On March 21, Barbara Davies, Autobody News Co-Owner and General Manager, attended Axalta’s Media Day on behalf of Autobody News at Axalta’s customer experience center in Concord, NC.
This was my third year attending the event, the focus of which was “Speed & Accuracy Without Sacrifice.”
Dan Benton, Axalta’s color match manager, started the day by providing an overview of Axalta’s Color Match and Color Theory history.
Benton explained that Axalta has a rich 153-year history of innovation:
• In the 1920s, Axalta developed the first sprayable paint used at a production plant. This reduced paint time from days to hours.
• In 1990, Axalta developed the “Vindicator,” the first digital tool used to select a color formula based on where the vehicle was manufactured. It’s basically the car’s “fingerprint” and identifies where and when a car was made.
• In 2017, Axalta launched its latest innovation, the Acquire™ Quantum EFX spectrophotometer, with Wi-Fi connectivity. This tool allows painters to key in the VIN to generate the exact color formula specific to that vehicle.
Benton then went on to explain the art and science of color-matching. I had never really thought about all the color variations available to painters. All the new colors that we see with their micro-flakes that reflect light so beautifully in different lighting conditions also make it very difficult to determine the exact color match needed to repair a vehicle.
Why Is Color-Matching So Important?
Painters need a precise color formula so they can match the paint color the first time and mix the smallest amount of paint necessary to repair the vehicle. They don’t get paid to remix or paint more of the vehicle than what was damaged. The faster they can get it through the shop, the better for the customer and the shop.
Why Is Color-Matching So Difficult?
What surprised me most was the fact that even though an OEM plant may use the same color mix for a new car line in two different parts of the country, the actual paint color could vary based on the temperature and humidity of each plant.
After the color history overview, Benton brought us outside the training center to get some hands-on experience with how color matching happens in the real world.
Bob Little, Axalta’s customer experience center manager, let us use his own grey Chevy Silverado truck for the demos.
Hands-On Demonstration #1: Fan Deck
Barbara tries out the traditional color fan deck to match the truck color.
Each of the five media participants got a chance to hold the fan deck up to the truck and try to determine the closest match. As easy as that sounds, it wasn’t easy at all. Depending on the angle you looked at the fan deck against the truck, a different paint color in the deck looked like the perfect match. Very frustrating! There was no consensus among the group on the best match.
Even though this type of color-matching is a bit “low-tech,” many painters grew up with it and still use it. They know how to make slight adjustments to come up with the exact color match. This is a skill, and not everyone has it; hence the need for Demo #2.
Hands-On Demonstration #2:
Bob Little, Axalta’s customer experience center manager, assists Barbara with Axalta’s Acquire™ Quantum EFX spectrophotometer, fondly referred to as “the camera,” to take a digital color reading of the truck.
Our next demo involved the use of Axalta’s Acquire™ Quantum EFX spectrophotometer, fondly referred to as “the camera.” We learned that one benefit of the camera over the fan chip is that the camera has a database of tens of thousands of colors, while the fan deck may only have 5,000 total color chips.
Better Wash It First!
Little’s truck looked clean, but we were quickly informed that the first thing a shop needs to do is thoroughly clean the part of the vehicle on which the camera will be used.
We each took a turn using the camera to take a reading of a section of the car. Simple process: Take the picture and plug into the computer, and it pulls up the color match.
Quick Results: The camera has Wi-Fi, so when we went inside the color-mixing room, the results were already there and provided the color mix formula that most closely matched the truck’s paint. This would allow the shop to then mix the specific formula without waste and paint just the section of the vehicle that was damaged. Very efficient! Axalta also offers an automated dispensing system for even greater mixing accuracy.
Some other interesting facts from the day:
• Color Fashion Show: Each year, the five major paint companies (of which Axalta is one) put on a color fashion show of sorts for each of the OEM car manufacturers. In this presentation, they present a “color board” of what colors they believe will be the most popular 2--3 years down the road.
The paint companies’ color teams track fashion trends and other style markers (possibly economic and environmental factors, etc.) and present their color board to the OEM brand design team. After much back-and-forth between the teams, certain colors are selected from each manufacturer, and then each manufacturer is required to formulate each color so they have it available for their shop customers.
• Ports of Entry: When a new model vehicle is released with a new paint color, Axalta and the other paint manufacturers will have people from their laboratories go to rail head or shipping port points of entry and take tens of thousands of camera readings on the actual vehicles coming off the rails or ships. They do this to compare the actual new vehicle reading to what the formula stated so that they can “tweak” their paint formulas if necessary before they provide it to their customers.
After lunch, we met Peter Maier, who creates photorealist paintings of cars. A former employee of General Motors, Maier worked as a senior designer for Cadillac, Pontiac and Chevrolet and went on to pioneer the use of automotive paint in fine art. For example, “1959 Sting Ray” (1996), which is scaled to the exact dimensions of its subject, acquired its shine and saturation of color through more than 20 coats of metallic silver paint. His process of applying layers of color and clear varnish “produces an illusion of depth, surface and saturation not possible with traditional mediums,” Maier said. “Often, my cars and motorcycles look like they are under glass.”
Not surprisingly, Maier uses Axalta paints.
Peter Maier stands in front of one of his paintings.