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Monday, 11 January 2010 14:31

Color Matching or Blending, or Both?

Written by Stefan Gesterkamp

Some things never change. It seems that every couple of months the insurance industry picks an aspect of the collision repair process and tries to change, alter, or ‘massage’ it. This is an obvious attempt to control costs and it is a challenge to the shops, continually justifying our repair methods and procedures. From a business perspective this is perfectly understandable and, depending on the issue, it may even lead to improvements for both parties.

It is easy for me to tell when the focus shifts to a new process. Within a couple of days I receive phone calls from several clients requesting my point of view on the new topic. The latest one that came up is an interesting question and as is often the case, there is no cut and dried answer to any part of it.


The question asked by an insurance carrier was: Why would a body shop have to perform and charge for both color matching and blending on the same repair? This is a fair question to ask.

 

If you’ve never pulled the trigger on a spray gun and tried to produce an undetectable repair yourself, you may easily be able to follow this line of questioning. After all, your insurance business partner is an expert in risk management and claims processing, but not in the actual task of repairing the vehicle.

My quick answer to this question is that not every repair will always require the painter to perform both tasks on the same vehicle. Paint manufacturers spend a large amount of money, resources, and time providing the shops with the best possible matches and the tools to improve the success ratio. As a result, some colors are blendable from the start; others may show an alternative formulation that will result in a blendable match. Variant decks and color match tools have been developed to further help and assist the technician in producing a quality repair. But the reality is that there is no single perfect solution to each and every situation out there.

One of the root causes is the fluctuation of the OEM color accuracy during the manufacturing process. Situations like a change in environment, line speed, different production facilities, and application methods are all factors. Differences in application tools as well as the possibility of a different paint supplier in each plant can also contribute to this problem.

To add some supporting data to this, I contacted Paul Marshal, manager of the BASF Color Laboratory in Whitehouse, OH, and requested formulation data covering the last ten years of OEM production. Here are the results:

In the last ten years there were 14,980 new original colors introduced to the US market. These new color codes resulted in an additional number of 29,148 variants, bringing the formulation total to 54,128. At a glance, this doesn’t seem to be too bad, averaging at a rate of 1.9 variants per code. But after digging into the data deeper, you discover a different picture. A good portion of the colors were limited in their application. These limited applications include cladding, bumper, and underhood colors and hardly any of those required a variant. I asked Paul to supply me with example color codes that show a severe drift during production, resulting in a higher then normal number of variants. It turns out that there are a lot to choose from and Nissan’s code KYO emerged as one of them, requiring BASF, for example, to produce the stunning number of 18 variants year to day.

Of course, working on a vehicle that may have been repaired prior to the arrival at your shop surely doesn’t help either. One other issue that makes it difficult at times is the occasional discontinuation of a crucial pigment by its manufacturer. It is not unusual that a certain pigment is only manufactured by a single source and if the manufacturer decides to stop production on this product, paint manufacturers everywhere will be forced to find alternative solutions. These alternative solutions will not always result in a perfect replacement. As you can see, the list of reasons for differences is long and dealing with it at the refinish level can be challenging at times.

In my 27 years in the paint industry, I can clearly say that blending is a must on just about every repair if an undetectable repair is to be the outcome. The idea that you could paint a bumper off the car, without blending the fenders or quarters at the same time and truly expecting to achieve an undetectable repair is wishful thinking.     One of the questions we need to ask as an industry is; are the options provided by the paint manufacturers always blendable in each and every situation? In reality, the answer is most likely not, even if some painters claim that they could blend almost any color, as long as they are given as many panels as needed to blend.

The second question is: Can every color be tinted to perfection? The answer here is probably yes, but at what cost? In many cases it could consume unrealistic amounts of time. Time the insurer and customer would have to give up in cycle time. Resulting in increased spending on rental car coverage and decreased satisfaction ratios on the customer’s part.

Let’s take a look at our options. Increasing the blend area past one panel, if needed, or spending many hours tinting and spraying test panels until you finally get it right? Does any of this really sound like a good idea or a valid option? The common goal for both insurers and shops is to create an invisible repair as fast, as small, and as cost effective as possible.

In the interest of this common goal, it is in the best interest of all parties to consider what I like to call a “match to blend” policy. History has proven that anytime we dismiss the value of utilizing all available options and techniques, the end result is in general of lower quality.

As I stated at the beginning, not all vehicles will need it, but most would benefit from it. Pre-accident condition is the promise that was made to the consumer. Even if you can get away with painting a fender and blending the door and hood with a marginal matching color, are we really living up to this promise? We must ask how many times have we delivered such a vehicle and the customer left happy, just to return a couple weeks later, after friends or neighbors looked at the car and realized that something was slightly off. A combination of all available options is the right approach and would have in all likelihood prevented this comeback. The last time I checked, comebacks are bad for insurers and body shops alike.

Consumers today have high expectations of quality final product returned to them after an accident. They will judge the quality of the complete repair based on the first impression they get when walking up to their vehicle. Color accuracy is the first thing they see.

It is my personal belief—and I hope your’s too—that as an industry: insurer; repairer; or supplier; we all need to put our best feet forward and take advantage of all we can offer to the consumer. It is in everyone’s best interest to make the repair as satisfying as possible. That doesn’t mean making it more expensive, but it does mean spending what’s necessary.

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