Training and information on advanced materials is near at hand

Aug. 29, 2016
A review of the current state of new materials repairs points to a number of training options, as well as the paths shops can take to remain competitive in a changing business climate well past 2016.

In the era of 24 hour news cycles, most news stories distill into a series of narrative for the audiences most affected. In the collision repair industry, the new, far stricter CAFE standards announced in 2015 have become a tale of the haves and the have-not. The haves are those shops whose early investment in aluminum work gained them both an edge in competition and earning highly prized memberships in OEM repair certification programs.

The have-nots are everyone else--essentially most of the industry. With stronger, lightweight materials poised to take center stage in a design revolution aimed at carving away vehicle weight, the have-nots are on a tight schedule to get up to speed on new materials repair. Yet nearly two years into this transition, industry leaders like SCRS Executive Director Aaron Schulenberg say notable confusion remains among shops about  what training and other resources are available and which direction repairers should take to enter this new generation of collision work.

(Photo courtesy of Reliable Automotive Equipment) Repairers will need training to handle equipment like the XPress 800 rivet gun, capable of placing 10,000 ft-lbs of pressure on a 6mm rivet tip.

Answers are readily on hand. A review of the current state of new materials repairs points to a number of training options, as well as the paths shops can take to remain competitive in a changing business climate well past 2016.

Available options

I-CAR continues to take steps to make new materials training available throughout the industry. Aluminum GMA (MIG) Welding (WCA03) remains a popular option for shops taking their initial steps in aluminum repair, particularly for the 2016 Ford F-150. Manufacturers such as Infiniti, Acura and Porsche require Gold Class shop designations and Platinum Individual recognition as prerequisites for their materials-focused repair certification networks. The organization continues to integrate its Jaguar and Land Rover training through the Jaguar Authorized Aluminum Repair Network.

I-CAR Industry Technical Support Manager Steve Marks notes two newer courses he believes provide significant benefits to shops looking to gain entry into aluminum and advanced materials work. The first, MIG Brazing Hands-On Skills Development (BRZ02), responds to the growing popularity of MIG brazing among OEMs who Marks says have become confident in the collision repair industry's ability to handle this procedure, which is suited for HSS and UHSS steels. MIG brazing provides bonds created with bronze and silicon wire while using substantially less heat than MIG welding--typically, a drop from 3,000 to 1,940 degrees F.

Damaging heat and loss of zinc corrosion protection are further reduced with the "stitch and "skip" brazing technique. Technicians braze with a series of quick welds followed by cooling stops with 50 percent overlapping.

Marks says brazing has become more important as newer steels are increasingly thinner (though stronger) and thus more prone to repair damage. MIG brazing drastically reduces damage potential through improved heat control and shrinking weld zones.

MIG brazing provides other advantages:

•          Less welding spatter. Because material is transferred into the weld pool without any short-circuiting, the arc is almost entirely free of spatter.

•          Reduced potential for burn through and panel warping from excessive heat.

•          Easier finishing of the welded joint.

•          Improved seal along the joint due to cathodic corrosion protection, which prevents rust "creep" between zinc and steel along cut edges of the panel.

The second course recommended by Marks is Rivet Bonding Hands-On Skills Development

(RVT01), an in-shop "intensive" session on solid steel, aluminum, self-piercing, blind and solid rivets. Students meet certification through a written test.

Marks says parts joining with rivets has moved to the forefront of collision repairs across vehicle brands with the increased production of mixed material vehicle--those utilizing combinations of UHSS, aluminum, carbon fiber and magnesium throughout their structures.

The road to certification

Considering the busy schedules repairers face, navigating the requirements of OEM repair programs can be imposing. Throw in the high costs, and certification can seem nearly impossible. Assured Performance Network has partnered with a number of manufacturers to create a simplified program that puts advanced materials and evolving technology repairs within the reach of motivated shops everywhere.

Utilizing collective requirements and a uniform approach for documentation and inspection, Assured Performance helps repairers meet certification requirements for multiple OEMs at the same time.

"This joint-effort strategy was developed to reduce the redundancy of requirements and the duplication of cost for all sides of the equation," says CEO Scott Biggs. "The interested shop can literally become certified/recognized by several  automakers for one set base price. This approach can save shops tens of thousands of dollars and reduces the complexity of certification significantly."

Additional benefits include: marketing tools, listings on the various OEM shop locators and smart apps, local area press releases and promotions, along with new OEM parts rebates that Biggs says can cover the cost of annual certification and shop upkeep.

Manufacturers like Nissan, Infiniti, Ford, GM and Hyundai. To date, Biggs says Assured Performance has aided 2,000 shops in meeting some form of certification.

Verifacts VQ provides similar inspection, verification services for shops wanting Honda certification.

More information on both is available at and

On the OEM side

Gregg Butts, Technical Trainer of Collision Repair for Mercedes-Benz, says his company has added new types of rivets while moving away from self-piercing versions it has replaced with free flows. The latter can reuse the holes created for the original rivets thereby avoiding what Butts calls the "Swiss cheesing" of parts.

Away from the joint area, OEMs have begun using Flow Drill Screws. The special fasteners are used in the Chevrolet Corvette, the new Ford F-150 and throughout Porsche's model lines. Mike Kukavica, Collision Repair Technology Instructor for Porsche Cars North America, says the screws provide a significant manufacturing advantage since they can be installed from one side of the assembly, making access to the opposite side no longer necessary. That not only makes automated assembly easier, Kukavica says it also reduces production times.

