Thursday, 07 April 2016 22:39

MN Body Shop Going Green One Paint Job at a Time


Courtney Swanson and Mark Beer are pictured inside the paint room at Wayne’s Auto Body. They recently converted the shop to use all water-based paint to reduce the VOCs they produce.
Hastings Star Gazette photo by Katrina Styx

Wayne’s Auto Body in Hastings took a big step toward being more environmentally friendly. The business made some big changes in its operations in order to reduce the amount of VOCs it produces.

VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, are chemicals that become airborne and add to air pollution. As an auto body repair business, Wayne’s does a substantial amount of work with paint, and the solvent-based paint that many auto body shops use contains VOCs.

But last year, Wayne’s owner, Mark Beer, found out about a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency grant, which was being offered to small businesses for the express purpose of reducing VOCs. Wayne’s applied for the grant, and was issued just shy of $25,000 last June.

Since then, Wayne’s has been at work upgrading its operations. The basic change was a switch from solvent-based to water-based paint, but there was a lot more involved than simply replacing some paint canisters.

They had to reconstruct their drying booth, adding new air blowers and nozzles so that the new paint would dry properly. They had to get a new paint gun designed to work with water-based paint. They had to get a new air compressor, a new paint mixing bank, new training for their in-house painter. And, of course, they had to replace all their old solvent-based paint with water-based paint.

“We just basically switched everything over to water,” Beer said.

And it’s all in the name of being a little greener in how they do business.

“We’re trying to reduce the pollution,” said Courtney Swanson, who also works at Wayne’s and has been helping with the transition.

And so far, they’ve done just that. One of the most noticeable effects is that the shop has a much weaker paint smell than ever, and that’s something that many customers have noticed, Swanson said.

Wayne’s has been keeping track of the details, too. They tracked their VOC output for three months before making the switch and three months after. In just three months, they were able to reduce their VOCs by 35 parts per million per month, Swanson said, and they’ve also reduced how much paint they use by about 30 gallons a month.

And those aren’t the only benefits the business has seen. Because water-based paint dries faster, they’ve been able to speed up productivity, Beer said. They’re also getting better color matches with the new paint. Many major auto manufacturers have been using water-based paint for five to 10 years already, so now Wayne’s is able to use the same original colors when working on a repair. It’s also translated into lower electricity and utility bills.

“We didn’t figure that,” Beer admitted.

“We didn’t figure the savings,” Swanson agreed. “But overall it’s helping everything.”

Plus, they expect to see more cost reductions in the future as they get more proficient with their new equipment and processes.

The big question, then, is why aren’t more auto body shops making the transition? The answer is twofold; first, solvent-based paint is what the industry is used to, Beer said. Plus, it’s a big up-front cost to update all the equipment.

“And a lot of shops can’t afford to do it,” he said.

Even Wayne’s wouldn’t have been able to make the change as quickly as it has, he said. Although it’s a change he would have eventually made, it might have taken two or three years to come up with the funds on his own.

That’s why the grant was so important.

Beer and Swanson are hoping that their success will encourage other body shops to do the same. There’s another round of MPCA grants coming up, Beer said.

“They’re trying to get everybody to do it, which I think is a great thing,” he said. “Everybody’s got to do their part.”

They don’t pretend it was a simple matter. The process was long, and the transition wasn’t exactly easy.

“There were a lot of things we had to do to get up to it, but it was worth it,” Swanson said.

“It definitely makes a big impact,” Beer said.

Applications for this next round of grants is due May 11. For more information, go to www.pca.state.mn.us/quick-links/reducing-voc-emissions-your-business.

We would like to thank Hastings Star Gazette for reprint permission.