Shop Life

Tips for Investing in Welding

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Every once in a while, Bill Vocasek is left incredulous, as he considers what the collision repair industry has become.

After more than four decades spent serving as a technician, body shop manager, weld-test administrator, and I-CAR instructor, Vocasek feels the industry is evolving as rapidly as ever.

“Forty years ago, if I were to have closed my eyes and then opened them up today, I wouldn’t recognize the industry,” says Vocasek, an instructor and program chair at Southeast Community College in Milford, Neb. “Because there have been so many changes.”

Chief among those changes: welding. Evolutions in areas like unibody vehicles, and high-strength steels have forever altered that collision repair process.

Nowadays, Vocasek says, “you have to look at procedures on everything; Just because I’ve seen that body style before, it may be completely different steel from year to year. So, knowing what you’re actually working on is huge. We’ve almost had to become a metaler, just to understand properties of metal and how different processes will effect the end result.”

Few have studied collision repair staples such as welding quite like Vocasek, who was a 2012 recipient of the I-CAR Lon Baudoux Instructor of the Year honor. More recently, Vocasek was nominated for an annual FenderBender award by SCC’s dean, due to his impassioned teaching style.

Below, Vocasek explains the steps he feels shop owners should take when investing in welders.

Research welding trends.

On a daily basis, Vocasek reads collision repair magazines and newsletters voraciously. He’s also a big believer in attending industry trade shows. He feels that type of research is necessary to stay on top of evolving industry staples like MIG welders and silicon bronze.

“When you start looking at the manufacturers, the steels, the processes, just understanding the equipment is a huge part of things,” Vocasek says. “Because, I go visit shops, and a lot of times technicians there don’t even know what [equipment] is capable of doing.

“So, going in and talking to the folks at a trade show, and doing some research, helps.”

Make techs part of the process.

Before investing in welders that costs hundreds of dollars, it’s obviously important for shop owners to thoroughly crunch numbers, taking into account factors like the size and volume of their facility, and the types of vehicles that are typically worked on there.

And, assuming a shop has room in its budget for new welding equipment, Vocasek feels it’s equally important for shop operators to gauge whether technicians would be open to a change in equipment. Because, if they’re not, an investment in new welders would be a waste.

“Having the technician be part of that process” helps, Vocasek notes. “Then it’s not, ‘Oh, the boss bought another piece of equipment that we’re going to have to learn how to run.’ [Instead], it’s like, ‘Oh, we bou ght this piece of equipment, and I’m going to have the opportunity to learn how to operate this piece of equipment that’s going to make my job more efficient.’”

Invest in training.

Not long ago, one of Vocasek’s former collision repair students began working at a shop that had purchased a piece of equipment that was simply collecting dust in a corner. The former student promptly began using the equipment, and was so efficient that they turned heads.

“Then,” Vocasek recalls, “there was almost a fight over that piece of equipment. Everybody wanted to use it because they realized how much it had sped up the process. So, understanding and knowing how to operate the equipment properly can bypass that challenge of equipment just sitting in the corner.”

The morale of that story: training can help employees like technicians embrace new equipment such as welders.

“There’s a number of manufacturers out there that produce extremely good products,” Vocasek says, “but if the technician doesn’t know how to use that piece of equipment, the value is not there.”

Use value-added services.

It’s important to never lose sight of service after the sale, Vocasek says. The insight from vendors that accompanies an equipment purchase can be invaluable.

“After purchasing, I’ve had several shops that have said, ‘This thing doesn’t work like they said it would,’’ Vocasek notes. “I said, ‘Did the vendor come in and demo it in your shop?’ [And they say], ‘No, I saw it at a trade show and everybody talked about how great it was.

“We need to, as an industry, work together, instead of being splintered out there and not knowing if you’ve got a piece of equipment that works well.”

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