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Boosting Booth Production

Don’t let poor production processes hurt shop profits. Proper spraybooth placement, setup and maintenance could mean another $500,000 in sales per year. Interested?

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Collision repair shop owners are facing an ever-challenging demand to do their portion of the repair process faster and faster, while margins continue to shrink … and shrink … and shrink. But you’re not alone. These trends aren’t new to our industry – or even to business in general. Today and in the future, we must continue to industrialize and improve processes. If we don’t, someone else will.

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Unfortunately, we sometimes believe new equipment will improve shop efficiency – and sometimes it will – but when it comes to your refinishing department, more specifically your spraybooth, equipment is only part of the efficiency equation.

Don’t Make the Same Mistake
Lots of articles have been written about spraybooth maintenance and maximizing your booth’s production, yet the same mistakes continue to be made. I’ve had the opportunity to see hundreds – maybe even thousands – of shops across North America, Korea and China, and very few have begun to do what it will take to truly maximize their production and industrialize. Why is this? I’m not sure; maybe it’s the same reason articles and charts are continually re-printed about plastic burn tests, SAI being a non-adjustable angle or aftermarket parts saving everyone money – it’s simply easier to say the same thing than to investigate it, re-think it and then go out on a limb and say something new.

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How does this attitude relate to spraybooths? I often see mistakes that cost shops a lot of money being repeatedly made in three areas:

  1. Placement;
  2. Setup and usage;
  3. Maintenance.

1. Placement
How often do you see the layout of a newly built shop requiring a tech to back the vehicle out of the booth after spraying? Why on earth is that? In an industrialized process, the product doesn’t go backward; it moves forward unless it’s a quality issue. Yet, in most collision shops, the vehicle is backed out of the booth after drying. This requires an open stall placed in front of each booth, as well as an exit path. In most of today’s busy shops, this also requires the constant movement of vehicles, which wastes a lot of time and increases risks. (I’m assuming all of you have hired a new helper who has, at one time or another, hit something while moving a vehicle – even though he still denies it.)

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What’s the answer? Drive through and side load? Yes, these setups would help, but the problem is actually more global. When a business is going to expand or get started, many shop owners go out and look for a “good” building to move into. By doing this, they’re stuck with the constraints of the building they’ve chosen, and from the point of purchase, they start “retro fitting” everything. I don’t mind telling you that in my travels, I’ve seen some very creative solutions to building constraints.

Do you believe major businesses in the manufacturing industry buy existing buildings and put their equipment in as best as they can to make it work? I’m sure some do, and I’m sure some actually survive this mistake. But most, believe me, don’t move into a building without making sure it will house their equipment in a manner that’s efficient for the production process. Without such an accessment, this existing building might require massive remodeling. This is why many build their own buildings instead. Remember, the building should be designed to maximize production and equipment usage – the equipment shouldn’t have to be modified to work in the building.

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Many times, the decision not to remodel or build a new facility is based on a cost that’s perceived as unnecessary. Typical examples may be the addition of another overhead door, the extension of a building, additional roof modifications, etc. These may add thousands of dollars to the cost of remodeling or building, so we pass on them and instead make “adjustments.” I challenge this way of thinking by asking you to calculate your bottom-line yearly profit increase by completing just one additional vehicle per day in your shop. Using round numbers for ease of math, it would look like this:

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Average repair ticket: $2,000

x days open per year: 250

= Increase in sales: $500,000.

Even a 5 percent net profit returns $25,000 per year – in your pocket! (The saying, “Being penny wise and pound foolish,” applies nicely here.) Unless it’s a very unusual situation, it’s always best to place your equipment in the most productive position. Over time, even if you only increase the cars per day by .5, it’ll pay off.

