Nathan: How long did it take your entire paint department to successfully transition to waterborne basecoat?
Mike Ernst: We transitioned in the middle of November 07 [so about 3 months] and we’ve seen our efficiencies go down about 20% or so. We’re still spraying some solvent for jams. We’re spraying exclusively water in the booth on bodies and it’s definitely a work in progress. There are a lot of things to sort out. We’re still using solvent on the jams.
Benjamin Mercado: We’ve done it almost 1 year since March. We took about a week to change completely.
Nathan: Did you feel that you were successful within one week?
Benjamin: Well, yes, but the production is not the same. We need to figure out how to work the system.
Nathan: So you weren’t necessarily having problems but your production was a little bit less?
Benjamin: Especially now, in the wintertime, when it’s cold. It takes more time to dry the paint. We’re only using the bake, in a heated booth.
Mike Townley: We did one booth at a time, and side by side we transitioned the solvent out. There’s a lot to change mentally. Especially for painters who have been in the business [a while]. Everybody’s receptive to it, but there things that they’re not used to. It’s just like anything else when you change an SOP, but so far so good.
Benjamin: We think the best way to do it is to just take the solvent out. That’s the way BASF did it to me, take the solvent out and start with 90 line. We had about three days of support when we did it. The first week was hard. That week was scary because we had new toners, and had to find a new way to do the jams.
Jim Marko: We’ve been transitioned for about nine months. It’s definitely been a change, including changing painters. There’s definitely a difference between waterborne and solvent based on the dry time, the flash time. We’ve had some problems with dirt because of the air flow. It’s been a good product, however we are still making some adjustments.
Nathan: So if there’s more dirt it’s perfect timing for the database providers to change color, sand, buff to denib and polish for less time, right?
Yes, that’s one of the things we’re seeing some of the estimates with the insurance companies. They are cutting back on color, sand, and buff to denib and polish, which changes our whole situation.
Greg Gunter: I’ve got two shops. One of them I’ve changed over the other I haven’t. Our painter came back after taking the Christmas week off and everything had changed [laughter]. So after six weeks he’s doing better, but production is down. He’s bought about three guns so he doesn’t have to clean everything as thoroughly. He has a silver gun and a dark gun, etc. and he’s pretty innovative, but it’s definitely cut production [so far].
Rudy Romero: We thought about exactly how to map this thing out without any failures. We have six painters, seven downdraft booths and prep stations, 15 people in that paint department, so one little hiccup was going to cause us a big, big problem.
We average about $1.35M a month in total sales, and the worst place for us to have a bottleneck would be in the paint department. We got together with our paint manufacturer and our jobber over about a year. We learned from the last waterborne meetings that you can’t go into it halfway. We heard that if you didn’t have the paint booths and the whole conversion of the mechanical side done before you converted to water you set yourself up for failure. We converted the paint booths a hundred percent in about three weeks time. There’s a lot of equipment and a lot of coordination that went on a shop of our size, but converting went down pretty quick. We trained at the training center with all my management staff and painters and painters helpers one Saturday. PPG committed the whole training center to us for that day. We went in with a focus to not just use the system, I wanted our people to use go in there and abuse it. I wanted them to go in there and make it fail, to find out if you get dirt, or if you get a fisheye in the middle of spraying, how do you fix it in real life? That helped us a whole bunch. [The painters] had the crutch over there [solvent] but weren’t allowed to run to it. We had one paint technician tied to each painter and they were attached at the hip for about a week.
The 2nd Saturday they came in and completely gutted our second booth and took all the rest of the solvent out, so that within seven days time, our shop was 100% water. We stayed within the same paint line for clear and primer.
Without the coordination from everyone: the booth manufacturer, the paint manufacturer and the jobber—they are our team members—we wouldn’t have been successful.
The month we converted we actually increased from our average of $1.35 million a month to $1.42 million in sales. So you can do it without a major hiccup. It just takes proper planning, and you have to spend the money to do it. You can’t leave the crutch in the system. Rob Lecerte from Finish master was a huge help. I thought for sure we’d go back a couple hundred thousand in sales but Rob was in there sometimes till 10 o’clock at night and the paint people stuck side by side with the techs. If you don’t do that, it won’t be successful. It really won’t.
