During AASP/NJ’s 2019 NORTHEAST automotive services show, K. Michael Bradshaw of K&M Collision presented “Repairer to Repairer: Realities of Structural Repair and Tooling.”
After being introduced by Jordan Hendler, executive director of the Washington Metropolitan Auto Body Association (WMABA), Bradshaw provided a brief summary of his industry experience and explained that he grew up in the collision repair industry.
He then posed the question: “Why are proper structural repairs vital to occupant safety?”
“The goal of modern vehicle design is to absorb and direct crash energy along load paths and away from the occupant cabin,” he answered. “Inadequate or improper repairs can affect how these load paths transfer energy in a subsequent collision. It is vital that the modern-day collision repair center restores the vehicle in a manner that maintains the safety features engineered by the vehicle manufacturer. Modern-day structural repair requires advanced tooling and equipment, training, research and understanding of advanced repair materials and techniques … What’s the point of identifying something as structural if, as a body shop, you don’t treat it like structural?”
Pointing out that the industry’s knowledge and understanding has increased significantly over the past decade, Bradshaw stressed the importance of shops understanding how the decisions they make during the repair can impact safety.
“It involves a lot of research to prepare yourself to repair a vehicle and to restore a vehicle to its pre-accident condition according to OEM repair procedures,” he said.
Bradshaw defined structural components and operations as the replacement or repair of any components that are attached using welding, weld-bonding and/or rivet-bonding. Structural components can also include some bolt-on components and glass. Structural operations, in both repair and replacement situations, require the use of a universal frame bench or dedicated bench.
Citing the latest Motor Guide to Estimating, Bradshaw identified the following components as structural parts or parts that add structural integrity to a vehicle’s body: aprons/strut tower, center pillar, corner pillar, front rail, hinge pillar, lock pillar, radiator core support, rear rail, rear strut tower, rocker panel, suspension cross member, upper rail, cowl assemblies, dash panel, engine cradle (bolt-on), floor panel, impact bar (bolt-on), perimeter frame, quarter panel, radiator core support (bolt-on), rear body panel, roof panel, and stationary glass (urethane bonded).
Regarding equipment considerations, Bradshaw recommended a dedicated or universal frame bench, depending on the manufacturer requirements for the specific vehicle. Squeeze-type resistance welders are necessary, as are MAG or MIG welders; requirements for both will again depend on the manufacturer’s requirements and the processes required. The same applies to self-piercing rivet guns and OEM-specific adhesive guns and corrosion material application devices.
Preparing for your blueprint begins by inspecting the vehicle and documenting its condition. Next, the vehicle should be pre-washed, pre-scanned and visually inspected. Pre-measure the structural dimensions, and pre-check the suspension alignments. Then, research the OEM repair information, visually map the vehicle for disassembly and perform 100 percent disassembly of all components for the repair process required. Lastly, inspect the vehicle and removed components and finalize OEM research.
Bradshaw shared, “To be a good blueprinter, you need to be a good storyteller. A big mistake people make is not putting everything they do on the blueprint.”
Addressing how shops can translate the required repair processes based on the damages and OEM replacement requirements to an estimating system, Bradshaw said the story can be told using OEM repair information, estimating guides, training materials from I-CAR or the OEM, and cheat sheets like those published by SCRS and the Database Enhancement Gateway (DEG). He also recommended refereeing prior repair plans on identical or similar vehicles.
“Research the OEM repair procedures on a case-by-case basis. You should be very familiar with the p-pages. If you don’t have them memorized, print them out and read them every night,” Bradshaw stated.
Some operations to consider when creating a blueprint are pre-measurement, unibody or fixture setup, protecting the vehicle and removed components, structural realignment pulls or pre-pulls for removal, and removal of wax, grease, seam sealer or any other material that impact the repair processes. Shops should also consider the removal of any adjacent components, new panel preparation, and weld zone/adjacent panel repair and refinish.
Additional operations that Bradshaw proposed included testing the fit or alignment of structural components and adjacent panels; setting up and testing welders for each process; adhesive application; clean-up; and bench cure time. Repairing any welding burn damage to adjacent panels previously outlined should also be included, as should washing the vehicle after repairs are completed.
His list continued to recommend covering the car for primer application, feather, prime and block welded replacement seams, epoxy primer application to welded flanges, wash/tack after blocking, setup and testing seam sealer to duplicate OEM appearance, cavity wax application, and repairing and refinishing clamping or fixture locations.
Bradshaw emphasized, “Documentation is really important. Taking photos will make your lives much easier when it comes to getting paid for doing each operation. These operations have to translate to the estimate. A lot of shops feel like they don’t get paid enough on a quarter panel, but if you bill for all the operations that you actually perform, you could easily have over 100 labor hours compared to the industry average of 60 hours.”
He then showed a slide of an actual estimate to demonstrate how shops should add each instance of each operation.
“If you R&I the wheel multiple times, you should be adding each time to your blueprint. For glass, trim and clean-up of adhesive is often forgotten. Put your operations in a sequence where anyone can read the blueprint and understand the story of what you did to the vehicle. Even if you don’t charge for certain items due to agreements your shop has, you should still put it on your blueprint because you need to build a bulletproof file. You’re going to become more profitable and have less liability by being passionate about it and writing a strong blueprint.”