Is there profit in waterborne?

Jan. 1, 2020
Here's how to determine the true cost of converting to waterborne paint.

I believe there is profit in converting to waterborne. If you are following lean or pull production processes where time is the element then waterborne is on your side. The efficiency of waterborne allows those processes to work.

I know shops that schedule sheet metal work based on what the paint shop could produce to eliminate a production constraint. Other shops alleviated the problem by adding an additional booth while still others refined their processes. I see waterborne becoming a big contributor in increasing paint shop efficiency because of reduced flash times through wet-on-wet applications.

By watching a demonstration where a paint company compared a major brand of waterborne to their solvent-based product, I visualized a production benefit. In the time – slightly more than 15 minutes – it took to spray a coat of solvent base on a fender, let it flash and apply a second coat, the same painter applied the required one and a half coats of waterborne base to the entire front-end of the vehicle using the prescribed wet-on-wet application process.

While some are arguing that waterborne tints cost more, the truth is in the application. Most waterborne products can cover in a coat and a half using the wet-on-wet process so essentially you are using less product. The speed at which waterborne products cure allows you to get at least one more vehicle through the paint cycle in a day, which proves the benefit in the production process.

I have heard shop owners say it's too expensive to convert to waterborne. After performing audits on customer's shops I found that most of the conversion expense was in correcting neglected repairs and maintenance.

In my February 2011 ABRN Profit Motive article, How to Reduce Waterborne Paint Conversion Costs, I talked about the things you could do to spread your conversion out using a schedule so the expense did not hit all at once. In that article I explained that some of the items you need to change or upgrade actually make you more efficient with your current solvent-based products. Things like checking your booth-mounted desiccant air dryer systems, the number one item that fails on my checklist. When was the last time you looked at yours? Is it serviceable?

The other key area is air supply. Some of the booths I look at do not even have enough pressure to spray solvent-based products effectively.

Most of those were plumbing constraints or old hoses but some did have inadequate compressor volume. Fixing low air volume is generally the largest expense involved in waterborne conversion, but it is quite possible you needed to improve your air flow regardless of your conversion to waterborne.

Another improvement needed is air movement. While improving air flow will make you better with solvent it is critical for waterborne, so I would say this is a true waterborne conversion expense.

There are many systems available and picking the right system for you will require some homework.

Some systems are inexpensive to purchase but have a costly installation price. I recommend checking with some shops that have made the conversion and ask them about their conversion costs and what is working best.

Comparing the increase in production and the associated profits with the cost of converting to waterborne will give you a true picture of the value for your shop. Each facility is different and you must be realistic in your calculations.

After performing a waterborne conversion audit, determine your true conversion expense, subtract what is determined to be needed maintenance and only count the waterborne specific upgrades you will need to make. This will give you your actual conversion costs.

Using that cost will help you decide if you can make that expense up through increased production and show your potential to increase profits.