Latest paint booths expand capabilities, improve efficiency

Oct. 4, 2021
Manufacturers point to trending larger cabin sizes, automated controls

If you haven’t shopped for a paint booth lately, you may be surprised to learn of the number of capabilities the latest models offer to help improve productivity in their paint shop operations. ABRN talked with multiple paint booth manufacturers to learn what features are popular with buyers and may be worthy of consideration.

Some trends they pointed to in today’s booths include longer and taller cabins, LED lighting, and air movement that is ideal for drying waterborne finishes. Energy-saving variable frequency drives allow for optimal fan speeds and smooth ramp-ups, and the latest control panels allow for not only precise management of paint booth conditions but also remote diagnostics and data monitoring.

“Each shop, dealership, collision repair center, or MSO may have a different client base with specific criteria that influence their spray booth requirements,” said Mark Miller, VP/national sales manager for Blowtherm USA. "Such tailored selections include cabin size, power requirements, air speed, drive motors, burner system, and intake and exhaust filtration."

Booths are getting larger

For some shops, one of those requirements is a larger booth to meet a growing clientele of fleet customers with oversize vehicles, such as Sprinter vans.

There are now more requests for taller booths, from a traditional nine feet inside to 12', said Brandon Lowder, senior vice president of Automotive and Truck at Accudraft Paint Booths.

“At one time, 24 feet was the most popular length, and we have seen that shift to 28' to 30' to accommodate larger vehicles,” he said. “Painters are also trying to be more efficient with their booth cycles and be conscientious of how many refinish hours they can get in a cycle. Painting multiple ROs per booth cycle is getting to be commonplace.”

Troy Volbrecht, senior territory manager for Global Finishing Solutions (GFS), agreed that booth shoppers should consider the growing national fleet of oversize commercial vehicles.

“Extended-height paint booths enable body shops to avoid a backlog on detailed, time-consuming repairs,” he said. “Ultra XL Paint Booths feature a 12' ceiling, which is enough overhead clearance to paint most oversize vehicles on the road, excluding semi-trucks. With an extended-height paint booth, shops can benefit from an additional revenue stream without requiring extra labor, and once your business has established that it can accommodate larger vehicles, new customers will likely come knocking as frequently as existing ones.”

Symach CEO Osvaldo Bergaglio said his company’s booths are sold standard at 4.5 meters (14.8') wide and 8 meters (26.3') long, standard, but they can be easily extended in height and/or length.

Controls can automate settings, provide insight to management

For most booth companies, control panel packages range from basic to complex, which allow pressure controls, temperatures, and modes to be automated, along with remote connectivity for diagnostics and data tracking.

“As repairing cars becomes more complex, choosing a paint booth should not be,” said Debbie Teter, director of sales and marketing at Garmat USA. “We offer controls from basic PLC [programmable logic controller] operations, to the more advanced touchscreens with data collection capabilities. When we first developed our touchscreen controls a few years back, we were the first to offer data retrieval capabilities, remote diagnostics, and built-in troubleshooting. Today, we look at ways to improve on that technology with shop-specific custom programming to adapt the controls to a customer’s process or unique specifications.”

With advanced controls, it is no longer necessary to set different times, temperatures, and airflow speeds, Accudraft’s Lowder said.

“Painters are looking for controls that allow them to select a product on the controls and let the booth make all the adjustments,” he said.

Blowtherm’s Miller said the company’s SBC P1 technologically advanced control panels are standard and provide a premium operator-to-equipment interface at no additional cost.

GFS’ Volbrecht said buyers increasingly look for advanced control panels for their reporting features.

“What was the total time the repair took?" he said. "What was the average booth cycle time for the last month? What was the average cure time? These are critical areas that shops want to improve on to stay ahead of their competition and boost their bottom line.”

