Going to paint school

A trip to the Sherwin Williams Automotive Refinishing training facility in Chicago.


I had the opportunity to sit in on a Sherwin Williams Automotive Refinishing training course.

Sherwin Williams specializes in manufacturing and distributing a complete line of advanced technology paint and coating systems for automotive and fleet refinishing industries.

Students participate in a three-day course, filled with classroom and hands-on experience, to learn the properties, applications and best practices of how to use Sherwin Williams' Genesis line of paints for fleet applications.

"We offer training to teach the customer how to properly use our fleet finishes, proper spray gun technique, proper cleaning, proper use for our products and proper paint mixing," Sherwin-Williams training specialist Robert Smith explained to me.

After an introduction and discussion on a few different paints and their properties, the class was ready to go out onto the floor for hands-on training. The fleet training area had two paint booths: a crossdraft booth where air flows from left to right, and a downdraft booth where air flows from top to bottom.

In general, a downdraft booth is a more efficient option, as it evenly ventilates and pushes air downward, for an even dry. 

Luke Shantz, a painter from J.W. Hunt Trucking in Bad Axe, Mich., and a participating student, said the course -- two days in -- had been really helpful in understanding the different products available through the Genesis line, and helped him understand the techniques and differences in application. 

Like cutting grass

Never having been in a paint booth or operated any paint gun equipment, I was a little nervous.

Dan Szczepanik, Sherwin-Williams product manager - fleet and manufacturing, explained it's similar to cutting grass. You can see immediate results when you're painting. It's just a matter of getting an even coat. 

Some of the students said I was a natural with the paint gun. I had never done any automotive refinishing in my life -- let alone using fleet paint. 

There were some small drips of paint on my panel, but the other students in the class evaluated my work and said I did pretty darn good for a first-timer. In particular, I was told one-coat metallics are the most difficult paints to spray evenly. 

Students are also required to prep their own panels. That requires sanding and buffing paint from previously painted panels. 

(Check out the full Sherwin Williams Fleet Training photo gallery.)

Once the students complete their hands-on training, Smith will evaluate the panels to determine an even coat, and give suggestions on how to improve application. 

Using new technology

iPads were introduced for use in the classroom last year and are now used instead of printed manuals.

"Before the iPads, we had a gentleman that would assemble all of the 5,500-6,000 pages of manuals," training specialist Robert Smith told me.

Now with the iPads, manuals can be updated more frequently -- and easily. Trainees then receive an electronic version of the manual for their reference and printing specific pages of the manual, instead of taking the whole paper manual home.

After training

Fleets have the opportunity to work with a Sherwin-Williams branch, or have their own computer and scale setup to mix paints on-site.  The company’s Formula Express software -- a tool that enables a search by vehicle, formula, color chip and OEM color code to match paint -- will also keep track of inventory and alert the branch or shop owner when particular paints are running low.

"It tells you exactly how much to mix up by weight," explained Szczepanik. "You print off a label, put that on your can and take it over to the scale."

Since the painter has to mix the paint manually by using a scale (versus having a computer dispense the exact amount of each color to get the desired swatch), human error can sometimes occur. If a user accidently adds a bit more of one color in the mixing process, the scale will read the extra amount added and the computer will adjust the amount of the other paints to add in order to get the desired color. 

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