The measure on straightening
With the demands for efficiency at an all-time high within the sector, bodyshop’s Padraig Mallett takes a look at the equipment, tools and training available to ensure accurate, consistent and speedy straightening results.
According to data, the severity of accident damage is reducing and the number of write-offs is increasing. The amount of ‘heavy’ accident work may be decreasing however it is still very much a part of bodyshop daily life. As a result of this change in work type there has been a noticeable shift in the industry towards ensuring vehicles are assessed (measured) correctly from the outset to ensure they follow the correct triage.
Efficiency is also a key focus so that repair times are kept to a minimum. However, it’s important to remember that the speed of diagnosis should not come at any sacrifice to accuracy or quality.
Adding to the specialist nature of measuring and straightening within the repair sector is the increasing range of materials used in modern cars, the amount of metals found in a modern vehicle is forever growing. A quick search reveals that over 25 different types of metal, ranging from manganese to molybdenum, can be found in an average vehicle, repair methods are dictated by the level of the damage sustained by the vehicle and the processes that need to be carried out, meaning specific methodologies and equipment must be used by bodyshops.
In regard to chassis measuring and straightening, aluminium, which is commonly found in newer cars, cannot be pulled, so it has to be replaced. According to Tony Dudley of Car Bench, ‘Now the industry has gone through major changes on repair methods with the introduction of aluminium body there is no straightening, just section replacement.
This means the removal of the damaged section, and replace with a new part held in position on our universal bracket system and either welded or rivet & bonded in place.’
With the introduction of carbon fibre vehicles at the higher end of the market, there are no repair methods it’s simply a case of replacing, ‘however some manufacturers do have repair technicians who will come out to inspect, and on minor damage repair a (flying doctor).’ Said Tony.
Previously reserved for the likes of Ferrari and Lamborghini, of which Car Bench is an exclusive supplier, carbon fibre is now also being introduced into main stream vehicles. ‘A small bodyshop will no longer be able to repair a large percentage of vehicles on the road in a few years to come.’
As a result of this, the industry has seen a number of aluminium and carbon fibre specialist repair shops opening, and many other shops are saying that the work load now consists of a higher percentage on these materials.
Tony added, ‘The straightening of vehicles at some time in the near future will no longer happen (I mean the pulling of damaged sections) on steel repair.’
Unlike some jig systems on the market they require two pull posts, Car Bench only supply one pull post, and in some cases no pull post is supplied, this in itself shows a change in the current repair methods now being used.
The challenge for suppliers is to construct a piece of equipment that can repair many, if not all, makes and models, as well as accommodating anything unexpected that might be found.
A speedy, intelligent diagnosis process can be critical in helping bodyshops reduce repair bills and times. If a vehicle has suffered fairly extensive damage to its steering and suspension system, with the use of a fast alignment system, such as the Hunter HawkEye Elite TD, rather than replacing the entire corner unit, bodyshops can replace individual components and then quickly measure the alignment again.
If the alignment is OK then no further component replacement is needed but if the alignment does not fall within the manufacturer’s specified settings, then the next component can be replaced. By taking this kind of intelligent approach to component replacement, significant time and money can be saved, but this is only possible through the use of a fast diagnostic system.
Car-O-Liner is continually developing innovative new vehicle measuring hardware and software, such as its Point X system and its handEye measuring system, which aids in quick and accurate damage analysis. According to Stuart Alexander, national sales manager at Car-O-Liner, ‘Speed is of the essence to diagnose vehicle damage’.
‘It allows the work to be triaged correctly, whether it is structural or cosmetic, helping to improve key-to-key cycle times.’
Stuart continued, ‘The emphasis today is on measuring with documentation, giving an audit trail. Some original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are insisting on repairers providing post-accident, pre-repair and post–repair printed reports.’
With the introduction of mixed materials in car construction, some OEM’s do not allow any pulling or straightening. However, this does not only apply to prestige marques, as many volume manufacturers are beginning to incorporate more advanced materials in their production making cars lighter and safer.
‘Heavy damage has become very much a niche segment with many mainstream vehicles, with lighter damage being written-off. Prestige models with greater values tend to have a higher threshold before this happens and demand greater levels of sophistication. Thus requiring more advanced repair techniques/methods and equipment levels that are specified by the OEMs. With the pace of change moving more rapidly, a more structured, frequent training schedule is also required for the technicians,’ said Stuart.
The amount of heavy accident work may be in decline, and the tools and training may change as technology progresses, however the emphasis on efficiency remains key throughout. Bodyshops may be forced to purchase new equipment to meet the demands of changing technology but all decisions should be made with careful thought and planning, ensuring that accurate, consistent and speedy results are achieved and that the cost justifies the demand.