Lowder said the Focus connected control package is Accudraft’s response to demand for remote service operations. Focus allows shops to record thousands of data points, such as temperature and humidity, how long each booth cycle lasted, the energy consumed, and who was painting. And a web app allows a manager to remotely monitor such data points. A paint booth technician, including a remote one, can then have a complete picture of the booth’s service history, which allows preventive maintenance to be “taken to the next level,” he said.

Variable Frequency Drives efficiently control fan motors

Variable Frequency Drives, or VFDs, electronically control the speed of an AC motor. By adjusting the frequency delivered to the motor, they can smoothly ramp up a motor or to prevent a heavy load from straining the motor on startup. Not all manufacturers ABRN talked with offer VFDs. For some, they are standard across the product lineup, and for others they are optional.

“Most body shops want energy-saving features in their next paint booth investment,” GFS’ Volbrecht said. “This includes a variable frequency drive which gives the capabilities for soft start for your booth’s motors and recirculating during bake mode.”

Volbrecht noted that VFDs, which are standard on all GFS pressurized paint booths, also help ensure overspray is properly collected, and they even increase the life of the exhaust filters.

“VFDs are extremely energy efficient and come standard on all Blowtherm paint booths," Miller agreed. "Auto-Balance Systems, also a Blowtherm standard, automatically balances the airflow in the booth as the vehicle or object size changes between jobs.”  

Teter said Garmat custom-builds each booth.

“What does not vary in our mechanicals is the exhaust fan," Teter noted. "This style of fan is one of Garmat’s hallmark features and is a standard feature. The dual inlet reverse incline fan with airfoil blades is used in all Garmat’s core line of mechanicals.

"The backward direction of the blades creates a vacuum of air surrounding the fan which prevents overspray buildup. These types of fans are capable of operating in a broader range of static pressure area, so the airflow remains consistent. Since these fans run at a lower RPM, both noise and energy costs are reduced.”

Lighting options abound

Energy-saving LED lighting is a popular option, especially as the available color spectrums more closely resemble traditional booth lighting, Lowder said, although some buyers prefer fluorescent.

Blowtherm USA is the only spray booth company that offers premium LED lighting as standard equipment, Miller said.

Meanwhile, Garmat offers options including four, six, and eight-tube light fixtures, and a choice of T-8, LEDs, and reflectors.

We build our own light fixtures in our ETL shop, which gives us the flexibility to offer the solution that best fits your needs,” Teter said. “We work with the customer to ensure they get what they need for their environment, and what works best for their process and team.” 

Bergaglio said side-loading doors, as available on his company’s booth, can negatively impact the lighting quality, compared to a conventional paint booth. He said Symach offers either a standard T8 LED or its PowerLED lighting system, which is mounted only to the ceiling and is designed for optimal color rendering and diffusion across the painting surface for all the company’s booth configurations.

Should you buy your new booth waterborne-ready?

Whether waterborne paint is being sprayed or the shop just wants to plan for it in the future, booth manufacturers offer models that are either waterborne-ready or in many cases can be updated in the future for waterborne.

“We provide different types of paint spray booth models designed with optimized airflow to allow for multiple types of spray finishing applications, including the use of waterborne paints,” said Clay Thedford, director of product development and quality control for Tuxedo Distributors, which manufactures iDEAL brand paint booths.

“There is confusion in the market that increasing the CFM improves the flash time on waterborne paint,” Teter said. “Increase velocity, not CFM, and create turbulence or laminar flow across the painted surface.”

Teter said although Garmat’s patented Accele-Cure Air Acceleration System was developed for waterborne, it works just as well to help dry solvent-based paints.

“They are superior because they use the clean air coming through the ceiling filters and accelerate that air rather than introduce air from another source, such as blowers,” she said.

Miller said all Blowtherm booths are basically waterborne-ready, but they may require air speed systems, depending on the customer’s requirements.

“Air Speed/Waterborne Flash-Off” provides shorter flash-off times between coats and faster removal of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) before the recirculation process without any adding additional energy costs,” he said.

