Collision: Repair or Replace?
Collision repair and replace considerations are changing faster than ever.
In nature, Darwin's "survival of the fittest" principle rules. This also holds true in the world of automobile design, construction and repair. The rate of change, in terms of sheer volume and complexity, is increasing exponentially. It is no longer a world where the collision industry can wait until change arrives at a shop. Facilities must confront change head-on.
Safety Is a Change Agent
Market pressures spur original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to consider new material, design, manufacturing and technological choices. OEMs seek to reduce mass, development time and costs while meeting fuel economy, emission and safety standards. Driver and vehicle safety are key considerations. "I'm concerned that vehicle owners who have been in an accident are unaware that replacing a part with one not designed by the manufacturer may compromise the safety of vehicle occupants in a subsequent collision," says Rep. Jackie Speier, (D-Calif.). Others share that concern.
Price often drives replacement part decisions, rather than quality or safety; wide differences in parts materials result that may not restore a customer's vehicle to its original crash ratings. Documented cases include poor quality pillars and sills, vehicle hoods without proper crumple zones and substandard suspension parts.
"Although the Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2010 is slowly moving through the Congress, it does not address issues related to replacement crash parts," explains Bob Redding, ASA's Washington, D.C., representative. "Recently, the federal General Accounting Office concluded that the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) has broad authority to set safety standards for aftermarket crash parts. ASA has asked the Congress to consider mandating a role for NHTSA and the review of replacement crash parts."
Setting certification standards for legitimate OE and aftermarket parts may help, but the widening problem of counterfeit, substandard quality parts will continue to be problem. Bottom line: facilities need to inspect the integrity of incoming replacement parts, regardless of source. Failure to do so can create potentially devastating liability and business reputation risk should a misrepaired vehicle return to the street and be involved in a future collision.
"We're striving for more of a discernment of the level of quality of aftermarket parts," adds Denise Caspersen, ASA Collision Division manager. "Collision facilities are not metallurgists, but they can become more aware and informed about the differences between OE and aftermarket parts, learn to ask the right questions of their parts sources and learn to more effectively disclose parts quality concerns to customers."
Living in a "Multimaterial" World
"The use of advanced materials offers automakers structural strength at a reduced weight to help improve fuel economy and meet safety and durability requirements," says Robert Parker, director of product communications at Ford Motor Co. These include new types of ultra high strength steels (UHSS), such as boron alloy steel, other metals (e.g. aluminum, magnesium, and titanium), shape metal alloys, carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRPs), thermoplastics, foams, composites and nanomaterials.
On a cost-per-pound basis, conventional mild steel costs about $.25. By comparison, AHSS and UHSS cost approximately $0.30 to $0.35, aluminum $1 per pound, magnesium $2 per pound and carbon fiber-reinforced plastics (CFRPs) can exceed $6. These new materials continue to replace mild steel, as a percentage of new vehicle content.
In 2004, for example, General Motors used just 10,000 tons of AHSS; in 2010, it will use more than 120,000 tons - a 12-fold increase in just six years. Audi AG employs an all-aluminum spaceframe (with just a touch of magnesium) in several production models. In addition, Oak Ridge National Laboratory is developing low-cost carbon fiber for automotive applications and says it has already driven small-scale manufacturing cost below $4 per pound.
"The collision industry has not seen a movement like higher strength materials since the advent of the unibody almost 20 years ago," says Jason Bartanen, I-CAR technical director. Just as AHSS and UHSS are replacing conventional steel, new materials that provide a better solution are now being used.
Repairers Need to Get Educated About New Materials
"Steels and other materials are going to continue to get lighter, thinner and stronger," Bartanen advises. "Repairers have to evolve. They need to understand new technologies that are coming, ensure they have the most current repair information, adopt new equipment and learn the related skills to be able to restore new vehicles back to their pre-accident five-star safety ratings."
Vehicle electrification is another area that is infiltrating collision repair. "Hybrid powertrains and electronics such as collision avoidance systems are becoming more prevalent in vehicles," notes Bartanen. "To ensure a complete and safe repair, repairers have to learn to identify all relevant components, understand how they function, ascertain what parts to replace, know where to position them properly and calibrate their functionality."
Relying on knowledge that is anchored too far in the past will no longer carry a shop forward. For training and continuing education to be successful for repair shops today, collision repairers must be increasingly dynamic and evolve over time to meet inbound challenges. Recognizing that change is coming is not enough. Collision facilities must identify training that matters and then acquire and update it when necessary.
In July 2010, I-CAR unveiled a redesigned, role-based training curriculum for collision professionals, which aims to keep collision repairers in step with accelerating change. It will require professionals to engage in continuing education to maintain competency. The annual International Autobody Congress and Exposition (NACE) event also provides collision repairers the opportunity to receive "must-know-now" training, meet key industry exhibitors, view new equipment, learn associated repair techniques and observe key demonstrations regarding new advanced materials and technologies.
New geometries, connection points, and joining technology, for example, are just some of the considerations professionals must keep pace with. Joining aluminum and steel may involve punch riveting, clinching, adhesive bonding, self-tapping screws or laser welding. Heating new boron-infused steel makes it brittle, which could lead to an unsafe vehicle returning to the street. In addition, components made from a blend of steel and aluminum, in the presence of heat and moisture, can create potential for a thermite explosion.
Cutting-edge Technology Drives Solutions
OEMs employ cutting-edge technologies that optimize solutions in less time. These include new computer-assisted engineering and design processes, sophisticated simulation techniques, high-capacity computers, lightweight construction and modular multivehicle architectures.
Biology and mechanics have converged into a design force known as bionics, wherein OEMs apply lessons learned from nature to improve the design of vehicle components, systems, structures and function. Topology optimization is another rising force that is driving material change toward collision facilities. Using special software on computers with fast computational speed and capacity, this process simultaneously considers the huge number of variables that need to be optimized for the best possible vehicle weight-safety-performance-cost solution.
Peter Hougardy, an Audi AG design and development engineer, cites two evolutionary analogies that OEMs use today: To better dissipate energy in a crash, load paths are patterned after bone structures. In addition, to minimize weight for the forces
Inbound Change Can No Longer Be Ignored
Collision facilities must strive to be "fit to repair" on an ongoing basis. Motorists need facilities whose shops and technicians remain prepared and competent, regardless of change.
Lagging and then expecting others to top-up one's competency gap simply does not serve customers. It is yesterday's business model and will soon be extinct. The new market reality today is "adapt or die, sooner." The new paradigm is one based on the industry - from automakers through to those who repair vehicles - moving in tandem to understand the new materials and processes entering mainstream collision repair. It's even conceivable that the days of a collision shop being able to repair any vehicle make and model may evolve into an era where a facility specializes in just the brands it maintains the full competency level to repair properly.
"Collision repairers will see these newer vehicles long before independent mechanical repairers, so they need access to the same service information and collision training as franchised new car dealers," Redding explains. "The National Automotive Service Task Force (NASTF) is the right mechanism to work with the automakers and others to ensure the collision industry has the best and latest information because all segments of the industry are at the table in a voluntary, transparent and cooperative process."
Industry-wide collaboration can shorten the collision repair learning curve in the fast-changing collision repair environment. Dialogue can provide an opportunity to include repair considerations earlier in a vehicle's development. Get involved through your association and leverage participation in those organizations that funnel the necessary information, tools and training to you. Step up and help the NASTF Collision Committee mobilize to work with OEMs to maintain and improve your facility's repair readiness. Engage your future. Like collision repair has always been, it's in your hands.
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