Nathan: Thanks for the perspective from a mega shop.
John Hendricks: I personally have converted about six of our shops. Each one took less than a week to set up some equipment couple of days working with a painter showing in the spraying but by the end of the week my guys are going waterborne all the way. For me it was simple. Hands on teaching treatment showing them how to pick it up [works] and they get it, but I still have a couple of shops to go. Our big shops are next and we might step up some more equipment in a bigger shops to get more air movement.
Nathan: Did you do that [in stages] because you wanted to get rid of the solvent?
John: Yes, we did the small shops first and took the leftover solvent and sent it to the big shops to use up our inventory.
Nathan: What is your car count, and how has it changed?
Mike Ernst: We were doing six solvent per day, now down to about four water-based.
Dan: We were shooting 5—6 cycles are they were ranked five a day. We were doing seven, now we’re doing five.
Mike: We don’t have a measurable difference of experience so we don’t have a measurable change from our painters, but for the most part we have not seen a decline in productivity at this point.
Jim Marko: We’re down a little bit, from six to about four or five a day in adapting to water-based.
Greg: From six to about five.
Rudy: We were on average about 30 cars a day. We’re down to about 25–27 vehicles, but only because of the J-curve. It’s just getting used to the product. We actually believe that for some of our smaller repairs the flash time is faster, with the [right] equipment in place.
John Kendricks: I’d say small jobs we can do about the same pace but for big jobs one less car, per booth, per day.
Nathan: What kind of equipment or upgrades did you have to invest in, and how much did it cost?
John: We made sure each shop had a screw compressor. We bought handhelds and trees stands and switched to high flow fittings. That really helped the handheld blowers. Just changing the high flow fittings cost under $1000 and everybody knows what handhelds and trees costs.
Nathan: Why did you switch to the screw-type compressors?
John: We had a couple shops that had piston compressors and those might struggle with the handheld blowers. They will run nonstop.
Nathan: So the reality is you’re using a lot more CFMs in these blow guns and you might need to upgrade your supply?
John: You are. You’re going to need a screw [laughter].
Rudy: You owe it to yourself to go and look at everything but we went with the same manufacturer with our Global Finishing Systems’ AdvancedCure.
We might’ve overdone it a bit but that’s one of the biggest keys to our success. If you’re not moving the air, you’re not going to flash. You’re not going to get the water out of the system. It can be cold or hot outside, it doesn‘t matter, as long as what’s going on inside the cabin is controlled. The filters and systems that are inside that AdvanceCure, have also stopped some of our dirt-in-the-paint problems. We did also go with handhelds and some trees. We went overkill on the equipment so there was no room for failure and the paint system couldn’t be blamed. As for equipment pricing, you guys have to negotiate your own good deal.
Greg: I set up my converted shop to switch to the Garmat ceiling fans, and lot of handhelds. I already had a good screw compressor and a good dryer. It was about $15,000 for each booth. My painter did upgrade his SATA guns.
Jim: We had to add some handhelds and tree stands for the air flow. There is also some investment in drums for the hazardous waste. You have to have a separate waste bin for the water and the solvent, so there’s additional costs involved with the hazardous waste and again the wetting down at the booth.
John: We have four booths, with two handhelds in each booth. The air is probably the most important. If you don’t have a screw compressor, you’re going to struggle. The last booth that we converted had two 5 hp piston compressors and we’re going to have to purchase a screw-type now because when these venturis are running, it’s like putting a bullet through your tank. You find your pressure drops too severely. So my suggestion would be to spend as much on [air upgrading] as you can afford. Make sure you don’t have a drop in pressure and make sure you have clean air.
Benjamin: We’ve only spent about $150 for the stands. We do have a heated booth though.