Volbrecht said GFS’ top-of-the-line paint booth comes with the company’s AdvanceCure Accelerated Airflow System, which reduces the amount of time needed to dry waterborne or solvent-based basecoats.

“Time is money, and AdvanceCure is proven to dry any application quicker," Volbrecht noted. "Some shop owners are told the more CFM they have in their booth, the faster drying times are. This is not the case, as 12,000 to 15,000 CFM is the industry standard for automotive paint booths.”

AdvanceCure speeds drying times by disrupting airflow to reach the boundary layer of air off the vehicle so the trapped solvents can be released, he said. “AdvanceCure significantly improves the transfer of heat from the air to the painted panels and provides a more even heat distribution over the entire vehicle. The result is drastically reduced drying times and better paint finishes.”

Lowder said Accudraft offers models that are either waterborne-ready or can be easily converted to waterborne-ready in the future. 

“We have developed a larger line of air handling equipment to truly provide a booth that will grow with the coatings as they change,” he said. “We also offer a line of turbulent air fans, which is the most popular option in the industry today. Roughly 60 percent of the booths we sell are sold as water-ready. That said, coatings have come a long way, and they are much more forgiving than earlier versions.”

Bergalio noted that waterborne paint, which has been used worldwide since the early 1990s, is now the most common around the world.

“A spray booth designed for waterborne paints should be the standard today because they also perform extremely well with solvent based paints,” he said. “However, booths designed for solvent-based paints perform poorly with waterborne. Symach spray booths have always been designed for waterborne paints, with high-performance airflow/ventilation to quickly dry waterborne paints and today’s clearcoat. In addition, Symach can add our [gas catalytic] Drytronic robot technology to dry sealer, waterborne paints, and clearcoat even faster.”

Other design improvements

Booth manufacturers ABRN spoke with mentioned other design improvements not previously discussed in this article.

“We are releasing a new high-performance line of doors with larger viewing windows and wider openings, which allows for easier loading and unloading of the booth. This was predicated on users wanting to reduce turning radius and loading times,” Accudraft’s Lowder said.

“Every engineering design improvement Blowtherm incorporates is for the benefit of our customer to include ease of operation, lower operating costs, greater functionality, increased performance or productivity, superior components and environmentally conscious enhancements that help extend the life and longevity of the system,” Miller said. 

He pointed to recent features, such as glass door panels, glass walls, wider vehicle entrances, upgraded control panels, premium lighting, controlled air zones, 100-percent-efficient burners for zero-NOX burners (necessary to meet AQMD compliance as insisted in California) or low NOX and CO2 emissions, flash-off and curing, and storage for the operator as examples.

Teter said Garmat thrives on coming up with new methods to address the needs of its customers while meeting their budgets.

“We employ a full team of engineers with the expertise in designing equipment and providing layouts that will help you meet and exceed your production goals. By manufacturing our own air handling systems and controls, we can ensure consistent performance with leading edge technology that targets an ever-changing industry.”

Bergaglio said Symach renewed its complete range of equipment in 2020 with more efficient designs and new looks. “Innovation is the heart of Symach, which has always followed the Kaizen principle of continuous improvement, and it is an ISO 9001:2015 certified company. Our new modular design allows for many different configurations to better meet our customers’ specific needs.”

“At the request of customers and our commitment to provide the most up-to-date booth designs & technology, we are now offering optional energy-efficient LED lighting kits & alternative electric heating systems, along with different configuration kits,” Tuxedo Distributors/iDEAL’s Thedford said.

Planning for EV repairs

As electric vehicles (EVs) become a more familiar sight, shop owners and managers should consider short wave electric infrared (IR) curing technology, such as GFS’ REVO Accelerated Curing Systems, Volbrecht said.

“Because of the powerful battery, electric vehicles are unable to be cured in paint booths at high temperatures. Major car manufacturers have released position statements specifying that curing temperatures for electric and hybrid vehicles may not exceed 140 degrees F. For their safety, technicians must disconnect the high-voltage system when working on electric vehicles.”