2. Setup and Usage
Once the booth is installed, a number of common mistakes are made in setup and usage. The following are a number of ideas I’ve run across that can maximize production, improve quality and lower costs:

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  • Stop using wires hanging from filter brackets to paint and jam parts. A number of great products are out there to make a track system to better accomplish these tasks – and they don’t hang from the same filter area that’s “filtering” the air directly above the part being refinished.
  • Paint parts in a vertical position whenever possible. This will lessen contamination.
  • Make sure daylight-corrected bulbs are at least in the booth. Not using this kind of lighting is a serious mistake. While you’re at it, make sure all the burned out bulbs are replaced in the paint shop, too.
  • Load parts to be trimmed (jammed) in the booth with other vehicles to be painted. This will maximize the baking time and help avoid waiting for parts in the metal department. Even if the parts were sprayed outside the booth at the same time the vehicle was being painted, it’s beneficial to place them in the booth to bake.
  • Along those same lines, if there are bare TPO-type bumper covers to be primed and painted, load them in the spraybooth during the bake cycle to bake the release agents to the surface so they can be cleaned and primed. This process will improve adhesion.
  • Make sure the booth temperature is set to the proper temperature required by your paint system. This may sound simple but, in most cases, I find the booth time and temperature aren’t set correctly. Why? Because painters don’t realize the temperature listed on most technical data sheets for paint products refers to the substrate’s surface temperature – not to the booth’s air temperature. This will require the use of a surface temperature gauge to find what booth temperature settings (air temperature) will be required to achieve a specific surface temperature. It’s not uncommon to find it will require 20 to 30 degrees higher air temperature to achieve the proper surface temperature.

If your shop is in a climate that’s prone to extreme temperature changes, this process will need to be repeated when the weather changes dramatically. The vehicle body will require a much higher and longer bake cycle to reach 140 degrees F when the outside temperature is -10 degrees F compared to 90 degrees F.

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  • Keep hoses in the spraybooth from being run over by vehicles. If a hose gets run over often, the inside lining will break down and parts of it will be passed onto the refinishing job through the air passages. Keeping these hoses clean will lessen contamination.
  • 4 Make sure to use large inside-diameter hoses and quick connectors. This is especially beneficial if you’re using HVLP spray guns, but it’s helpful for conventional spray guns, too. Keep in mind it’s the amount of air available that mixes with the paint to atomize and break the paint droplets to their finest mixture. The finer the droplets, the better the layout.

Very often, there’s not enough air volume to properly mix with the paint. The volume is commonly measured in cfm (cubic feet per minute) in the United States. We generally assume because we can get pressure of 40 to 60 psi (pounds per square inch), we have the proper volume. But this isn’t always the case. The inside diameter of the air hose and quick connector are the last factors in a long list that must be correct to maintain the proper air volume needed to atomize the paint.

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3. Maintenance
Of the three areas discussed, this is the one that may actually cost you the most – not from having it done, but from not ensuring it’s done properly. The investment in a new booth is significant but, often, I’ve seen the conditions in a new booth no better than painting on the floor.

Every manufacturer will supply you with a maintenance schedule for the filters and internal cleaning, but filter changes are often put off and the cleaning of the pit or duct work is soon forgotten. Allowing this to happen can wasted all the money you spent for the new booth.

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So what’s the solution? First, be serious about maintaining the booth. It may require a well-trained individual to do it each evening or on the weekends, but it must be done. Calculate the number of jobs you do that require more than just a quick polish. What does it cost you? If it stopped your production from doing just one more car per day, it could mean approximately $500,000 in sales, as I showed you in the earlier equation. Proper maintenance will also reduce material consumption (re-does), detailing products and the number of detailers required.

It Pays to Pay Attention
Once the booth is placed in your facility, you probably won’t move it unless you’re adding on or remodeling. So be sure it’s in the most productive place possible, not simply the most convenient. On the other hand, when it comes to booth setup and usage, you can make improvements every day to significantly increase production, quality and the bottom line.

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The effort you place on ensuring your spraybooth is as clean as possible for every job will also pay off big. You might even find that having a person on the payroll who washes each vehicle before final taping, moves the vehicles in and out of the booth, and keeps the booth and mixing room organized and clean could improve your bottom line two to four times his salary.

All these factors are just as important as the spraybooth itself. In today’s demanding marketplace, you need to do all you can to maximize production and improve processes. And that doesn’t always mean buying the newest equipment. Before you purchase another spraybooth, be sure you’re maximizing your current one’s potential.

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Contributing editor Tony Passwater is president of AEII, a consulting, training and system development company. He has been in the industry for more than 27 years; has been a collision repair facility owner, vocational educator and I-CAR international Instructor; and has taught seminars across North America, Korea and China. He can be contacted at (317) 290-0611, ext. 101, or at ([email protected]). Visit his Web site at www.aeii.net for more information.

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