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Market differences between the UK and the rest of Europe

The idea of this article came to me on board of a flight from my business trip from London to Athens, after a week spent with Etalon’s customers in Ireland and the United Kingdom. I was thinking about the differences between the Great Britain and the continental Europe in various aspects of life. You can not underestimate the old British empire and its influence on Europe (and the whole world. This relatively small island has always been in avant-garde of history. If you are in doubt, just think of the language you use while traveling to any part of the world. Do you speak English? With the procedure of Brexit triggered, the glorious Kingdom has to renegotiate its place on the political and economic map of the old world.

Of course, my article is not about politics. I would like to share with you my views about the automotive body and repair business in the UK in comparison to the rest of Europe.

 

Consolidation of coatings suppliers

For those who are not familiar, automotive paint supplies stores in the UK are called factors or motor factors. Firstly, I would distinguish a very high level of consolidation in the UK paint supply chain, with groups like Morelli Group, Movac Group or LKQ to be very sizable and hungry for growth. While consolidation is not completely unknown in Europe, it is still going in slower pace. Secondly, the corporate groups, like above mentioned, have tremendous purchasing power. They strike deals with manufacturers directly, pushing out of business the smaller players.

Types of factors

In the UK you will see more and more companies with spare parts trade background, which incorporate refinishing departments in their business structure. Supplying spare parts is a business with high entrance costs; it requires  fine-tuned logistic departments, big warehouses and a fleet of the delivery vehicles. With all this set up, they try to achieve much needed growth by supplying paint and consumables as well. Of course, this affects greatly the traditional paint-only stores.

Materials costs

Many of my colleagues from other countries believed that the British market price levels are on the high side. You will be surprised how low the prices are for many essential consumables. Probably it can be explained by the extremely high competition, and, by the levels of the consolidation, I mentioned already. When the large groups manage to negotiate large deals with the manufacturers, inevitably their smaller rivals will search for supplying solutions from the lesser-known brands. In addition, you will see many cheap private labeled products in white boxes on the shops’ shelves. Therefore, prices for many materials are bottom low.

Body fillers

When I look at the shelves with body fillers, I think of the United States. Just like across the Atlantic, in the UK, a traditional body filler is usually lightweight and comes in tall 3-liter cans. You will not see much of flat 2kg or 1L tins, which are so popular in Europe. A lot of the body fillers I tried, required a thin layer of glaze to be used to close pinholes. Also, very “American” thing. In the mainland Europe we see predominantly universal (filling and finishing) putties in use.

Fast is the keyword

I supply paint products to various countries with very diverse climate conditions, but what surprised me most in the UK – a demand for the fastest possible curing primers and clearcoats. We had to introduce extra fast hardeners to all of our two pack materials!  Nothing was quick enough. I have seen a painter mixing an express clearcoat with extra fast hardener, adding accelerator and fast thinner. How is that? Of course, speed comes at cost of quality, but this is a subject for another discussion.

On the other hand, you should also consider the very high levels of humidity in certain regions, which affects negatively curing times of 2K materials. In addition, plenty of smaller bodyshops avoid using a spray booth for drying to save on energy costs.

After Brexit era

Automotive refinishing business in the UK is very dependent on imports. Therefore, uncertainty is very high. What will be the customs duties? What additional costs will the customs procedures bring along? How the payments of VAT upfront upon the goods arrival will influence the cash flow of distribution? What about the border between Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland? Too many questions, no answers so far. Perhaps a bit of English humor will help our friend in the UK to overcome all the obstacles.

 

The best polishing compound for a bodyshop is… 12 steps guide to find one for yourself.

etalon refinish

Probably when you think of car refinishing job, paint polishing is not the first thing to come up in your mind. Nevertheless, it is an important process for any collision repair specialist. Firstly, when a minor paint defect occurs, in 9  cases out of 10, you will need a compound and a polisher to fix the problem. Secondly, a full car detailing could and should be an additional service offered to a customer who walked through your shop’s door.

Consumption of a polishing compound varies from one shop to another. Usually the excessive use of a compound means two things: too many paint defects revealed during the inspection process or/and incorrect polishing process. I have seen an operator pouring a quarter of a bottle to polish a fender. Also, in certain markets with poor working conditions without a proper spraying equipment, painters have to wet-sand all the repaired surfaces to remove orange peel and numerous dust nibs. It comes with no surprise that in these cases polishing compounds’ and glazes’ consumption is sky-high. What I would like to share with you in this article though is a short guide how to pick up the right polish for you. This is not the advertisement for Etalon polishing system, and my tips come from my own experience and the extensive knowledge of my colleagues and employees.

