Selecting the Right Equipment for Your Paint Shop
The collision repair industry is flooded with new technology—intended to improve quality and increase throughput. Adding new technology to your automotive body shop creates potential for additional profit. It is important, however, to first select the right equipment for your shop.
Different types of equipment have varying impacts on the number of booth cycles a shop is capable of performing, which directly affects a shop’s bottom line. For example, production levels in a downdraft paint booth will be notably higher than in a semi-downdraft booth. By selecting the right equipment—along with streamlining the layout of the shop and providing flexibility as technology evolves—shops can increase throughput without adding labor.
Evaluating Your Facility
The primary consideration for body shop owners contemplating an equipment upgrade should be the size of the building. If your shop needs to get more vehicles through but does not have room to expand, you should upgrade your equipment or modify your shop’s layout. Adding a drive-thru configuration to a booth is a good way to increase efficiency at minimal expense and with minor changes to your shop layout. Shops should be organized so that a vehicle can be staged while another is being painted.
The type of curing equipment your shop uses is also important. If you are spraying solvent-based basecoat, it will dry relatively quickly on its own. Waterborne paint, on the other hand, requires accelerated curing via infrared lamps, extra heat or blowers.
Downdraft Vs. Semi-Downdraft
With a semi-downdraft paint booth, a standard collision repair facility can produce three to five vehicles in an eight-hour shift. Finishing five vehicles in one day with a semi-downdraft booth, however, requires precise use of space inside and outside the booth and offers little-to-no room for error. Shops with a downdraft paint booth, meanwhile, can produce four to six vehicles a day, with fewer headaches for painters, better quality for customers, and more growth opportunities for shop owners.
In addition to paint cycle time, prep time is much longer with a semi-downdraft booth than a downdraft booth. In order to withstand the airflow in a semi-downdraft booth, plastic must be taped around the entire vehicle before painting. In a downdraft booth, technicians can simply place the plastic; they do not need to tape it around the entire vehicle since the airflow will draw the plastic tight to the vehicle. Technicians just need to cut out the plastic around the parts of the vehicle that they are painting so they are exposed.
Painters also have to be more conscious of overspray in a semi-downdraft booth. If you are painting in the front of a semi-downdraft booth, overspray drifts over the vehicle to the exhaust filters at the rear of the booth. Parts in the booth could be contaminated with overspray, so if you have a full booth load, you may not be able to spray more than one color at once.
The flow of air in downdraft booths provides excellent overspray and contamination control for cleaner paint jobs. Regardless of where you are painting in a downdraft booth, overspray is directed downward through a filtered exhaust pit in the floor, making it easier to spray multiple colors. Downdraft booths also offer more upgrade options, including an expanded exhaust pit, to enhance airflow.
In restoration shops, a semi-downdraft booth may be the best option. Since these shops do not typically operate on as tight of deadlines as collision repair facilities, a high-end downdraft booth may be more of a luxury than a necessity. As they often paint full bodies of vehicles—including roofs of trucks and vans—restoration shops may want to consider purchasing an oversized paint booth to provide the space needed for larger jobs.
Equipment to Improve Efficiency
Processing just one more vehicle per week pays big dividends. An American body shop’s average work order is around $3,000, which translates to $1,200 of gross profit per vehicle when factored at an industry standard of 40 percent. At that rate, processing one additional vehicle per week equates to $4,800 more per month or $62,400 more per year of gross profit. Shops can increase production by one more vehicle per week by selecting the right equipment and accessories designed to improve efficiency.
For body shops trying to avoid a backlog, a side-load system can be a game-changer. In side-load systems, vehicles move quickly between work bays on an integrated track and dolly system, improving productivity and maximizing shop space. Since vehicles do not need to be driven into the paint booth, all masking can be done outside the booth, saving 15 to 30 minutes per booth cycle. A downdraft booth with a side-load system should be capable of processing six vehicles per day. If a shop is firing on all cylinders, it could process as many as seven or eight vehicles per day with a side-load system.
In addition to increasing production, adding a side-load system to a downdraft paint booth is considerably cheaper than purchasing a second booth and saves valuable floor space. Side-load systems are especially useful for businesses performing a high volume of light repairs, such as shops with quick lane service models and used car refurbishment centers.
To maximize efficiency, shops often couple side-load systems with accelerated drying systems, such as AdvanceCure Accelerated Airflow Systems from Global Finishing Solutions (GFS). The AdvanceCure System introduces turbulent airflow into the paint booth, dramatically improving the transfer of heat from the air to the painted panels. One of the biggest benefits of an accelerated drying system is the fast basecoat application. Using a wet-on-wet basecoat system, most shops have to wait 20 to 30 minutes for the paint to dry. With an accelerated drying system, that time is cut in half. The AdvanceCure System can be added to a new GFS paint booth or retrofitted into most brands and models of paint booths.
Another proven way to increase paint shop throughput without increasing your shop’s footprint is to add infrared curing systems, such as REVO Accelerated Curing Systems from GFS. Using short wave electric infrared technology, REVO Systems quickly cure filler and coatings from the inside out, reducing curing time to only minutes. Most shops with REVO Systems, one prep station, and one paint booth can process 6 to 10 vehicles a day, with some shops processing as many as 12 vehicles a day.
Establishing a Growth Plan
If your shop envisions growth a few years down the road but cannot currently accommodate that volume, an option is to purchase an Ultra XR Paint Booth from GFS without an integrated REVO System. This premium downdraft booth features an extended interior height to accommodate a REVO Speed or Rapid, which can be added, along with pressured power rails, when the time is right for a shop.
Small and medium-sized shops trying to stay within budget for new equipment may consider purchasing a non-heated paint booth, such as a Performer ES Paint Booth from GFS. This booth offers a reliable, all-in-one painting environment with the flexibility to add a heater at a later time.
The equipment you purchase today will position your shop for growth tomorrow. A shop can typically recoup its investment in equipment in less than a year by processing just one more vehicle per week. Once the equipment has paid for itself, year two and beyond offer opportunity for profit. Now is the time for shop owners to invest in better equipment to position themselves for a more efficient and profitable future.