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There are several issues that impact quality, efficiency and throughput in the paint department—from paint application processes to equipment used. But achieving the best possible color match on the first attempt is among the biggest and most common problems that causes bottlenecks in the paint booth, says Tom Phelan, color quality coordinator for Axalta Coating Systems. Obtaining a poor color match causes rework, which can lead to significant backlog and cycle time problems.

Phelan discusses why matching paint colors can be so tough for automotive painters, and a few technologies you might want to invest in to reduce the challenges and avoid costly bottlenecks.

The biggest issue that impacts a vehicle’s color match is variability in production on the OEM level. For example, Ford Motor Company has about 14 production facilities. The same color codes are produced in up to eight of those plants, especially on popular colors. But those plants are supplied by various paint manufacturers—Axalta, PPG or BASF. There are three different paint manufacturers producing the same color targets, but with their own pigmentation, application style and paint technology.

That causes a lot of different variations between batches of paint. Those colors do not look exactly the same when you put them side by side. That’s the biggest challenge that painters face. It causes them to use different alternates, especially when painting bumpers with many different angles or when using specialty colors.

There are a few pieces of technology that shop operators may want to consider purchasing to obtain ideal color match without rework. A few things that all of the paint manufacturers offer include:

Fan Decks. This is one of the most basic color match tools available to shops. It allows painters to fan out the color variance and choose the closest color based on the deck. However, this tool should be used in conjunction with another tool because it helps choose the closest color, not necessarily the exact color. Fan decks must constantly be updated as new alternates are added.

Spectrophotometry. This tool uses cameras to automatically select the color of the vehicle. It also shades the color if necessary. Regarding return on investment, spectrophotometry tends to be the fastest. It’s a very good investment in terms of productivity.

Electronic paint mixing systems. This tool, which is fairly popular throughout the industry, allows you to select a paint formula to automatically weigh and mix the paint. It’s not entirely automatic as each toner must be placed on the machine. But the systems are accurate to the tenth of a gram, and take human error out of the job.

All of these tools can be obtained through your local jobber or paint distributor. Every shop operator should consider purchasing these tools because using them habitually helps create higher productivity, quality and throughput for painters. Something that will pick the color, make adjustments and dial it in for you reduces the time spent mixing and spraying just to get cars in the booth. Producing a good, quality product right out of the gate is a dramatic time-saver, and time is money.

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