Changes Ahead for Collision Repair Shops Based on AI, New Automotive Finishes

painting autobody parts
Paint company representatives say auto body shops will increasingly need to take potential refinish issues into account early in the repair planning process.

The impact for collision repairers of artificial intelligence (AI) and changes in automotive finishes were among the topics discussed by presenters at the Collision Industry Electronic Commerce Association (CIECA) conference held in September in Nashville.

Jimmy Spears, head of automotive for Tractable, said the company’s AI (machine-learning) system has become adept at quickly determining from photos if a vehicle is a total loss.

“One of things that AI does a wonderful job on is triage,” Spears said. “We’re in the high 90s of calling balls and strikes: Is this car repairable or is this car not repairable.”

For insurers, he said, the system can produce 40% of initial estimates “without any further line items” needing to be added. An equal percentage require review of one or two line items---with the estimate annotated as to what an appraiser needs to review---while the balance will require being handled “old school: have it towed, take the car apart and go classic blueprinting.”

About a year ago, Tractable announced it was working with an insurer in Spain to offer “straight-through processing” of some claims, such as single-car accidents with no injuries; the customer uploads images, the Tractable system prepares an appraisal and “between eight and 15 minutes later,” the claim is paid and “as far as the consumer knows, is closed.”

Spears compared it to ordering and paying for a drink at Starbucks via an app and just picking it up, versus going in to order and pay and then waiting for the coffee drink to be made.

“I’d really like to see the U.S. start to do more of that” type of auto claims processing, Spears said.

He acknowledged while AI may be reducing upfront time for insurers to produce initial estimates, it isn’t resulting in more accurate estimates.

“Supplement rates are still the same. That doesn’t change,” Spears said when asked about even those single-car accident claims. “That’s probably one of the things to think about: just because you have AI, it doesn’t mean that you’ve managed to make a supplement go away. If there’s something behind that [bumper] cover that’s damaged, it’s going to be damaged. But it’s better not to write [for that] and assume it. But no, supplement percentages aren’t any lower.”

During another panel discussion at the CIECA conference, paint company representatives laughed when asked if the industry is close to AI helping with refinish color matching.

“It’s a fair question,” said Dan Benton, global product director of color marketing at Axalta Coating Systems. “We’re chuckling because no, we’re not. There’s just so many variables.”

Jeff Wildman, the North American manager of OEM and industry relations for BASF Automotive Refinish Coatings, agreed, noting even just spray technique, let alone paint formula, can influence color match.

“I can give three people the same exact paint, and the same exact gun, and they’ll spray and we’ll get three different colors, because of that human variable,” Wildman said.

Colors are not going to get easier for shops to match, Wildman predicted. Some new vehicle manufacturers, for example, seem less concerned about addressing refinish issues upfront.

“I can tell you they are looking at colors…that are not easy to spray at the OEM level or at the refinish level,” Wildman said. “But their designers want these colors. As they’re now starting to paint some of these at the factory, they’re learning: ‘You aren’t kidding, these are difficult to paint.’ So they’re struggling at the factory, and we’re going to struggle in refinish with them. But they want these colors because color sells cars.”

Even some “legacy” auto manufacturers, “trying to differentiate themselves using color,” sometimes haven’t shared enough information ahead of a vehicle’s launch to allow all the refinish systems to be prepared.

Mazda beat us all up pretty badly a couple years ago with some really tough colors, a red and a gray,” based on innovations in pigments and application, Benton said. “With U.S. and Western European auto manufacturers, there’s typically dialogue going on as colors are being developed so that everyone can formulate refinish match. In this case, it was Nippon working with Mazda, and the rest of us weren’t aware of it right away. That caught us by surprise. That doesn’t happen very often.

"But Mazda was able to move the needle. They actually had great success with those colors, and it really drove some market share growth. So good for them. That’s how it should be. That’s what we should be doing as manufacturers: innovating in areas of color and that type of thing.”

It’s another indication, however, Benton said, color match issues for shops won’t be ending any time soon. He said auto body shops also should be aware of the increasingly functional role automotive finishes are playing, such as coatings that dissipate heat, or those that include anti-fouling properties to make them easier to clean and more mar resistant.

“We’re all still trying to get more volatile organic compounds out of our systems, and we’re trying to do more to create low-energy cure technologies,” Benton said.

Wildman said ADAS is impacting refinishing as well.

“Today we talk a lot about repainting bumpers with sensors behind them, and how much paint can go on those, but it’s not just about the amount of paint,” Wildman said. “It’s what’s in that paint. What are the pigments? What are the metallics?”

He joked Henry Ford today would tell customers they can have any color they want as long as it’s white, because lidar can’t see black.

“You’re already starting to see more transparent colors, and you’re going to see reflective pigments and primers, with transparent pigment so we can see that primer with lidar,” Wildman said. “So it’s going to become a more and more important part of how you repair that vehicle.”

His advice to the industry will sound familiar: “The biggest thing is you’ve got to follow the OEM repair procedures,” Wildman said. “Typically when do you think about painting the car? When it’s in the booth. You can’t do that anymore. You’ve got to think about it upfront.”

The repair planner needs to know if the bumper can be refinished, he cited as one example. None of the estimating systems have a line item for a quad coat, so you need to know upfront how to document and explain that. If the right color primer isn’t used, that could impact color matching. If a specialized toner is needed, one that might only be needed once a year, it’s not something you’re likely to have on hand---and your distributor may not either, which means it could be days away.

“You’ve got to think of paint not just as an afterthought once the car is in the booth,” Wildman said. “That’s where a lot of shops run into issues.” 

John Yoswick

John Yoswick is a freelance writer and Autobody News columnist who has been covering the collision industry since 1988, and the editor of the CRASH Network... Read More

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