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When you were little, Mom always said to take care of your toys. Now that you’re grown up, the same rules apply to your equipment. All the best tools in the world won’t help you increase workflow or profits if you don’t properly maintain them.
The moment you fell in love with that new spraybooth gleaming on the trade show floor, you knew in the back of your mind there’d come a time when it would require maintenance. The same goes for the frame-straightening machine you’re thinking of purchasing, the spray gun that’s on its way and the new welding machine that was just delivered to your doorstep.
Now that you’ve got all the equipment and tools needed to repair and refinish a damaged car, your shop will operate more efficiently and profitably, and the work will be perfect, right? Wrong. All the greatest tools and equipment in the world won’t help you increase workflow or profits if you don’t properly maintain them.
If you’re a new shop owner, this article will shed light on the type of maintenance schedule you should start and continue to follow. If you’ve been in the business for quite some time and already have a shop full of tools, you may learn a bit about getting your older tools to work like new again – and keep them that way.
Air compressors – crucial to spray painting, the use of air tools and booth air systems – have essential maintenance requirements that must be carefully followed.
Traditional two-stage/pressure-lubrication systems that are belt driven are common in body shops. Cylinder head temperatures can rise to abnormal levels if dirt, overspray or other debris finds its way onto cooling fins. To avoid such problems:
- Clean the fins on the cylinder head as well as any heat exchange line baffles weekly.
- Maintain the correct oil level in the compressor unit. Over-filling will create airflow “carry-over,” creating contaminated filters, separators and problem paint jobs. Oil levels that are too low can cause failure of internal parts.
- Some maintenance tips for all types of air compressors:
- Correct voltage on three-phase units is important. If the compressor were to run under a load cycle at too slow an RPM, internal lubrication failure may also occur. Compressors that run splash lubrication systems may suffer more with this type of situation than full pressure-pump lubricated units.
- Maximum efficiency with all types of air compressors occurs when the moisture levels are kept to a minimum. Filtered inlet air must be dry and free of volatile vapor or painting fumes that might create an explosion hazard or failure in compressor internal parts.
- Smart operators use compressed air dryers, in-line filters, after-coolers and automatic drains to help maintain the compressor and delivery system at maximum efficiency levels.
- If you use a rotary-screw compressor, service filter banks on a regular basis and check mounting fixtures for torque on some units at 100 hours of operation.
Like other equipment in your shop, measuring equipment requires proper maintenance to operate effectively and efficiently.
- Mechanical measuring equipment must be checked for error often, at least once a month.
- Check overhead up-right bars for distortion, nicks and burrs that might make them difficult to set up.
- The strut tower locator pins positioned on the overhead crossbar must be in good condition and be parallel to the mounting base and ladder assembly that provides a base measurement for the tram gauges.
- Computer-aided electronic sensors that use lasers for accurate correction must be kept clean. Any optical interface equipment in such a system must be cleaned with a non-caustic detergent.
- Console units that provide readout for laser, sonic and frequency type sensors are designed to auto-calibrate at each re-boot or at prescribed intervals.
- Keyboards, monitors and printers all fall within the same maintenance guidelines as personal computers. Perform maintenance and service in accordance with the hardware maker’s operating manual.
Though the units that are available today vary in design, certain maintenance aspects are common.
- Check for worn anchors or chain fall pads on the runway or damage to these items from poor-fitting fixtures.
- Look at the runway ramps for rust and corrosion that may affect critical areas used for holding or pulling.
- Some frame racks are portable, so the walking mechanism must be in good condition.
- Check remote-mounted pressure gauges for calibration.
- Cross beams and understructure welds must be in proper working condition.
- Movable power posts shouldn’t show wear in trunion areas and should transit and adjust smoothly.
- Chains must be of the correct test specification and have hooks or eyelet anchors installed correctly.
- Clevis pins must fit freely in their holes and no damage should be observed to the chain hook-up rigging.
Welding processes have evolved to effectively eliminate older high-temperature gas and straight-arc welding. MIG (metallic inert gas) and squeeze-type resistance spot welding (S-TRSW) work well with high-strength steels and can duplicate OE-quality welds.
Because welding is such an important and critical aspect of collision repair, the equipment you use daily commands a great deal of attention.
- S-TRSW machines need to be checked daily for electrical lead and welding gun damage. Electrical arc burn-through at the gun holder can add unwanted resistance – creating poor welds – requiring a change in the welder’s settings.
- MIG welders need to have guide rollers inspected for wear and tear at the wire groove. Also, the nozzle at the welding gun must be replaced if the orifice has been distorted or flashback from the arc has melted the tip. The welding jacket is often damaged from hard use and may have collapsed, resulting in the inner liner restricting the travel of the wire. The liner or jacket and liner assembly must be replaced and the wire drag reset to provide for correct feed. Gas regulators are also subject to damage, so calibration and function checks should be a part of daily pre-use maintenance routine.
Tom Johnston of Yellow C Autobody in Southern Colorado says pressure regulators used with MIG or TIG units are subject to problems because of poor maintenance habits by shops. To prevent such problems, he suggests storing bottles upright in a temperature-controlled area to prevent condensation within the bottles from producing sludge, which can clog regulator strainers or allowing water to bleed through the regulator and create problems in shielding the arc. Regulators should be tested often to ensure the fittings don’t leak.
Monitor gauge accuracy as well. Inaccurate gauges can fool a welder into using two or three times the gas required to get the job done.
Today, the amount of equipment used in paint and body shops is incredible. And though you may have purchased all the latest gadgets and gizmos, they won’t help increase profits or production if they aren’t properly maintained.
Be sure everyone in your shop knows the suggested maintenance schedules and is accountable for the care and upkeep of the tools they use daily. You’ve already spent a lot of money on the right equipment – and you’ll spend more in years to come – so don’t let your investment go to waste. A little time and effort is all it takes to keep that investment working properly and profitably.
Writer Bob Leone, a retired shop owner and contributing editor to BodyShop Business, is ASE Three-Way Master Certified and is completing qualifications as a post-secondary automotive instructor in the vocational-school system in Missouri.
Supply or other service line hoses that carry air are affected by solvents, paints and thinners. In addition, water and sludge may soften outer jackets if hoses are allowed to lay around on the floor after a job. Experts say to bundle up the hoses in a large loop and hang them on racks to keep them off of the floor. Clean hoses with a detergent cleaner or mild solvent bath on a regular basis.