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A tale of two technologies

Two infrared drying technologies—gas catalytic and electric—both offer benefits, challenges to shops
Friday, November 6, 2015 - 08:00
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The exciting story of infrared (IR) drying technology for collision repair began more than 3 decades ago in Europe. The North American chapter for the latest IR technology is just beginning. Though IR drying technology has been around since the 1940’s, its modern day version was born in Italy in the late 1980's at a time when Italian collision repair shops were losing money on nearly every repair.

As they say, necessity is the mother of invention and Italian repair shops needed to drastically eliminate hours from their repair process or they would not survive. So, Italian manufacturers borrowed successful IR drying technology from the paper and printing industry and adapted it for use in collision repair shops. IR reduced the drying time for both the prep and the paint phases of the repair by 75%-90%, which not only allowed Italian repair shops to survive, but begin to thrive.

The first IR curing for collision repair utilized electric technology developed by a Swedish manufacturer. Bellini brought it to the Italian market in 1989. Bellini’s success with electric IR led other equipment manufacturers to work on a gas catalytic option for the collision repair industry. Gas was and continues to be cheaper than electricity in Italy. Also, gas catalytic equipment was already being used extensively for heating, so it was a “quick win” for these companies to develop it for drying auto repairs. With electric IR curing technology winning far greater collision repair shop use in Italy, the gas catalytic manufacturers turned to promoting their IR technology in other countries. The incredible time and cost savings from accelerating the drying process for collision repair helped both electric and gas catalytic IR technology grow throughout Europe.

Use of IR technology has just started growing in North America. Up to now, there has been a lot more written about gas catalytic IR drying systems than electric IR curing systems. Why? Many machines are of Italian design due to the history mentioned earlier and most use gas catalytic as an energy source. However, gas catalytic is not the only IR technology available. Electric IR technology is available and delivers some nice advantages, thanks to careful refinement of its solution over a longer time in-market. 

IR Drying Technology Transforming Collision Repair

Let’s start with a review of the overall advantages of IR drying technology, whether gas catalytic or electric. It’s important to note that IR technology will continue to grow in the North American collision repair industry because of its economic advantages. In most cases, repair shops that install the technology realize substantial gains in paint shop throughput due to highly reduced cycle times. The throughput gains, energy cost savings and quality improvements of IR technology are making it a must-have for the highly competitive repair industry.

With IR technology, drying time for both the prep and paint phases of repair can be reduced by hours, which frees up valuable skilled technicians to accomplish additional repairs. Plus, IR energy costs are a fraction of the energy costs to run a conventional system. These savings come from being able to concentrate the drying energy on just the panels needing repair and from the ability of the technology to dry both fillers and coatings much quicker.

With IR technology, there is no need to add expensive accelerators to speed dry time. The exceptionally fast drying time from IR technology allows for high quality results that reduce the need for rework. Additionally, some control systems on the IR units are advanced and precise, yet easy to operate. This also helps reduce rework and increase productivity. Though not inexpensive, the IR drying systems’ investment is quickly paid back due to the increased paint shop throughput and incremental cost saves. In our experience with REVO installations, repair shops have seen paint shop throughput increases up to 80% with paybacks in less than one year. 

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