Peak Performance: Maintaining the Equipment in Your Paint Shop - BodyShop Business

Peak Performance: Maintaining the Equipment in Your Paint Shop

The investment in a state-of-the-art paint department can be mind boggling.

Computerized spraybooths, sophisticated
paint-application equipment, short-wave infrared drying devices,
etc., all contribute to a fast turn-around time for vehicles.
In return, each piece of equipment you invest in has some maintenance

Let’s examine some of the most important equipment
in your paint shop and what you can do to keep it at peak performance.
We’ll also devise a checklist to assign responsibilities for a
maintenance schedule.


A well-maintained spraybooth can have a tremendous
effect on throughput. While early spraybooths were little more
than a metal box with an exhaust fan, a modern downdraft booth
has input fans, exhaust fans, multistage filtering systems, sophisticated
control panels and a million or more BTU furnace.

All these features worked fine when the installers
were done, but how do you keep the booth performing its magic?
For some shop owners, it’s as simple as signing a service agreement
with a booth maintenance firm that schedules visits throughout
the year to perform preventative maintenance. If such a service
is available in your market, you might want to talk to other shop
owners who utilize it.

What maintenance is required for a booth?
The assembly and operations manual, included when you purchased
the booth, will typically outline recommended service and indicate
certain maintenance items at predetermined time intervals. The
inclusion of an hour meter on the control panel is a great help
in determining service time frames. (Hours of booth operation
is the benchmark for proper maintenance.)

Because filters play a key role in quality
paintwork, paying close attention to them is key. Most booths
have three stages of filtration. First, outside air is pulled
in and goes through a prefilter, which can be a bag design or
a framed filter pad. In some cases, the booth will have a set
of permanent grids from which the user removes old filters to
replace with new ones. After passing through the prefilter, the
precleaned, heated air winds its way to the ceiling filter.

To maintain the integrity of the downstream
side of the ceiling filters, you should never open the booth doors
without the booth fans running. If the doors are opened and the
fans are off, dirt and other contaminants can be attracted to
the ceiling filters by negative pressure from the stack. The filters
weren’t designed to hold on to dirt attracted to the downstream

The third filter is the floor filter, which
captures paint overspray. Floor filters are usually located under
grids or, in some cases, along the wall in holding panels, and
they require the most attention in a maintenance program. Your
manufacturer might recommend changing these after so many hours
of painting or after so many panels have been painted.

Exhaust filters are available in a wide range
of qualities – polyester, fiberglass, expanded paper and even
Styrofoam – and your manufacturer had a reason for specifying
a specific one. Its load rating, its ability to hold particles
and its impact on the entire downstream exhaust system are all
important factors.

The best way to devise a booth-filter maintenance
program is to talk to your booth representative, look at how its
guidelines are affected by your shop’s output and by the type
of spray equipment you use (HVLP and its high-transfer efficiency
can save on filter costs) and then devise a regular filter-changing

In addition to the filters, there are several
other areas to maintain in your booth:

  • Keep the entire booth clean to minimize dangers from excessive
    material buildup. The worst possible danger is from fire. Exhaust
    chambers, stacks and components must be kept free from paint overspray.

  • Regularly check fan-belt tension. Fans and motors should turn
    easily by hand. (While checking these components, use lockouts
    on the electrical panels). If you have ball-bearing motors equipped
    with grease fittings, they should be greased approximately once
    a month.

  • All lights should be operational.
  • Occasionally calibrate thermostats and temperature indicators.
    Out of sync readings cause "you think it’s dry paint, but
    it’s not"
  • syndrome.
  • Consider using a strippable booth coating – which can protect
    the painted wall surface and, in some cases, help to contain dust
    – on the interior walls.

  • Monitor all door seals, latches and door alignment.
  • Regularly check all safety systems – such as sprinklers and
    air interlocks – for proper operation.

Air Compressors

Good air-compressor performance begins with the proper choice
of compressor size for your business. You should make this decision
by doing an audit that includes all the items used in your shop
at one time that require compressed air. You need to know the
cfm delivery requirement of each tool, and when you add them,
the total will tell you what size compressor(s) your shop requires.
A basic rule of thumb is that for every horsepower of a compressor’s
rating, you’ll get approximately 4 cfm of delivered air. So a
10-horsepower compressor will give you about 40 cfm of air.

Ideally, the compressor will be located in a clean, well-ventilated
room, apart from the shop, with a piped-in clean air supply. Regular
maintenance includes keeping the entire unit clean. (Dirt acts
as an insulator and makes the unit run hotter.)

For proper maintenance, assign someone to drain the main air tank
daily or invest in an automatic device that opens a bottom drain
for a specified period of time each day. It’s also important to
change the oil on a regular basis. Consider installing an hour
meter on any electrically powered device so several maintenance
tasks can be linked together based on hours of operation.

Temperatures inside an air compressor can exceed 450 degrees F.
If you live in an area where humidity runs high, 80 to 100 percent,
you’ve got the equivalent of a tropical rain forest inside your
compressor tank and the lines in your shop. Add to this microscopic
oil particles that slip past the rings, and you have a nightmare
waiting to happen. This is especially true in the paint department.
Your painter mixes that expensive paint, puts it in a high-tech
spray gun and plugs into that contaminated air supply. This is
why virtually every major paint company insists on air-line purification
systems to participate in their warranty programs.

Refrigerant dryers require little maintenance – you must keep
the coils clean of dust and dirt. Wall-mounted separators come
in a variety of configurations. Some have automatic drains, some
require regular filter-element changes and some require renewal
or replacement of the desiccant used as a final filtering medium.
The most common desiccant used is diatomaceous earth, which is
made up of the skeletons of tiny sea creatures and resembles talcum
powder. Many separators are suitable for general use, but in any
portion of your shop where refinishing operations are performed,
buy the best units you can.