Dan: Two NACE’s ago, we listened to a refinish engineer named Jay Schuster talk, and at the time I didn’t really understand the variables with respect to flash time. You can look at time, temperature, humidity and air velocity. And if you look at the formula, it’s very obvious where you should pay attention. It’s on the air velocity. You absolutely have to monitor the air velocity over the car. That’s really where you want to go.
With respect to the pistons versus the screw you get about three CFM per horsepower out of the pistons and about four out of the rotary, so you pick up a big gain right there with respect to your electrical bill. You do need a lot of air if you’re using handhelds, which we started out with. I don’t like my painter sitting around holding an air gun. I don’t like the fact that you’re getting incomplete coverage of the car if you’re just using trees, and I’d rather have my painter doing things besides that. We did go with the AdvanceCure conversion and I really like that a lot. I would encourage everybody in the room to take some field trips, go to some training centers. Start taking some measurements in your booths with respect to the air flow.
You absolutely have got to have maintenance in your booth, tiptop. You’ve got to have a breathing, living booth. It’s much different from a solvent-based product. If you’ve got good maintenance, your intake filters, your ceiling filters, and floor filters, you should have some baseline readings for how much air is traveling.
Question: How much are you looking for?
Dan: It’s going to vary. You should start with what you’ve got and then see what your booth can max out with, once all the filters are changed and everything’s clean. We’re looking at 250 feet per minute linear measurement at the pit. I think balancing your booth is important, and we’re waiting for some help with that, but with respect to this engineer’s formula, airflow is critical.
Nathan: What kind of equipment or upgrades did you have to invest in and roughly what did it cost?
Mike: In anticipation of adding a second booth, we went in with a really tight budget so we just did the spray guns, all plastic spray gun cups, mixing cups, separate water gun cleaner, added separate waste stream removal, added the handhelds and stands. Two weeks in, in the middle of the transition, we killed one of our compressors. We had three and one died. So we went to a screw [compressor], which ran about $15,000.
Robert: We converted a couple of our spray booths a little over a year ago, around November ‘06. Since then we’ve converted several more, with both the ceiling-mounted fans and the corner units for our normal downdraft spray booths and we do have one cross flow but we didn’t do anything there because the air flow seemed to be adequate.
There is a pretty good range on costs due to varying need for maintenance—the booths need to be in good condition. You’re introducing so much air flow in that booth that if it’s just in average condition the quality of the painting is going to go down dramatically. There are those soft costs that we don’t realize [at first]. The amount of polishing, and the final prep that you don’t notice at the get-go. then you start seeing that you even have a lot more labor involved. It’s somewhere in the order of $20,000 for the booth plus all the other issues.
Nathan: I don’t think everybody in Southern California already has a heated booth. I didn’t have one for six years, so that’s probably a minimum of another $10—15,000 investment if you don’t. Does anyone feel that it would be possible to spray waterborne without a heated spray booth?
Answer: Yes, in the summer you can do without it, but not in the winter.
Rudy: It depends what kind of climate you’re in. Closer to the beach you’re going to have a higher humidity level and with waterborne paint heat may have something to do with it, sure, but most of it is air movement.
If you go at wash your garage floor in winter it’s not going to dry fast, but if you break out your gas-powered leaf blower it’s going to dry. It may be advantageous to have a heater but, if not, I would suggest you advance the air movement even more, but the humidity also affects it. If you’re on a mountain versus a valley you’re in a different humidity zone.
Robert: We’re painting about the same number of cars, but the advantage of the heated booth is throughput. We’re spending extra to get that throughput to match our higher goals. In addition to the fans in the booth, the other costs are the airflow tools, the little handhelds—those things consume something between 15 to 20 CFM and if you run those continuously your compressor [is loaded]. So with those running and a cross flow booth without heat you definitely have to spend some money on airflow and electricity for compressors. It’s a trade off.
You will find out very quickly when you start spraying how well you maintain your booth. It’s best to look into it now, so you won’t have to find out on the back end.
The second half of the panel discussion will be published in ABN, Western-April, in PART THREE of our Paint Primer. Part Two is already published online.