Selecting Waterborne

July 1, 2010

So you’ve decided to go waterborne in your shop. Converting to waterborne paint goes beyond changing your paint system—it’s an overhaul of your refinish department. FenderBender talked to Jeff Peevy, director of field operations for I-CAR, about waterborne’s implications for your shop floor and the technicians who work there.

In the early days, people thought converting to waterborne was just changing a paint system—and it’s not at all. It’s a complete change for the refinish department. That includes the equipment in the shop.

You can’t just put a waterborne paint system into the shop and expect everything to work. When you convert to waterborne, you need to convert equipment, including the spray booth, air movement equipment and spray guns.

Shop owners should consider attending the I-CAR Waterborne Program before choosing a waterborne system. It’s a simple, straightforward, four-hour class that covers the considerations of converting to a waterborne paint system. Technicians benefit from product-specific training. Whether that is in-shop training by the manufacturer of the product, or at their training center, training is at the center of a successful conversion.

It’s important that refinish technicians commit to the new waterborne system. Totally commit to the new system, learn it and follow the procedures. Technicians should take advantage of every opportunity they can to learn about the specific system they will use. Today’s major players in the refinish manufacturing segment of our inter-industry have product-specific training down well. I have an extremely high level of confidence that the processes paint manufacturers have worked through are very accurate.

The primary equipment changes that shops experience when converting to waterborne include: paint toner-mixing banks, spray-gun cleaning equipment, air movement equipment, and upgrading or purchasing new spray equipment. Don’t assume your current paint strainers will be appropriate. Shop owners should consider upgrading to compressed air filtration because waterborne basecoats are more sensitive to contamination.

Shop management should look at their options when it comes to purchasing a new spray booth or retrofitting their current one. Deciding what to do starts with evaluating what your shop currently has, and how practical it would be to retrofit. The booth manufacturers have a solid approach to this and can help.

Sufficient air movement in your spray booth is the key to success with waterborne. If you do not have sufficient air movement, you will not be happy with converting to waterborne. A note of caution, though: booth maintenance and cleanliness is crucial. With greater air movement comes the opportunity for dirt, trash and contamination.

Some solvent-borne spray guns can be retrofitted with corrosion-resistant parts, such as caps or needles. Though corrosion-resistant guns can be used for both solvent and waterborne products and could be used interchangeably, you should flush the equipment with the type of material that will be sprayed. Having dedicated spray guns with proper cap and nozzle set-ups is highly recommended. Just remember, for waterborne, corrosion resistance is necessary for long life. Your spray gun manufacturer can help you make the right choice once you’ve chosen a brand and type of refinish material.

For spray gun cleaning, there are both automatic and manual cleaners designed specifically for waterborne. Many paint manufacturers, as well as equipment cleaner manufacturers, have a dedicated cleaner for waterborne. Also, flocculating powder can be used to help separate solid waste from the spray gun cleaning solution. This powder material causes the paint waste to clump together. Removing this clump can extend the life of the cleaning material for waterborne cleaning equipment.

Shops won’t necessarily need any alternative storage or organizational equipment for waterborne paint. But again, it goes back to committing to a system, and not mixing the old system with the new one. As for the mixing bank of toners, it is highly probable that a new mixing bank will be required.

Everything a refinish technician has learned about surface preparation applies when using waterborne materials. Short cuts will not end well. And safety equipment should remain the same. The biggest mistake someone could make is assuming waterborne systems are safer than conventional solvent systems and begin to slack off on safety equipment.

Don’t try to straddle the fence by using some solvent and some waterborne. If you make the jump to convert to waterborne basecoat, make the full leap. Be disciplined about staying with it. Shops can exceed solvent-based productivity with waterborne—but the productivity of the product comes with having the proper equipment. Shops tend to get themselves in trouble when they don’t pay attention to the procedures and processes the manufacturers have developed for their product.

I moderated a waterborne paint panel at NACE last year. At the end, numerous shop owners concluded they would not go back to their old solvent systems again; they have been satisfied with waterborne. And that says a lot.

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