 

  1. Examine the surface to be polished. Before you decide which compound to use (yes, it’s good to have a few compounds to choose from), you need to understand the condition of paint or clearcoat you will work on. In a bodyshop usually we use compound to remove paint defects, meaning that paint is fresh. Is is crucial to know if the clear was properly baked in accordance with the manufacturers technical data sheet. If you choose too aggressive compound on still soft clear, big chances are that you will end up with excessive haze and swirls. It has nothing to do with the quality of the compound, but with the clearcoat’s chemistry instead.

 

  1. Check what polishing pads do you have available. The quality of paint rectification depends on many factors, like the polish machine, compound used, pads the compound is applied with and, an operator’s skills,indeed. So, if you do not have a quality wool pad handy, then you may need to go for more aggressive polishing compound. While if you have only rotary polisher in your tool box (read the article about polishing machines here), then a choice of medium cut compound would be a reasonable choice for safe polishing.

 

  1. Check what abrasives you have at your disposal. Nowadays one can find in a body and paint supply shop a great assortment of micro abrasive products. It is not necessary any more to remove orange peel, for example, with a polishing compound only. If you choose a film based abrasive disc P1500 first, then rectify the surface with P2000 or P2500, the entire process will take 3 times faster than a compound only process.

 

  1. Assess the ambiance and surface temperature. In case you have high temperatures in your workshop, choose a liquid polishing compound (not a paste) with oily consistency. There are polishing compounds in the market which turn to dust within first minute of use. This occurs due the high solvent content in them. These solvents evaporate very quickly when temperatures are high. You will have to add more and more compound to keep working and face an unpleasant dust spreading around.

 

  1. Avoid compounds, which require added water. You can still find the products in the market, which require adding certain quantity of water before and during the work. It will create a lot of splashes and unnecessary cleaning afterwards.

 

  1. Avoid difficult to clean compounds. I have seen otherwise good products, which are very difficult to wipe off especially from rubber and plastic parts. Such polishes will either require meticulous masking job prior polishing or long time spent on cleaning the residues. No, thanks.

 

  1. Choose a polishing compound with the best cut/gloss ratio. The times when cutting compound was leaving almost mat surface are gone for good. As a matter of fact, you can find fairly cutting compounds which leave lustrous surface with a very high gloss level. Certain brands market such products as one-step. However, you should remember that on the dark colors you may still need a finish glaze with anti-hologram properties.

 

  1. Avoid polishing compounds with silicone. Check that a bottle has a “silicone free” or “bodyshop safe” tag on it. No need to explain why.

 

  1. Avoid polishing compounds with waxes or sealants. It is very popular amongst car detailers to use so called “two-in-one” polishes, which combine abrasive and waxing properties. In a bodyshop, however, the clearcoat, albeit properly dried, still “breathe” with solvents. We don’t want to seal the pores of the paint, while solvent is still making its way out. Generally it is advised not to apply any waxes or sealants within two weeks from the paint job to avoid dieback of the clear coat.

 

  1. Prefer a polishing system with only a few polishing products available. Some brands offer just one-product system, but from real life experience it is obvious that there is still no perfect single compound for all jobs. Likewise, do not be misled by systems with far too many products.

 

  1. Avoid compounds with fillers inside. In car care and cosmetics market you may see a great variety of the polishes with filling properties. Such a product doesn’t remove scratches, but rather mask them for a limited period of time (usually until the next proper wash). The last thing a professional car sprayer needs is the angry customer coming to the shop and spotting the places where a paint defect was. A real pro will remove the paint defect, not mask it.

 

  1. Do not choose the polishing system just because it’s cheap. The cost of polishing materials in the overall bodyshop repair bill is negligible, but the spent on compound might be too long to afford.

 

Bonus tip. If you want to compare to compounds, do it exactly under the same conditions; for instance, split a bonnet half by half and do your test with the same polisher, same pressure, time and pad type. Do not mix two compounds on one pad in order to avoid misleading results.

 

 

 

 

The best polishing machine for a collision repair shop is …

 

To make it clear from the beginning, I will not name the best brand or model, even if I do have a very strong opinion about the best electric tools in the market. The main objective of this short post is to clarify to our readers what machine they should have in their bodyshop to solve car refinishing problems. For the last couple of years, collision repair professionals have been approached with a great variety of tools, and I have been asked quite a few times about the best choice.

Types of polishing machines

All the existing polishing machines in the market can be divided into three categories: rotary, random orbital and dual action (DA). Below I am going to explain the major differences between them.