At the same time, these fasteners can increase the complexity of collision repair. According to Dave Gruskos, owner of Reliable Automotive Equipment, these fasteners and others require substantial training and an understanding of installation tools. "Not knowing the proper way to handle rivets can be extremely dangerous," he explains. "You're talking about 10,000 ft. lbs. of pressure being placed on a 6mm tip."

"The gun installing them must be 150 percent stronger to safely exert the pressure," he adds. Both the gun and the rivet also must be made of the same materials as the parts being connected. Further complicating matters, rivets come in a variety of sizes and compositions.

Gruskos's company manufacturers the Xpress 800 rivet gun (approved for Mercedes-Benz repairs), which comes with a set of adapters to accommodate the growing number of fasteners. Gruskos says some now  feature a dot on top that undergoes a hardening process as the rivet is compressed.

(Photo courtesy of GM) The new Cadillac CT6 utilizes a mixed materials structure of steels and aluminum. This increasingly popular design replaces traditional welds with fasteners.

Gruskos says auto manufacturers have become so concerned that rivets are installed correctly that some are taking steps simply to help shops identify the proper replacement rivet. Mercedes-Benz has begun incorporating its brand logo to ensure an approved part is used and not an aftermarket version that could fail. Gruskos believes manufacturers eventually will declare rivets proprietary parts to help eliminate the possibility of a sub-par version being used.

"Right now there's a tremendous amount of concern that the right rivet is being used," he says. "That's only going to increase."

Financial challenges

Before shops can make this concern their own they must first leap some substantial financial hurdles. The XPress 800 costs between $11,000 - $14,000. Shops seeking manufacturer certification, currently a necessity for ordering many structural part, can easily spend as much as $250,000 adding equipment, tools and other requirements such as an aluminum clean.

Even after making this investment, repairers face an equally imposing challenge, receiving sufficient return on their investment

Part of the problem lies with relatively small number of vehicles requiring specialized material repairs on the road today. That will change soon enough over the next decade. Ron Reichen — SCRS Immediate Past Chairman and owner of Precision Body and Paint headquartered in Beaverton, Ore. — sees another issue, low labor rates that can make investment in this work seem impossible.

"The industry needs to adjust pricing to compensate for the considerable cost of continuous training and equipment purchases," he says.

Reichen lays the blame here at the foot of insurers he says have been suppressing labor rates. He believes insurers of luxury brands have started recognizing this issue,  but most underwriting departments have yet to pay attention.  

(Photo courtesy of Ford) Ford worked with Alcoa to produce next-generation automotive aluminum alloys for the 2016 F-150. These alloys can differ significantly from those used in other vehicle brands, Making OEM-specific repair procedures more important than ever in collision work.

The struggles shops face in coming up to speed (due to costs and other reasons) already is showing up in the form of subpar and botched repair. Certified repairers report having to re-do work performed by shops that repaired aluminum and UHSS as though they were traditional steels and in the process damaged the vehicle further.

Kye Yeung, SCRS Vice Chairman and owner of European Motor Car Works in Santa Ana, Calif., points to another phenomena. He says some shops have taken on work they believed they could do only to later  discover damage to structural aluminum or other advanced materials. These shops realize the vehicle has to be turned over to a certified shop. Before sending the vehicle elsewhere, they attempt to compensate for lost work by stripping down the vehicle as much as possible in order to bill insurers for labor hours.

"They load fenders and other parts right into the expensive interiors and box up all the bolts together with no regard to what they're made of," says Yeung. "The result is a longer repair, additional labor and higher costs since more parts have to be replaced."

Reichen believes troubles like these could continue, and the industry will struggle mightily to upgrade unless insurers agree to higher labor compensation. "Eventually, we're all going to have to have this conversation." he says.

Yeung is a bit more optimistic. He says the industry went through a similar "re-set" when manufacturers shifted to unibody vehicles. Then too, shops had to invest in new training, repair practices and equipment. 

Yeung says shops today also have a number of channels to explore when it comes to reducing re-set costs.

"Not every shop will need to spend $250,000. Shops can save a lot by just by buying equipment that is approved by multiple manufacturers," he says.


Repairers searching for similar tips and help can turn to several resources. Schulenberg says the first place shops should start when updating their operations is with manufacturers.  He recommends shops survey their markets to determine what brands and models they should prepare for and then contact the OEMs who can best advise them on their next steps.

More guidance is available from shop associations and companies like Assured Performance Network and Verifacts VQ (see sidebar).

Regardless where they start, Schulenberg says shops need to recognize that new materials repair is becoming more brand specific. "There's a big difference in metal alloys from one manufacturer to another, and the recommended repairs can be very different between OEMs," he says.

This makes training and sticking to manufacturer repair procedures more important than ever. That in itself might be the biggest adjustment the industry at large has to make. Kukavica says for years repairers looked at parts and often figured out on their own the best ways to repair or install them. Those days may have passed forever.

With so much on the line in terms of safety and drivability, there are no longer manufacturer recommendations," says Kukavica. "Those are orders."

It's now up to repairers to listen and act.

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