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Robotic Paint Drying

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Over the last six months, my world traveling has slowed down somewhat, because Heather, my wife, has been very ill. I’ve needed to be at home to make sure I could care for her. Thankfully, she’s now on the mend, and it’s led me to do a lot of reflecting on life, its value, and to thank all of our family and friends that have supported Heather through her challenges.

And, now, I’m back on the road. Over this period, we’ve been working to set up a new business in the U.S.: Bodyshop Revolution North America Inc. It’s been an interesting process, having to do much by Skype and Viber. But it proves that technology can win, and facilitate amazing results, if coupled with the right team at the other end.

That brings me to this article. I feel there is a revolution about to happen in the United States due to a number of coinciding effects that will change the industry. I believe this will be hinged around technology. I say this because I’ve seen these things occur in other global markets—but not all at the same time—and they have ended up having dramatic effects: either destroying the collision industry, or making it very profitable.

Different global markets focus on different things as their key objective, but the one thing I see happening in the U.S. is that reduction in cycle time is the driving force from insurance carriers, body shops and vehicle drivers. Aside from the drive to reduce costs of each claim, it is “cycle” that seems to be on everyone’s lips, with shops eager to prove they can repair vehicles in the shortest time possible.

The problem, if you’ve read any of my previous ramblings, is that the good traditional shop is now at the limit of what it can deliver in the way of reduced cycle. There are many great collision shops out there that are bucking the trend and delivering great results in the context of a traditional shop, but in terms of achievable cycle, they are nowhere near what it could be.

I say this because I’ve seen, experienced and been involved in some game-changing tools. To be more specific, there are three that change the way we repair cars. These three elements are gas catalytic robotic drying, Theory of Constraint (TOC) and systems thinking, and “pull” software for production.

I’d like to deal with all three of these, because they are equally important. First, let’s see what is happening from a drying perspective. For too long (50 years), we have been inefficiently blowing hot(ish) air around a cabin to dry paint. As I speak, you can now (finally) buy gas catalytic drying robotic technology to slash drying times of all types of paint, which is a game changer for the U.S. collision industry.

Why? Because it enables you to change your process in order to massively reduce cycle. Why has this been so long coming? Well, because of the certification and legislation requirements to bring it into the U.S., the only three patented manufacturers of this technology have been focusing on other parts of the world. First to the post is Robotica, but we expect this to be followed at some time by Symach and Ionitec.

These technologies use a ceramic/aluminium catalyst to split cold gas molecules by means of an exothermic chemical reaction to create infrared energy at exactly the correct wavelength in order to dry refinish paint with just one minute of exposure. Without getting into the chemistry, these machines use 70 percent less gas than a spray booth and dry normal paint in a fraction of the time.

What that actually means is that because the paint is 100 percent cured and cross-linked, you can change the process by which you work. This changes the dynamics of the repair to be able to achieve what we call continuous workflow. In other words, once a vehicle is brought into your shop, it can be continuously worked on for the time it is in there. This change of process shrinks cycle dramatically, to hours rather than days.

And that TOC/systems mindset leads to creating a predictable, rather than chaotic, production cycle through the use of “pull” technology in order to make sure that vehicles are where they should be all of the time. Pull production software doesn’t exist in traditional body shop management systems because body shop management systems have to deal with traditional workflow shops. Once you change the workflow mechanism through use of technically advanced drying systems, you are able to facilitate this continuous workflow production with software that actually fits the  new advanced production method you are using. It uses Drum-Buffer-Rope methodology from TOC thinking, which enables accurate scheduling and pull-through to deliver 95 percent of vehicles to customers on time, or before.

All of this is possible because the technology and the resulting thinking has been able to change. Too long have we been fighting the challenges of traditional collision repair. The rise of the machines will change things forever. 

Jon Parker is managing director of the Byteback Group, a U.K.-based information technology and services company aimed at advancing the collision repair industry. Parker can be reached at

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