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What you need to know about spraying finishes with nitrogen

Tuesday, September 25, 2018 - 07:00
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Consultant Ben Bailey points to three. The first is simple timing. “When nitrogen was becoming more affordable and practical, the industry was already focused on a more pressing issue—converting to waterborne finishes, “he says. “Shops were already being tasked with one significant change. Adding one more seemed excessive even for the best businesses.”

(Photo courtesy of Sherwin-Williams Automotive Finishes) Costs for sandpaper and other materials can be cut since nitrogen spraying typically produces more uniform coats and fewer flaws.

Bailey says this reluctance to “pile changes” on paint departments is also a reflection of how most owners/managers prefer to follow their lead painters in making modifications to this part of a shop’s operations. Painters, he says, like many other workers, tend to be creatures of habit. They prefer to go with what they know before investing in wholesale changes. “When you’re dealing with finishes, you’re taking in multiple considerations and processes at once: prepping, mixing, spray technique, bake times, etc. Why complicate it further with another technology even if it’s an upgrade,” Bailey explains. “You’re already busy enough, so when are you supposed to find the time to experiment with something you may later decide not to adopt?”

Third, many shops still have difficulty quantifying ROI. “A lot of people haven’t been and still don’t look at their numbers, so how can they get a real understanding of any benefits?” Bailey asks. “It can make more sense to keep working a certain way—even if it means fixing flaws and redoing work—since you’re familiar with this process and getting by.”

“Change, even good change, can be intimidating. If you’re already making money, you have even less reason to do something different,” he adds.

Naidoo points to a single cause—cost. He notes that shops pulling in a million dollars a year will see the system’s ROI recovered in a year, which is a remarkable selling point. However, those shops make up a small percentage of the industry market. Most shops make less than $500,000 annually so paying for the system could take an additional year. For those repairers, that’s a big downside. “We’ve looked at lowering pricing every way we can, but it’s a matter of simple volume,” explains Naidoo. “If we sold 50 more a month, we could cut costs in half. That just isn’t happening.”

Should you buy in?

Nitrogen spraying arguably has proven its value for some time. Shops making the transition, by all accounts, aren’t going back to compressed air. Based on the factors Bailey and Naidoo point out, whether other repairers buy in will be based largely on how they measure improvement and if they’re willing to wait for what might be 24 months to see a return on a $20,000 - $30,000 investment.

(Photo courtesy of Sherwin-Williams Automotive Finishes) Painters spray as they normally would, with no need to change application styles.

That’s a tough call for many shops who are already struggling to keep their doors open or to find ways to afford other investments, such as certification. Ironically, cutting waste and building revenue in the paint department could be just the ticket to helping resolve both those issues.

Such is the dilemma repairers face as they review new technological solutions and ask, “What can I afford to invest or potentially risk losing by not buying in?” Once again, shops find themselves asking critical questions for which there are no easy answers, only the need to choose wisely and continue moving forward in some direction to survive.

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