Gun Washers

Gun washers save time and solvent, and when they’re well-maintained,
they contribute to painting success by keeping your spray equipment
in top shape. Painters should be instructed not to dump half-full
guns of mixed paint into them; doing this will diminish the effectiveness
of the cleaning solvent.

As far as maintenance, most units require an automatic oiler on
the air motor inlet; this should be checked for a supply of air-tool
oil. Also, solvent should be changed at a recommended interval,
which will vary with your work load. Some units have a filter
pad that requires regular cleaning and occasional replacement.
Also, the nozzle jets should be checked regularly to be sure they’re
not clogged and are operating effectively.

Spray Guns

A well-cared-for, properly used spray gun requires very little

One thing you should have is a designated place where guns are
kept. Hang siphon guns on a rod, and locate gravity-gun holders
in a convenient storage place. Be sure to store the guns in their
designated place so they’re not knocked off a bench or a drum.
And be careful not to lay down a gravity gun, especially with
the air cap removed because this will expose the fluid tip and

Occasional packing replacement or the replacement of a compression
ring between the fluid cap and the gun body round out gun maintenance.
When replacing packing, lubricate it sparingly with a lubricant
designed just for this purpose.

It’s common today to have an assortment of spray guns where each
is dedicated to a particular step in the paint process – one for
etching primer, one for primer-surfacer, one for basecoat and
another for the clearcoat. Doing this minimizes the chances of
contamination from one paint component to another.

Air Hoses and Fittings

Since the advent of HVLP guns and the increased attention paid
to transfer efficiency, much has been learned about how the air
hose and the fittings you use effect the finished product. The
bottom line: You need to use high quality hoses and fittings in
your refinish department.

If you’re using HVLP guns, you should use 3/8-inch-diameter hoses.
Conventional guns require at least a 5/16-inch-diameter hose.
The fittings and couplers you utilize can cause a 5 to 30 psi
pressure drop at the gun, so consult your paint distributor or
paint company rep to make sure you’re on the right track. The
newest refinish paints are higher in solids than ever, so gobs
of air are needed to achieve proper atomization. There can also
be a noticeable impact on color match if you’re using a basecoat
product high in solids.

Getting Started

If you’re not currently using any kind of schedule, start out
by making a list of the equipment and tools in your paint department
that require regular attention. If you still have the paperwork
or the manual that came with the equipment, check to see if it
offers maintenance suggestions. Also, ask your painters, paint
jobber and paint rep for suggestions. The company from which you
purchased the equipment should also be glad to assist.

Once you’ve created a master list, break it down based on the
time frames that are required. You’ll probably have daily, weekly,
monthly, quarterly and annual maintenance needs. If you have a
master shop calendar that has room to plug in your new maintenance
plan, use it. Otherwise, get a calendar just for this purpose
and start writing in the maintenance needs you’ve defined.

Give careful thought when maintenance requires a piece of equipment
to be out of service. For example, it can take some time to replace
booth filters – and you can’t use the booth while you’re changing
them. To compensate, you’ll most likely want to schedule filter
changing at the end of the day or on a weekend. The same goes
for the compressor; draining the tank can be done daily without
disrupting work, but you have to shut it down to change the oil.
Make sure that production in your shop is disrupted as little
as possible.

Now that you’ve created your maintenance schedule, assign responsibilities.
Who’s going to do what? If you’re lucky enough to have a maintenance
person on staff, this part is easy. If you’re not that lucky,
some thought must be given to assigning maintenance duties. You,
as the owner, can always do it, but, more than likely, the technician
using the equipment will want to be in charge of its maintenance.
Taking care of the equipment a paint technician uses is part of
his being a professional.

Peak Performance

These tips and the master schedule you’ve created are just the
start of your maintenance plan. When finalizing your plan, consider
all the tools in your paint shop, as well as the ones in your
production cycle. With a well-tailored and well-followed maintenance
plan, you can keep your shop and tools working at peak


Writer Michael Regan is president of The J.J.R. Company in
Cleveland, Ohio, and a contributing editor to BodyShop Business.

Master Schedule

This schedule is meant to be a starting point for your maintenance
plan. When tailoring your plan, be sure to consider all the tools
in your paint shop, as well as the ones in your production cycle.
Also, give careful thought when maintenance requires a piece of
equipment to be out of service; you’ll want to schedule the work
so it disrupts your shop as little as possible.


  • Drain the air-compressor tank.
  • Check all hoses and fittings for leaks. If you hear a leak,
    check it out, fix it or report it.

  • Clean all the spray guns.
  • Sweep the floors and empty the wastebaskets.
  • Check the mixing machine visually. All the mixing lids should
    be turning.

  • Check any breathing-air masks, hoses and related parts.


  • Clean the paint-shop gun cleaner.
  • Change the booth floor filters.
  • Hose down the paint-shop walls and floors.


  • Change the spraybooth-furnace prefilters.
  • Update the paint-shop computer.
  • Check the air dryers and coalescers.
  • Remove and replace strippable spraybooth coating.


  • Change the oil in the air compressors.
  • Check all the paint-department lights.
  • Lubricate booth door hinges.
  • Clean any overspray off paint-department lifts.


  • Change booth ceiling filters – all filters should be changed
    at this time.

  • Calibrate booth thermometers and temperature
  • controls.
  • Pressure wash the entire paint shop, including the walls,
    floors and booth top.

  • Replace the desiccant in the air dryer.
  • Have all fire extinguishers and fire-suppression systems inspected.
  • Review painter certifications. If updates are required, schedule
    them as soon as possible.

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