Keepin' It Clean

Aug. 1, 2008
Regular spray booth maintenance increases shop efficiency, minimizes energy costs.

They had waited too long—much too long. Unfortunately, by the time they realized their mistake, things were already a mess. Keith Krabbe, manager of Brian Bemis Collision Center in Sycamore, Ill., remembers that fateful day several years ago all too well. Neglecting to schedule routine maintenance on their spray booth, the shop found itself in big trouble when the exhaust fan, its blades weighed down by too much residual overspray, was set off-balance and lost its bearing. The fan actually made a hole in the spray booth’s exhaust stack.

The situation continued to worsen. At the time, the shop’s only spray booth—a $45,000 investment—ended up operating at minimum efficiency for three weeks until a new fan arrived. Cycle times took a huge hit, customers were upset their cars weren’t repaired on time, and the shop was slapped with a four-figure bill to replace the fan and to have the entire spray booth cleaned. “It was terrible,” Krabbe says. “That’s when we opened our eyes and realized we needed to do this more often.”


While Krabbe’s experience may seem extreme, it has the potential to happen to any shop owner. As the economy continues to slump, you may tend to push off regular maintenance checks on your spray booths in an effort to save a few extra dollars. If so, you’re taking a big risk. Not only can your shop’s efficiency plummet if you’re using a spray booth in desperate need of cleaning, but your energy costs can skyrocket since the equipment has to work harder to maintain production levels.

“There are people who are trying to push the limits,
but pushing the limits ends up in a ruined paint job.”

Air filters in particular require regular maintenance checks. “As those filters get dirty, they restrict the amount of air going through the booth,” says Jonathan Barrick, marketing manager for Global Finishing Solutions. “The more the filters get filled up, the more natural gas you need, because you’re running the booth longer. By doing regular filter changes, you use less gas.”

Neglecting to replace air filters can be costly in other ways. “If you don’t keep your filters clean, dirt gets in, and that dirt ends up in the wet paint,” says John Wilson, sales representative for Spray-Tech. He points out that the dirt in the paint could be visible to the customer—resulting in the need for a second paint job.

“This isn’t a worst case scenario either. It happens,” Wilson says. “Automotive paint is exceedingly expensive stuff. By having dirt in the paint, you have to sand, mask, and paint the car again. Not cleaning your spray booth can cost you in labor, in materials and in time—and all that’s money. Unquestionably, there are people who are trying to push the limits, but pushing the limits ends up in a ruined paint job,” not to mention a surge in energy costs to do the same job twice.


Problem is, most shop owners aren’t always aware of how these seemingly common sense maintenance checks can be so vital in minimizing energy costs.

“Seems simple, but they don’t do it because of money, and there’s not a lot of data out there to support how important a maintenance plan is,” says Daniel Bell, preventive maintenance manager for Global Finishing Solutions. “If the data were out there, they’d understand the long-term savings, which are: eliminating downtime, [maintaining] the efficiency of the booth, and keeping it running at optimal performance for energy savings.”

Similar to Wilson, Bell also points out the importance of being sure air filters are changed. He likens the situation to changing the oil in your car. “If those filters aren’t changed, you’re going to gum up that paint booth, and you’re going to kill it. It’s like a car—if you’re not changing your oil for 20,000 miles, the engine is going to seize up,” he says. “Worst case scenario, the whole thing gunks up and it will stop working. It’s expensive at that point to clean. Motors cost $750-1,000. The fan blades are $500-1,000.”

"When the paint booth goes down,
the shop comes to a grinding halt.”

Not only will you have to shell out a lot of money to fix the problem, you’re going to lose money on jobs you could be doing if the spray booth was running at optimal efficiency. Don Putney, president of Collision Equipment Experts, offers a healthy reality check: “When the paint booth goes down, the shop comes to a grinding halt.”


Now, of course, the question is: what and when to clean? Air filters are something shops can replace on their own. Krabbe says his shop changes the spray booth floor filters weekly and the ceiling filters every couple of months. As for bringing in the professionals, Bell says motors and fans in particular need regular inspection. “Overspray on the fan can cause it to not move air as efficiently,” he says. “This can cause the fan to go off balance and that can affect the bearings of the motor.”

The frequency of a professional maintenance check depends upon the size of the shop, Bell says. Most shops tend to schedule maintenance checks quarterly, but high volume shops may need to do so more often. Bell says the key here is really how often you’re regularly performing those replacements on the air filters—if you’re on top of that, you can probably go a bit longer before scheduling a professional cleaning, say six months or so. The manufacturer of your spray booth can provide you with contact information for local service providers. Most of them can perform their cleaning after shop hours or during times when you know you’re least busy.


Setting up a maintenance plan for your spray booth is critical. Having learned the hard way, Krabbe says, “You have to do it. Otherwise when you are busy and your booth goes down, you can’t get the work done, and you’ll lose customers.” With the addition of a new $65,000 spray booth in the shop now, Krabbe will no doubt ensure it’s always clean and running at maximum efficiency. Barrick says it best.

“Preventive maintenance is better than reactionary maintenance—and certainly less costly.”

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