Auto Body Shop Veteran Starts Azimuth, a Specialized ADAS Calibration Center

Charlie Rich founded Azimuth Calibration in 2022.

Charlie Rich has more than 30 years of experience as an entrepreneur and executive in the automotive aftermarket, in the technology, insurance, OEM and collision repair segments.

Rich began his career in the automotive aftermarket when he joined CCC Intelligent Solutions in 1989. During his eight-year tenure, he played a major role in the company’s explosive growth and the introduction of several industry innovations---including the DRP concept and PC-based estimating.

His other career highlights include co-founding ProcessClaims in 2000, where he served as president and board member. In just six years, the company grew from start-up to more than $11 million in sales before it was acquired by CCC in 2006. Rich went on to serve as vice president of business development at Fix Auto USA before founding Azimuth Calibration in 2022.

What inspired you to start Azimuth?

The overall focus is on keeping people, families and communities safe. That includes repairing vehicles to OEM standard by performing quality repairs. We pride ourselves on protecting our clients' liability by helping them identify calibrations and completing necessary calibration to OEM standards and procedures. We do that in a cost-effective and efficient manner that supports our clients’ mission and goals.

Who are your main clients and what markets are you targeting?

Collision repair shops, dealerships, insurance companies and OEMs. Any company that needs to outsource their auto diagnostics for tougher recalibrations and everything else where they need help.

Many shops are not embracing ADAS and see it as an impediment to their businesses. What would you tell them?

ADAS is not going away but growing by the day. Liability increases by the day as ADAS proliferates. The larger picture shows that complete calibrations need to be performed in order to keep your customers and communities safe. More regulations and enforcement are coming soon to make calibrations more and more vital.

What types of tricky calibrations are shops encountering problems with?

High-end European vehicles and exotics, including calibrations involving any cameras, radar and blind spots that require OEM tooling and service information and appropriate space, lighting, clutter-free, level floors, etc.

More and more shops are outsourcing their ADAS diagnostics. Why?

The leading reasons are liability, expense to start and operate, finding and training qualified technicians and staff, proper space and facilities to OEM specifications, cycle time and final safety inspections.

Many people don’t understand the difference between active, passive and intelligent ADAS. Can you explain?

Passive Systems: Early ADAS and today's aftermarket ADAS are passive systems. This means that they only serve to alert the driver of possible collisions or assist the driver with maneuverability by providing visual and/or auditory feedback. These include parking sensors, rearview cameras, panoramic cameras, blind-spot monitors and forward collision warning.

Active Systems: As ADAS modules became more advanced and reliable, they were given the ability to request operations from the other vehicle control units, apply brakes, increase or decrease engine torque, steer, adjust headlights, etc. These active systems allowed the windshield camera and forward radar modules to keep the vehicle at a safe distance from the vehicle it is following, as well as keep the car centered between visible lane markings. Advanced blind spot radar modules can even request that the vehicle steer back into a lane if it detects an object in the blind spot while executing a lane-change.

Intelligent Systems: The most recent technological advances involve combining the signals from multiple sensors and modules to create a connected system that can control the vehicle with great precision. One example is the Intelligent Park Assist System, or IPAS. It combines the signals from the ultrasonic sensors, the cameras and mid-range radar to detect a parking spot and automatically park the vehicle. A system of this nature not only requires precise sensors, but will require those sensors to crate an accurate representation of the world around it.

What does your company name stand for?

Azimuth is an angular measurement in a spherical coordinate system. In a celestial context, it is the horizontal direction of a star. The reference plane for an azimuth is true north, measured at 0-degree azimuth---the horizontal angle or direction of a compass bearing. In land navigation, azimuth is denoted with the alpha symbol. It plays to the technicality of calibration with a simple one-word name.

How hard is it to train a tech into an ADAS expert/diagnostician? How long does it normally take?

It will typically take one to two years with continual learning and ongoing training. The market segment is in its early evolution, with systems, tools, information and software changing almost day to day, in some cases. We devised best practices, evaluated systems, created tooling, customized software and developed SOPs and training to get where we are, and we believe we have a great program. We designed it to be easy to absorb and practice quickly.

Ed Attanasio

Ed Attanasio is an automotive journalist and Autobody News columnist based in San Francisco.

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