Running a Shop Operations Cycle Time Management

5 Steps to Paint Booth Efficiency

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When Don Wakeman speaks with shop owners, he drives home one point about paint booths: They are a crucial investment for a business.

Making them understand how much consideration and maintenance should go into that investment, though? That’s the hard part.

“Unfortunately, owners look at many cost-saving options as an expense,” says Wakeman, owner of
Wakeman Equipment, a distributor for Garmat USA. “With regular, scheduled maintenance and technological
upgrades, you can actually increase the longevity of a paint booth and maximize its efficiency, saving you
money in the long run.”

When representatives from various paint booth manufacturers—Garmat USA, Blowtherm USA and Global
Finishing Solutions (GFS)—discuss how shop owners and painters can capitalize on this long-term investment, they are all in agreement about paint booths needing to be leaner, cleaner and safer.

They all realize that shop owners must ultimately be responsible for paint booth upkeep—but that doesn’t
mean manufacturers can’t help make those processes easier.

“As we look into more lean processes, we have to look at all aspects when we design a paint booth,” says Debbie Teter, marketing director for Garmat. “Can we take hours out of maintenance? Can we make maintenance easier? What energy efficiencies can we build in that will cut down the costs of running a paint booth? What technologies make the paint process easier? What training mechanisms are in place? We can offer all those things as the manufacturer.”

Schedule Filter Changes

Ask all three Garmat representatives about which key piece of equipment needs to be maintained the most, and they’ll respond in unison: “Change your filters.”

“The exhaust filters are the first and immediate because they plug up fast,” Wakeman says. “We give our customers a very powerful exhaust fan that, honestly, tends to get abused.”

It’s important to note the differences between intake and exhaust filters, says Mark Miller national sales manager for Blowtherm USA. Intake filters are easy—you can see inside of them and tell when it’s dirty. While intake filters can go a few months when handling a few cars a day, exhaust filters need to be changed more often. They are harder to determine with the naked eye. Fortunately, Garmat, Blowtherm USA and GFS paint booths are equipped with manometers, which adjust to the volume of work going through a paint booth over time and determine when a change is needed, typically every couple weeks.

While most fans will pull paint through the filters beyond their capacity, GFS vice president of auto refinish Brandon Lowder says it’s important for body shops to recognize that the exhaust filters can only handle up to 50–60 spray hours before needing to be changed.

Tracking those spray hours can be especially tough depending on your daily output. A filter change schedule at a shop with an average monthly car count of 200 will look drastically different from a shop with an output of 100, especially if you have multiple paint booths. Yet, the importance of developing and maintaining that schedule is equally important for both scenarios.

Various other scenarios have to be considered for determining how often you should change filters: the cleanliness of the environment (how clean is your shop, and are you bringing dirt into the booth?), the type of spray product you’re using in the booth, and whether your booth is pressurized with an air make-up unit attached.

Unfortunately, Teter says, many shop owners see planning out and setting up scheduled maintenance as nothing more than an expense. All three paint booth manufacturers have made it a goal to make the filter maintenance manageable by one person.

“The more we do to make maintenance easier, the more likely that maintenance is going to get done,” she says. “And the more maintenance that gets done, it leads to a longer life for the paint booth. It makes their tasks easier, and makes those tasks cost less to do.”

Book Annual Maintenance Packages

Teter says we’re in an age where everyone talks about obsolescence. But with paint booths still running strong after 25 years, she says nothing has been more instrumental in maintaining paint booths than scheduling regular service packages.

“The regular maintenance that we schedule fits your needs,” Wakeman says. “A body shop that’s doing 200 cars per month has different needs than a body shop just doing 100 cars. The shop doing 2,400 cars a year is going to require a lot more maintenance. Hours of operation are like mileage. You’ve got to take care of them.”

Blowtherm USA, Garmat and GFS’s distributors offer annual service packages to check in on the paint booth’s more complex airflow systems. Wakeman says the paint manufacturers should perform regular inspections on plenum chambers—a separate space located between the structural ceiling and a drop-down ceiling that circulates air for heating, ventilation and air-conditioning.

