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New materials, manufacturing techniques make training more important than ever

Friday, November 16, 2012 - 13:18
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Technicians must understand how to work with the new metals, plastics and adhesives when repairing today's vehicles. The old standard of using MIG welding for all repairs is no longer suitable. AHSS are extremely heat sensitive and MIG welders, which generate intense heat and sparks, can overheat the AHSS and burn the adhesive.

New repair procedures such as MIG brazing or squeeze-type resistance spot welders (STRSW) are replacing MIG welding for some repair work. MIG brazing joins metal by filling the gap between parts without affecting the parent metal. Because MIG brazing is done at a much lower temperature than MIG welding, it will not remove the AHSS anti-corrosion properties or weaken the surrounding steel. With squeeze-type welders, less heat is built up during the welding process, allowing the technician to weld through adhesives without losing the adhesive's structural value. Squeeze-type welding is recommended by many OEMs for proper repair when using adhesives.

Weld-through adhesives, used as a joint sealer for structural integrity, are becoming increasingly popular in car manufacturing. In this procedure, adhesives are placed into a joint and welded. Adhesives are specified for repair by many OEMs for weld-bonding structural or non-structural body panels, rails or reinforcements during repair procedures. Automotive repair adhesives are used to restore and return vehicles to pre-accident condition, and are formulated to repair all types of automotive substrates. Body shops should use the same adhesive technology as the OEMs whenever possible. Training also is recommended to teach technicians how to properly use the adhesives to keep up with the number of rapidly growing applications for adhesives in OEM assembly operations.

Training is crucial

The ultimate goal in effective auto body repair is to return the vehicle as close as possible to pre-accident condition. Therefore, it's important to repair a car according to the manufacturer's specifications and to use the proper repair procedures. After a car has been in a collision, it's imperative that the repaired car maintains the strength to protect passengers in the event of another accident. Repairing a car improperly could affect the energy – the inertia – of a collision impact and possibly affect airbag timing.

Using the wrong repair products or repair methods could slow the inertia, affecting the airbag sensors, which could lead to the airbags firing late. In that "one-hundredths-of-a-second" – so fast that it is not noticeable to the eye – a passenger could be hurt. The repair technician must be certain that the safety features will function properly; that the safety features will react as quickly as necessary after the car is repaired. Without proper training, a repair technician may not be able to provide these results.

As an example of the importance of training, let's compare a 2007 or 2008 vehicle with a similar model from 2011 or 2012. Put them side by side, in the same color, and they almost look identical. But in that time period, the cars might have been made out of an entirely different metal, with safety systems in the new cars that were not included in the older models. The cars might appear to be identical, but the engineering changes are significant enough to warrant up-to-date training for the repair technician.

Keeping current with auto body repair trends also is important for the auto body shop business owner. Car insurance companies have a vested interest in proper car repair procedures and technician training. Most major insurance carriers have direct repair programs (DRPs). To be listed in a program as a preferred repair shop, the business must meet the insurance company's standards for effective, efficient collision repair processes.

Formal and continued collision repair training also is crucial to job security in the industry. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, employers generally prefer automotive service technicians and mechanics who have completed a formal training program in a postsecondary institution. Employment of automotive service technicians and mechanics is expected to grow 17 percent through 2020. The increasing lifespan of late-model cars and light trucks will increase the demand for qualified technicians.

The Department of Labor's "Occupational Outlook Handbook" states that job opportunities for qualified applicants should be very good as some employers report difficulty finding workers with the right skills and education. Job seekers who have completed formal postsecondary training programs should enjoy the best prospects. Those without formal automotive training are likely to face strong competition for entry-level jobs.

Finding repair sources

So how do the aftermarket repair shop and its technicians find the information on the latest car repair trends and training programs? There are several sources such as OEMs, auto body repair websites, I-CAR, secondary education facilities and suppliers of body repair products. Learning to become an auto body repair technician is not a one-time endeavor; it's an ongoing process that must be continued throughout the technician's career.

There are numerous website sources that feature the latest auto body repair techniques. Most of these can be accessed for free, although some are fee-based. While it is recommended to go directly to the OEM source for repair information, in the past, free auto body repair data has not always been readily available from the major vehicle manufacturers. Although this is changing as the OEMs become aware of the importance of providing proper repair procedures, there are many independent sources that offer up-to-date information.

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