a show off, but a well understood practice to assure a patient that he is in the right place for treatment.

Car refinishing professional also spends considerable amount of time to learn the craft. Wether he graduated from technical school or attended a number of professional seminars or has been certified by the car colour company, he had acquired quite a few documents certifying his knowledge. So, my advice is to clean the dust from your professional certificates and to place them on the nice spot of the body shop, or even better in your office!

  1. Find some place for the office.

Imagine that you need a minor surgical operation to be done (a really small one). You come to the place to schedule the date with your surgeon, and he admits you… right over the operation table. Sounds strange, doesn’t it?

Believe it or not, but exactly the same applies to any collision and body repair shop. There should be a place, preferably separated from the noise of working compressor or sanding machine, where painter could discuss with a customer all the procedures, costs and, perhaps, additional services to be offered. Let’s face it, selling your service standing in the middle of noisy and dusty body shop, doesn’t look very professional!

  1. Keep the body shop clean as hospital.

I remember my feelings when during my trip to Zambia I looked for a medical help in one small place in the middle of nowhere. The doctor’s place was dirty and old, and I thought my fever probably is not so important, and I should leave or better run away, as soon as possible. Fortunately, most of the doctor’s cabinets are tidy, clean and well maintained. Otherwise how could we trust our health to such a doctor?

Now one could say, body shop is a working place, where old parts are removed, sanding dust is in the air, while spilled paint stains decorate every corner. Big mistake! Don’t expect your customer to respect you, if you don’t respect yourself the place you spend so much time every day. My advice is:

– Clean that dust from the floor, your tools, infrared dryers, and all the equipment. This will give preserve value of your investment and help to “fight” those nasty dust nibs you spend so much time to polish away.

– Remove all those old bonnets, cracked bumpers and smashed doors. You will be surprised how much bigger your body shop actually is.

– Devote one weekend per year to paint your walls. Nothing fancy, pure white or beige colour will refresh the look of your shop. Better mood everyday comes as bonus.

– Improve the lighting, clean your windows, and let the bright side of life in. Having better vision of the place to be repaired is always a big plus.

– Make some shelves and find place for all tools and consumables. One of the biggest problems with clear coat polishing and swirl marks I noticed all those years, was dirty polishing pads covered with sanding dust.

  1. Dress up and look professional.

Why do you think all doctors wear those nice white lab coats? Because they want to look professional, so they must dress up like a doctor. It is an attribute, rather than necessity. White coat inspires confidence.

I do believe that clean overall is a must, especially when you meet a customer. How customers will take seriously your business, if your working uniform is dirty and looks like rag?

  1. Don’t make diagnosis (estimates) over the phone

Have you ever met a doctor, who would give a patient his diagnosis over the phone? I haven’t, and I hope you neither. In order to find out what is wrong with one’s health, a doctor must see him, examine, probably prescribe some tests, and only then – make the diagnosis and proceed with treatment. This is exactly what should be done, when a customer calls you for an estimate and/or sends you the picture. It simply does not work this way. So, next time you receive a phone call for the repair quotation, just think of your physician first.

  1. Never stop learning.

Doctors never stop learning. They attend conferences, seminars and conventions throughout their whole professional career. Nobody would trust his health to a doctor, whose professional knowledge is based solely on the doctor’s degree studies some years ago. Similarly, a body shop professional should continue his professional education regardless of his or her years of experience. Vehicles change, materials change, tools change, so working on the repair “just the way we always do” is not good enough.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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…

 

 

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…

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