Rotary polishers

Rotary polishers are the oldest polishing tools in the market. They use simple circular motion on a single axis. Modern rotary polishers come in a variety of designs and with the possibility of speed adjustment (usually from 600 to 2500 rpm), but the two most important parameters we check in a rotary machine is the power output and weight.

Orbital polishers

Orbital polishers unlike the rotary polishers, which are using direct drive on one axis, have two centers – machine central spindle and pad’s own axis. The movement of the pad is orbital, like the Earth’s movement around the Sun. The shape of the orbit depends on the distance between the two axes. This distance is a crucial technical parameter and usually is somewhere between 8 to 21mm. The best example (at least from marketing point of view) of random orbital technology is Rupes Big Foot series. The good thing about orbital polishers is that they are very safe, and it is almost impossible to overheat or damage the coating while using an orbital polisher.

Dual action polishers

Dual action or DA polishers are usually confused with orbital ones. DAs are actually a hybrid between rotary and orbital machine, in which forced rotary movement is combined with orbital. This machine is supposed to have the best from the two worlds. Flex XC3401 VRG is the most known DA polisher in the market. The Das indeed can do the job of minor scratches correction, on the other hands, it is very hard to remove wet sanding marks, for example.

What polisher shall we buy for a bodyshop and why?

First of all, we need to understand when usually we use a polishing machine in the collision repair shop? The main usage of polishing or buffing in a bodyshop occurs when a painter needs to remove certain paint defects revealed after the repair job is completed. The most frequent paint defects, which require buffing, are dust nibs, runs, excessive orange peel and clearcoat dieback. Usually prior to compounding, a painter use either wet or dry sanding paper to speed up the polishing process altogether. So, in other words, polisher is a kind of fire extinguisher helping to prevent the potential customer’s complaints. Nobody likes those nasty dust nibs on a freshly painted car. The key parameter for polishing is the speed. Paint defects must be removed quickly and effectively, so that the vehicle could leave the workshop on time.

From the three types of polishers I mentioned above, the fastest and the most powerful tool is a rotary buffer. Rotary machine quickly increases the temperature of the paint, softens it and by friction between pad, compound and the surface, removes the upper layer of the clearcoat. DA polisher and especially random orbital machines will fail in most of the instances to remove sand paper scratches even from grit P2000. Fact. Despite the ease of use and safety, dual action and orbital polishers are not the preferred tools for a bodyshop professional. They are very useful for the detailers to remove holograms, swirls and to apply wax or sealant, but this is another job.

Conclusion

If you need to buy a polishing machine (every bodyshop must have one), go for a reliable rotary polisher. Pay attention to the machine’s weight (something within 2-2.5kg range is a good choice) and power output (900 – 1100 Watt are good enough). However, if you consider to offer polishing and detailing services, which I strongly recommend you to do (read a separate article about this topic here), then a DA polisher or random orbital one will be a well-justified and worthwhile investment.

 

P.S. A car sprayer should consider purchasing a pneumatic orbital polishing machine. Unlike car detailing shops, all bodyshops are equipped with decent air compressors. Pneumatic polishers are powerful, durable, lightweight and almost maintenance free.

Automotive clearcoats survery. Thought provoking findings.

Without a doubt, clearcoat is the King of automotive refinishing materials. Well, paint is equally important, but it comes second. Let’s call it … the Queen. Paint is designed to match, but clearcoat … to shine. A safe guess would be that there are much more brands and varieties of clears in the market, then basecoat systems. Clearcoat, for every big or small refinish materials supplier, is the matter of pride, the reason for war (price war I mean) and the vehicle for sales growth. In fact, some fellow rivals in the industry virtually oblige their customers to buy the correspondent quantities of clears related to the paint consumed. Free market, you tell me…

As with other important components of autobody repair puzzle, there are many misconceptions about the clears. For example, “only high solid clears are good” or “low VOC” clearcoats outperform by all parameters their solvent packed cousins. Furthermore, every paint supplier claims that he or she knows what exactly a painter asks from his clearcoat, and, usually, low price is on the top of the list (it is not, check the below survey findings). Lack of transparency (we talk about clearcoat anyway) in our industry, plenty of questionable marketing and absence of standards (read the article on this issue here) confuse the main person in the trade – painter – completely. Therefore, I decided to launch a short 10 questions survey to clear up things about clearcoats.

In the below chart you can see the results of the above-mentioned survey. It consisted of 9 clearcoat characteristics, which the participants were asked to grade from 0 (unimportant) to 10 (extremely important). The last, 10th question was asking about brand/product, which our participants considered as benchmark in quality. The whole list is presented below as well.

