Open any collision industry trade magazine or peruse the latest Repairer Driven News and you may run into a “who pays for what” article. Typically, these articles revolve around opportunities for shops to get paid for non-included operations that other shops usually do not think to charge.
Obviously, you can’t bill an insurance company for paint drying times, but a flat rate shop can take in more jobs if they reduce paint curing times. In theory, this equates to a shop increasing revenue by fixing cars in less time. So how then do you cut down your paint drying times?
The answer is infrared drying.
In your metal shop and your paint shop, completion times come from a published labor time database. Three hours in the metal shop is different from three hours in the paint shop. Speeding up the dry times is a sure road to more paint production, and heat is the key.
Heating an entire paint booth to bake a panel is not always the most efficient in both energy and time. Seventy-five percent of paintwork requires less than one pint of paint, covering only a panel or two.
Raising the paint temperature cures it faster. Regardless of solvent or waterborne, it takes time for the chemical cross-link between the catalyst and the paint resin. The quicker the chemical reaction, the sooner the work can be completed. With Infrared curing, dry times can be reduced by 60 percent over ambient, unassisted dry times when portable heat is carefully applied. Having paintwork cure in less than half the time it takes non-IR painting process is how you gain that extra revenue on each car.
How Infrared Energy Waves Cure Paint
Infrared energy is all around us as part of the electromagnetic spectrum. X-rays and ultraviolet energy waves are not visible since they are below the visible light spectrum, and infrared and short-wave radio waves are above the visible spectrum. We can see neither.
Infrared energy waves come in three types:
Infrared energy waves come in three types:
- Long-wave- (Heat lamps)
- Medium-wave- (Gas Catalytic Drying)
- Short-wave- (Electric Catalytic Drying)
Long-wave infrared isn’t very desirable for curing automotive paints because it tends to heat the top of the paint film rather than penetrate through the paint to the substrate.
Medium-wave infrared will penetrate through the paint film, curing the paint faster than it can heat the substrate. This situation is ideal. By warming the material from the bottom up, the solvents are pushed out into the air. If you heat the top surface first, the solvents are trapped inside the paint film and will burst out causing solvent pop.
Short-wave infrared also heats the substrate, not the surface, but penetrates faster than medium-wave. Short wave can heat so quickly that it’s possible to sizzle the fresh paint. Some short-wave units have a ramp-up setting that feeds the energy onto the surface gradually. Medium-wave units don’t need a ramp-up restriction since they take a few minutes to reach full heat.
Temperature Control Is Key
Today’s auto body infrared heaters have remote-temperature sensors that turn the unit on and off to prevent over-heating the panels.
Most infrared heaters manufacturers recommend placing the lamps a distance between 20 inches and 36 inches away from the panel. Too close and the panel will get too hot, possibly causing solvent pop or hard polishing of the topcoat. Too far away and the panel will not get warm enough, perhaps causing uncured spots.
Operation And Switching Controls
Control switching is the ability to turn on only some bulbs or panels to some specific temperature. More substantial units offer the option of turning on the bulbs or catalytic panels in banks or sections to accommodate smaller jobs.
Gas Catalytic Systems can range from the complex to the more user-friendly. Gascat controls are simple user friendly controls, input a few parameters such as panel, and paint type and the system will do the calculations for you.
IR Wavelength Placement
All infrared heat lights and gas catalytic dryers are line-of-sight only meaning they cure the areas directly in front or below the equipment. The portion of the car directly under the equipment will get hot while the adjacent areas will remain cool.
Most auto body repairs will require moving the infrared at least once to cure paintwork properly. That is a disadvantage to the old electric infrared heaters that you may have used. On some electric units and most gas catalytic units, the panels are mounted to moveable arms or may even contain motors to move along a track.
Why Shops Don’t Use IR To Cure Paint
With all the benefits and time savings to Infrared or gas catalytic drying, why don’t more shops use infrared drying? For some shop owners, it is a lack of education as to the time savings and revenue that you can generate from reducing paint production times.
There can be a reluctance on the part of a busy shop owner to implement a new process, or technology into a system that is working for them. Moreover, in some cases, it can come down to the painters and the shops’ ability to get the tech to use technology properly. It takes strong leadership from management to get old dogs to learn new tricks and to continue to use them. Our distributors can work with you to implement the equipment into your production and help train your painters to adapt to the new procedures.
Are you ready to learn about how gas catalytic drying can extract more revenue for your shop? Fill out the form below to speak with a distributor.