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New high-strength steel poses challenges for repair time, material costs

Tuesday, November 11, 2014 - 08:00
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The collision repair industry is seeing more vehicles with high-strength steel, posing some new challenges for technicians. As OEMs push to meet future CAFÉ standards, they are looking to new alternative body materials that provide greater strength to meet crash and rollover standards, while also allowing them to lighten the vehicle to reach the 54.5 MPG goal for 2025.  The change in part composition is sure to impact your shop’s repair time and materials cost.  What actions can you take today to improve your processes for tomorrow?

High-strength steel (HHS) parts present a challenge to body shops and body technicians for a number of reasons.  You have limited use of traditional repair methods for applying heat, pulling, hammering and sectioning.  With HSS you must be aware of OEM recommended heating, pulling and sectioning guidelines prior to the repair so you create a repair that matches the vehicle’s original crashworthiness standards.  To create a safe and crashworthy repair, technicians now must use the proper equipment and tools to limit the amount of collateral damage to the host panel during panel disassembly and assembly. 

Let’s take a look at panel disassembly operations.

If you walk into a shop today, body technicians are likely using one of two tools to remove spot welds during disassembly – either a drill or a die grinder.  There are other methods, like an oxyacetylene torch or plasma cutter that may have been used in the past for this operation, but we have finally put those dinosaurs to rest with the drill or die grinder. 

While die grinder or drill both work and get the job done, there are some concerns and negative impacts when using them.  I see many technicians drilling to remove welds on vehicles today.  This is always a challenging process because drill bits do not cut welds efficiently, and it takes a significant amount of time to remove all of the welds in a panel using a drill.  They also have a tendency to damage the host panel, either through over-drilling and drilling into or through the host panel, or by missing a portion of the weld, resulting in tearing the panel when separating with an air chisel. 

This leads to a loss of strength in the part and also extended repair times because the technician spends a significant amount of time repairing and straightening the flange prior to installing a new panel.  Drills and drill bits can also send your material costs through the roof, especially on high-strength steel panels that require hardened drill bits that have a significantly higher cost and tend to have a shorter life span, which requires multiple drill bits per repair. 

If your technicians prefer grinding, you must now be concerned with heat generation and burning of the host panel, which could alter its strength.  There are also concerns with over-grinding and spark control/protection.  To make a long story short, drilling and grinding can get the job done, but there is a much better way to do it. 

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