Survey findings

Based on the collected answers and from the additional comments we received from the participants the following conclusions can be drawn.

  • The level of shine and gloss retention are the most valued properties of any clearcoat with almost 100% of the respondents gave it a sold 10.
  • Transparency of the clearcoat comes second. From the information we got, there are still a few clearcoats in the market, which are not completely transparent. Usually slight yellowish color is the biggest problem.
  • Ease of application, flow, productivity and consumption – all these parameters – are highly valued as well. Painters like “forgiving” clearcoats, which will not run or solvent pop in case of thicker than normal application. Similarly, clears with high productivity and relatively low consumption are popular too for obvious reasons.
  • Final hardness, chemical and UV resistance are very important to about 85% of the respondents.
  • Drying and flash off times and ease of anticipated buffing (removing dust nibs etc) is crucial for 80% of survey participants.
  • Surprisingly price and solids content (VOC compliance) clearly came the last.

Between the lines

While we had an opportunity to discuss with the survey participants, a few thought-provoking points, which are not depicted by the chart, came to the surface.

  • Price of a particular product is more important to re-sellers than to painters. Paint sprayers care less about price, and more about the result and ease of application.
  • Gloss retention is the biggest challenge for the manufacturers, because a lot of clearcoats in the market loose the shine after only a few days.
  • VOC compliance is the last clearcoat characteristic, a car sprayer considers before the purchase.
  • Among the products, considered as benchmark there are many so-called “non-premium” brands.

The list of cleacoat mentioned as benchmarks  presented below:

Mipa CC8

Spieshecker HS 8055

Novol Spectral Klar 565 VHS

4CR HS Rapid 7235 and 4CR 7262 UHS

Sikkens Superior LV

Debeer Supreme HS 420

Glasurit 255

Roberlo Premium 250HS

HB Body 496

Silco Airmaxx 9600

Etalon 970 UHS

Carsystem Speed Plus VOC clear

Troton Master HS

PPG Deltron D880

RM Crystal Top HS

 

7 tips for collision repairs during hot season.

written by Alexandros Aslamazis 

In most of the countries in the Northern Hemisphere, summer is in the middle and temperatures reached the peak. Unfortunately, not all of us are on holidays, so business in body shops continues, despite the “beach mood”. Below you will find seven short tips, which may help you to deal with problems caused by extreme weather conditions during the summer.

  1. Cool down your compressor.

As temperature rises, excessive water in the compressed air system inevitably occur. Thus, many sprayers face the problem of water blisters in their paint job. To minimize this problem, make sure that your compressor is placed in cool place, not under direct sun or closed place with poor air circulation. For more information on this issue, please check here an article I wrote some time ago about this subject.

  1. Choose cooler times of the day for color spraying.

Plan your prep jobs so that most of actual spraying will be done in the mornings or in the evenings, when temperatures go down.

  1. Mix your 2K coating materials using appropriate slow hardeners and thinners.

Using too fast hardeners and thinners may cause a lot of paint defects like swelling, loss of gloss, solvent boil, orange-peel effect, overspray, clouding, water spotting and moisture blisters.  Most of the car refinishing materials brands have slow thinners and hardeners in their range, so check TDS of the products you use in order to choose the right mixture according to the outside weather conditions.

  1. Avoid using so-called express or fast primers and clearcoats even for spot repair jobs.

In many paint systems, you can find special products dedicated for spot repairs, which offer fast drying results. In normal conditions, these materials are very useful, however during the summer it is better to avoid using them, since many of the above-mentioned paint defects may appear.

  1. Pay attention to the humidity levels.

In certain climates, heat is accompanied by very high humidity, which may affect drying times and surface wetting during spraying process. For example, waterborne basecoats are very sensitive to humidity levels. In case of high humidity use, spray gun with HVLP technology. Air cap based on HVLP technology delivers higher airflow, which in turn helps to achieve drier application.

  1. Do not proceed with polishing or nib removal job on a hot surface.

Cool down the car surface to be polished or buffed. Polishing process raises the temperature of the surface, so hot already clearcoat will “burn down” in matter of seconds, causing loss of glass and matting.

  1. Do not skip using personal protection products like disposable masks, overalls and gloves.

It is true that working in high temperature conditions is not a pleasant task; however, potential occupational health problems outweigh by far any discomfort caused by wearing protection equipment. We recommend using disposable masks with air valve to keep wearer’s face cooler.

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Happy painting everyone!

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