West coast repairer
For the last 25 years we have had universal drive-on benches equipped with laser measuring systems. In recent years we added universal dedicated fixture benches. I can share some insights on the pros and cons of both systems. I can’t comment about differences between the larger frame machines; I have not had the opportunity to use one; we specialize in European vehicles.
In my experience the universal bench excels in the following areas:
*Multiple pulling capabilities
*Heavy side hits. (loosening mounting bolts at pinch weld beam and spreading both beams with ram relieves banana condition)
*Universal setup (You can set up and square any vehicle quickly without data sheet)
Some draw backs I see are in the following areas:
*Pinch weld mounting; very hard to restore pinch welds after repair. We have done many pre-buyer inspections in the past and the first area we look at is the pinch weld.
*Compensation for set up time (Industry in the past was a generic 3 hours to bench and set up). Due to ignorance and competition from the drive-on racks, set up time is now reduced to 2 hours with measuring included.
*Receiving accurate measurements while in the repair process, with some electronic systems needing to be constantly re-calibrated due to shifting of vehicle during pulling operations.
The universal dedicated fixture bench has been our favorite frame bench. I can state that it has been very accurate in the repairs we have done; although it does have negatives, like when we experience repairing a vehicle that is not listed in the bench-manufacturers data base of vehicle specific set up instructions, and you have to convert generic frame specification data from either the Mitchell or Chief Frame Dimension Guide; this can take a little more set-up time to dial in the correct datum height and figure out what fixtures to assemble. Like most things in life, there are no perfect systems but given certain circumstances one can match the vehicle to the correct bench and come away with the best repair.
One disadvantage to consider is that many cars have no pinch welds. There is more room for error with a universal measuring system. Especially if a technician likes to cheat a little.
As I see it, the greatest advantage to the dedicated fixture method is that cars are built/assembled with the dedicated fixtures. While this method does not guarantee a better repair, it is harder to put things on in the wrong place. You almost have to work at messing it up; additionally you cannot pull a point you have anchored to that is out of the specified dimension.
West coast repairer
The discussion continues. Fixture/jig type repair systems may take longer to set up, however, there is peace of mind knowing that an average tech can repair the vehicle properly by the dedicated fixture method. You have to ask yourself why some automobile manufactures require certain types of equipment; there is a reason! And then there is cost! Why insurers (some insurers) are resistant to pay for jig rental still baffles me. They will accept higher premiums on these technically advanced vehicles but want to repair with methods that will not properly repair these cars.
With all of that being said, the universal type clamping and electronic measuring continues to improve, but it is my opinion that there is a greater learning curve with the electronic systems; while taking into consideration that these electronic systems can easily be manipulated. We as owners need to be diligent in ongoing training for our employees, considering all the aspects of the repair method we select. There will never be one system that will be all things to all repairs. Collision shops in the future have to decide which vehicles they will repair and avoid the vehicles they know will not be cost effective due to equipment expense or requirements.
I currently use drive-on universal benches and also a bigger drive-on frame rack. I chose these machines knowing what kind of vehicles I repair (Asian and domestic cars and light trucks). I anticipate that my market will not change in the near future. I agree that the fixed point anchoring and measuring system is superior to the more conventional means of anchoring and measuring, as the fixed point anchoring method allows the repairer to come as close as possible to duplicating the manufactures specifications.
Insurance companies in my opinion are resistant to recognize that the fixed anchoring methods are universal to all unibody constructed vehicles; this is how the vehicle was made. They only recognize what the OEM requires as part of the insurance approval process for repairs. The industry knows fixture rental reimbursements are difficult to get from insurers unless the manufacturer requires the fixture method, doing so with a written statement; such as what BMW and Mercedes do.
I do realize the set-up process for the dedicated fixture method will take longer than setting up a universal bench or other machines, therefore getting fair compensation for a fixed anchoring setup and measure, in my opinion, may not be cost effective for the reasons I cited above. I also feel that the learning curve for a technician learning the frame repair theory and processes may be easier to understand on the dedicated fixed anchoring method verses the more conventional universal bench or frame machine; the fixture method does not required a highly skilled technicians to operate.
I think whether to embrace one method or the other will depend a lot on the vehicle mix that you have. In areas such as ours that is very heavy in pick-ups and SUVs, the drive-on machine and universal measuring seems to work best, not only for the time savings but also for the ability to do multiple pulls.
There is also another factor to look at and that is job size. If the store is doing a lot of heavy jobs involving a great deal of structural replacement then there is great value in the jigging capabilities of the dedicated or universal fixture bench. But if the mix leans toward less intense repairs, then the universal system makes more sense to me as the need for fixtures is less intense.
Lower mid-west repairer
To me, anything other than a light tug to gain a few millimeters gets loaded on one of our dedicated fixture benches. When using the dedicated fixture, the ability to isolate the damaged area is invaluable. The danger of causing collateral or unintended damage during a structural pull is greatly lessened. Plus the fact that we are not dealing with any body and wheel alignment issues, we have yet to have a customer return their vehicle with any body alignment or wheel alignment issues.
The buzz word around dedicated fixtures is “Integrity.” We have experienced just that since we load medium to heavy hits on one of our dedicated fixture benches. Since electronic measuring cannot offer angle or isometric readings for proper parts placement and/or alignment, in my experience with heavier hit repairs, electronic measuring should be a secondary source.