The Future of Paint Drying

April 1, 2012
New paint-drying technology is improving European shops in eye-popping fashion. And it’s heading to the U.S. soon.

Simon Bowers, managing director of Spraytone Limited, a 10,500-square-foot shop based in the U.K., says his facility used to operate very traditionally, equipped with all the tools and processes you would normally expect. But routine bottlenecks plagued the shop. With decreasing repair volume in the U.K., Bowers knew efficiency and cost reduction was key to remain competitive in the market.

“The recession caused me to look at my business costs differently,” Bowers says. “I knew about lean processes, but still knew there had to be a better way.”

Using the theory of constraints ( learn more on the theory of constraints ), Bowers identified each of the shop’s main bottlenecks. He made significant operational changes to improve—from repair processes to employee cross training. One change that delivered a particularly dramatic improvement was made in the paint department.

“The paint booth was one huge constraint,” Bowers says. “We needed to move nine cars through each day, but it required too many resources to get the work done.”

Enter Robodry—a piece of computerized robotic technology installed in Bowers’ spray booth that dries paint products in less than one minute. The machine, which Bowers installed two years ago, is generating huge benefits. Paint technician efficiency jumped from 115 to 164 percent, the paint department operates with half the resources, and net profit improved from a mere 3 percent to 9 percent.

Yes, it sounds futuristic. But shops in Europe and Australia are using the product today—and it’s coming to the U.S. in 2014. It’s currently priced at $85,000, but users calculate a full return on the investment within six months through efficiency gains, higher throughputs and expense reductions.

How It Works

The Robodry system, patented and manufactured by Italy-based Symach, is a complex electromechanical machine, says Jon Parker, managing director of Byteback Group, the U.K. Symach product importer. Robodry is a piece of computer-controlled robotic equipment that uses catalytic exothermic drying technology to dry vehicle refinish paint.

In short, the system passes natural methane gas through a catalyst to create energy. That energy passes through another catalyst where it’s combined with oxygen airflow to create infrared energy.

How it works

Exothermic Chemical Reaction
The system passes natural methane gas through an aluminum catalyst. The catalyst separates the carbon and hydrogen atoms, which creates energy.
The energy is passed through the front of the catalyst, where it’s met with oxygen airflow. The oxygen combines with the carbon molecules to create CO2, and with the hydrogen molecules to create H2O. The final product is infrared energy.

Infrared energy, Parker says, allows you to precisely control the wavelengths that are emitted toward painted surfaces. “You can create a wavelength that is absolutely ideal for drying paint products.”

Parker says the Robodry is similar to the way a car wash operates. It follows the profile of vehicles along the sides, top and bottom, and maintains an even distribution of energy on the entire vehicle.

Painters operate the system using a control panel that sits outside the spray booth. They can program the system based on the type of paint product they’re drying. Parker says specific adjustments can be made to create the perfect drying scenario for anything—primers, waterborne or solvent-based basecoats, clearcoats or body fillers.

See the Robodry in action in this short video.

Save Time

The Robodry system dries all paint it touches within 53 seconds. Traveling at three feet per minute, the system only takes about three minutes to dry entire vehicles.

Parker’s perspective: Not only does paint dry quickly, Parker says, but it becomes 100 percent cross-linked as well. That means painters can begin detail and polish work immediately after vehicles come out of the booth. Painters in traditional shops usually have to wait a few hours, or sometimes until the next day.

Shop experience: Bowers says he spent an entire week monitoring his four painters prior to purchasing the Robodry. Combined, they were spending 36 hours a week just applying and drying primers due to 20-minute bake cycles for every coat.

Now, dry time is reduced to three minutes per coat, and painters can block and sand jobs right away. Bowers says painters only spend 7.5 hours a week in the priming process, a 28.5-hour reduction.

Increase Throughput

That time savings on dry time will likely double your shop’s throughput.

Parker’s perspective: Most shops, regardless of size, are able to move about six jobs through their spray booth per day, Parker says. You can do 12 with the Robodry, and some shops are reaching 14.

Maintenance The Robodry system has a lifespan of roughly 12 years, and does require occasional maintenance. Parker recommends having the system serviced twice a year to keep it running smoothly—an annual cost of $300.
Keep Your Booth The Robodry system can be installed in any new or existing booth, Parker says. It’s 12 feet wide and 30 feet long.
You shouldn’t need to invest in a new spray booth, as long as it has floor air extraction capabilities. Parker says booths with rear air extraction systems aren’t ideal because it drags all paint overspray past the system when it’s in the parked position. That causes it to get dirty very quickly.
Know the Limitations The Robodry can be used on most vehicles. But it has one limitation that painters must be aware of. It only reaches seven feet high, and cannot be used on some large trucks or utility vehicles. Parker says it does cover SUVs, such as Range Rovers, with no problem.    

“Many shops that traditionally needed two booths now only need one,” Parker says. “That means you need less space on the shop floor, and you reduce the footprint of your facility.”

Shop experience: Bowers used to have four painters operating two booths simultaneously. Each booth produced five jobs per day. But with nearly 70 percent increased drying speed, his painters increased efficiency by 49 percent. He now only needs two painters operating one booth to produce the same amount of work.

“We’re doing the same amount of work with half the resources,” Bowers says. “That dramatically reduced payroll and overhead expenses.”

Reduce Energy Consumption

Most conventional spray booths burn through gas quickly. But the Robodry system doesn’t burn gas at all; it splits gas molecules apart and turns them into energy. That’s why it reduces shop gas consumption up to 70 percent.

Parker’s perspective: Parker says European shops are saving roughly $1,500 (U.S. dollars) a month on energy bills.

Shop experience: Bowers’ shop sits in a small industrial area about six miles outside of town. There is no gas line running to his facility, which means he needs to use tanks of propane gas to power his spray booth.

The propane, at $65 per liter, was costing Bowers about $3,100 a month (that’s for roughly 47 liters, or a little more than 12 gallons). He says the Robodry dropped that expense 65 percent, to $1,100 a month.

Training is Essential

You will need to capitalize on training before implementing the system in your shop. Spending time learning how to use the Robodry properly will help you avoid experiencing any problems.

Parker’s perspective: It’s critical to fully understand the functions and limitations of the Robodry system, Parker says. Technicians need to learn that the Robodry’s settings must be altered for various types of paint applications. That’s because some paint products can pop if they dry too fast.

Shop experience: Bowers says it took about one week for his painters to become comfortable and proficient using the system. It took a few days of practice before they understood the correct program settings for the various types of product applications.

Bowers says the training was time well spent because he hasn’t experienced any challenges since implementing the Robodry into daily operations. “Since the training, the biggest challenge we’ve had is finding ways to productively spend all of the extra time we’ve created,” he says.

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