Lowder says busier shops can run into pitfalls buying yearly maintenance package. He says having somebody clean the booth, grease the motors and bearings, and change the ceiling filters only once a year will make the booth less efficient.

“They don’t have anybody inside the shop that’s taking care of the booth on a bi-weekly or bi-monthly basis,” he says. “If it’s a relatively high production shop, they’d be much better off looking at quarterly maintenance programs or a more in-depth maintenance program so that they’re not only doing that maintenance once a year.

Utilize the Control Panel

Teter and Miller encourage utilizing the technology available on paint booths, including the touch screen control panel that tracks the amount of spray hours a filter has endured.

“Those filters are hooked up to the paint booth’s control panel,” Miller says. “If a filter in the floor gets plugged up, an alarm will go off and we can have somebody there quickly to change it out.”

And while Garmat, Blowtherm USA and GFS have designed its technology to aid with maintenance procedures, the control panels on paint booths provide for a wealth of other opportunities.

Partnering with several major management systems, the control panel on many paint booths can be customized to retrieve data shop owners need: It can store paint recipes, track filters, keep track of bake hours, and recommend paints for certain bake cycles.

Lowder says a select number of paint booth manufacturers set multiple points inside the curing mode.

“With our booths, let’s say you want to cure at 140 degrees,” he says. “In order to get 140 degrees metal temperature, you need something greater than 140 degree air temperature. So we allow our cure cycles to take the air temp to 180 or 190 degrees, and hold it there for a period of time, and then bring it back down to 140 degrees so we can ramp up and more quickly get your substrate temperature up to the cure temperature you need, and then reduce the temperature inside the booth to save utilities.”

Optimize the Lighting

While paint booth manufacturers can do very little to improve color matching, representatives from all three companies agree that optimal lighting is key for a quality finish.

While most paint booth manufacturers already use quality energy-efficient light fixtures, there are variables to consider that conform to your shop procedures and could save money in the long run. T-8 color-correct fluorescent light tubes are much more energy-efficient and produce more light than T-12 tubes, while T-5 tubes create condensed light patterns ideal for larger booths.

The actual arrangements of those lights are important for achieving shadow-free illumination, says Teter. Determining whether the tubes should be arranged horizontally or vertically will alter the light coverage on the floor and eliminate shadows as the painter moves throughout the booth.

“We place our light in a specific way that we have consistent paths of light from one end of the booth to the other, from the top of the car to the bottom,” she says. “We place our lights horizontally, so that when a painter does move in front of it, the light is still wrapping around and hitting the car.”

Investing in more energy efficient lighting is a small investment, as they provide better lighting, save on energy costs, and last longer, meaning less maintenance and regular check-ups.

Be Aware of the Shop Layout

Dirt in the paint booth is a problem every painter deals with. Luckily, Teter has some tips on maximizing your shop layout and procedures for a safer, cleaner, more efficient booth.

“It’s also important for maintenance that we know what’s going on the outside of the paint booth,” she says. “The paint booth itself does not make the dirt—dirt is being brought in. How are you doing your procedures?”

Wakeman and Teter say it is imperative to treat your prep station as a paint area.

“They’re the ones doing the body work, the sanding, the priming,” Teter says. “You can take a small amount of space and make it into a full-fledged painting area and they’ll prep more cars to get it to the painter in a better state. Isolating and maximizing these areas will keep dirt out.”

“This is where the body work, the sanding, the priming comes from,” Wakeman says. “This area drives production, and if the painter is sending it back, then your production is compromised.”

Lowder says GFS always consults on where the paint booth should go—especially if it’s a new building that’s still determining its shop floor layout.

“You never want to go backwards if you don’t have to,” he says. “Drivethrough booths are way more efficient than solid-back booths. Often times, people want to put the paint booth in the back corner of the shop so it’s not taking up space. But often times, the best place for the paint booth is more towards the middle so you can feed work from your body area into your prep area and go forward into your paint booth.”

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