Volbrecht said this means the vehicle is susceptible to overheating, as the battery’s cooling system is disengaged.

“Since electric vehicles are unable to be cured in a normal paint booth cure cycle, technicians typically use an extended low cure cycle,” he continued. “This doubles the bake time, reducing overall throughput and significantly slowing down a shop. Penetrating directly to the surface of the substrate — whether metal, plastic or another material — short wave electric IR curing technology heats the coating and rapidly cures it from the inside out. When using REVO Systems, temperatures on the exterior of the vehicle might eclipse 200 degrees, but the interior of the vehicle will not surpass 100 degrees. Therefore, the battery will not overheat, protecting the vehicle and technician.”

Additional considerations for booth selection

“When shopping for a paint booth, it is very important the customer fully knows what comes standard and what is optional for a fully functioning paint spray booth,” Tuxedo Distributors’ Thedford said. “It is also very important that customers fully understand electrical requirements & compliance with any local & state permitting for paint booth, ducting, or heating system, along with the necessary fire suppression system & installation requirements.” 

Blowtherm’s Miller encouraged shop owners and managers to pore over a booth company’s proposal before making a purchase decision.

“An educated or experienced shopper will dissect a paint booth’s features, all the way down to the most minor details. This may include door hinges, light wiring harnesses, umbilical cord plugs and hardware. Why so meticulous?  Because this capital investment needs to meet the objectives of increased production, quality and/or cleaner finish, waterborne curing, reliability, energy savings, and sustainability for prolonged overall life of the booth.”

He cautioned to discuss all details prior to the purchase and get them in writing.

“Spray booth system quotes are detailed and cumbersome for a purpose,” he said. “Each component on that quote provides a critical function to the performance or production of the system. The peril of forgoing this apples-to-apples exercise could lead to quality, reliability, or booth longevity issues, which will be a far more costly mistake in the long run.”

Symach’s Bergaglio said prospective buyers should not place price as their primary consideration and instead weigh the value of a touchscreen PLC control, inverter/VFD, and the size of the floor vs. performance and airflow. “They also don’t consider the realistic daily cycles that will be required to prevent bottlenecks and reach their daily production goals.”

Shop owners and managers also often make mistakes in locating booths and prep stations as they relate to the shop layout and process flow, he said.

Garmat’s Teter said proper paint booth installation is critical to the booth’s operation, noting that the company’s standard product line is ETL-listed and built to comply with standards from national regulatory agencies, which makes permitting and installation easier, as the codes are recognized by local authorities.

“These are complex pieces of equipment, and installation has a direct effect on the operation of the equipment,” she said. “We recommend having the experience a Garmat distributor provides when installing the paint booth. Since our distributors have exclusive territories, their installation and service crews are part of their operation, not flown in from other parts of the country or beyond. They have the knowledge of the LAHJ [Local authority having jurisdiction] and understand what is necessary to install a code-compliant paint booth for that region. They are also available to support that critical after-sale support and maintenance.”

Supply chain disruptions have already affected body shops with shortages of PPE, parts, and body supplies. The booth industry has also been affected, said Blowtherm’s Miller, who cautioned buyers to plan for realistic times for manufacturing or shipping.

“The pandemic has caused material delays in all industries, from construction materials to component availability issues, shipping or transportation price hikes and more,” he said. “The smart shopper will plan well in advance to overcome those issues. An honest spray booth distributor will also clearly explain those delays vs. promising a delivery date that they know is unattainable just to get an order.”

About the Author

Jay Sicht | Editor-in-Chief, FenderBender and ABRN

Jay Sicht is editor-in-chief of FenderBender and ABRN. He has worked in the automotive aftermarket for more than 28 years, including in a number of sales and technical roles in paint/parts distribution and service/repair. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Central Missouri with a minor in aviation, and as a writer and editor, he has covered all segments of the automotive aftermarket for more than 20 of those years, including formerly serving as editor-in-chief of Motor Age and Aftermarket Business World. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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