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GFS: Paint booth maintenance crucial to avoid costly breakdowns

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Business Practices | Education | Repair Operations | Technology
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Proper paint booth maintenance and cleanliness can save a shop from losing money and cycle time from clogged filters and ultimately offline booths, a Global Finishing Solutions trainer advised in a GFS-Auto Body Repair Network-Automechanika webinar last month.

A paint booth shutdown is “one of the most costly things that can happen in your shop,” GFS auto refinish technical adviser Jason Garfoot said on the December webinar.

“If you have one booth and it’s shut down, your shop is done making money for the day,” he said.

Through best practices and cleanliness, “some shops can as much as double the life of their filters and greatly extend the life of their parts,” Garfoot said. While a painter might not notice some filter efficiency gains, “shop owners definitely do,” he said.

The cleaner the vehicle before painting, the longer filters can last, and even a week or two more gained on each filter can add up to a more profitable shop over the long run, he said.

Shutting the paint booth door can help achieve this goal as well. Sometimes in multipainter shops with multiple preppers, a prepper will bring a vehicle into the paint booth and open the door while another technician is still sanding something in front of it. The dust from the second employee can work its way into the booth and clog filters faster, according to Garfoot.

Too much overspray accumulation can gum up fans and affect booth performance or even leave them so laden with paint that they actually “come apart” and require replacement of multiple booth parts, according to Garfoot. This could even be a safety hazard, as it can be “a little on the scary side” for the painter inside when the fan fails so dramatically, he said.

Maintenance and filters

Most paint booth manufacturers will provide a maintenance schedule, and some will even perform preventative maintenance for a shop in exchange for a fee.

“Again, this is very, very important,” Garfoot said of maintenance.

Maintenance typically includes checking and changing all filters — and knowing where they’re located so you can do so.

Garfoot remembered working at a shop that changed filters regularly but kept experiencing mysterious airflow reductions and dirt within the booth. It finally hired a company to troubleshoot, and “sure enough, we had an extra set of filters we were completely unaware of” inside the heating unit.

Intake filter maintenance can be fairly straightforward; GFS offers some which display white lines in the filter media when they require changing.

But make sure you’re putting the filters in correctly — installing one backwards can lead to the filter material pilling and winding up in one’s paint jobs.

Move slowly the first few installations until you get the hang of a proper filter replacement, and “that’ll save you a ton of time and work down the road,” Garfoot said.

Exhaust filters should be fairly easy to check, located on the floor or wall. However, shops can get tripped up by changing them based on general time limits unrelated to production, such as every 3-4 weeks.

“Instead, pay attention to your booth-hours,” Garfoot advised.

Otherwise, a shop which set a regular maintenance interval based on filter demands during a slow time of the year could find itself with “severely plugged up” filters when demand picks up and painters use the booth more frequently within the same interval.

“That’s gonna put a lot of strain on different parts of that paint booth,” Garfoot said.

Oversaturated filters can put so much strain on the booth that an exhaust motor burns out trying to suck air through the medium or the drive system breaks a belt; both can shut down the booth.

Clogged filters on positive-pressure booths can even push overspray out of the booth into the rest of the shop — where your colleagues aren’t protected at all from the dangerous isocyanates in paint.

Manometers or monitoring systems examining air pressure will also give shops a hint of when to change exhaust filters — filters will show higher than usual pressure as they clog.

Booth cleaning

Besides cleaning the vehicle, yourself, your equipment and the filters, the booth itself needs constant janitorial care for the best results, according to Garfoot.

“Paint booth cleaning is also very important,” he said.

Garfoot said it was crucial to sweep the floor every day with the paint booth running; otherwise, dust and other contaminants would just end up drifting back onto the floor and walls.

“Getting a little dust in your filters this way is better than having that stuff float all over the place,” he said.

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Don’t sweep into the filters directly; get the detritus into a corner and use a dustpan, he said.

Garfoot also suggested wetting down the floor, which prevents a cleaner from kicking up dust. He said there’s no way to avoid overspray on the floor, even if you use a protectant, but wetting and squeegieing the floor dry daily and cleaning it weekly should help keep the floor at an adequate level of cleanliness and minimize dust contamination.

“The walls aren’t as big of a deal,” Garfoot said. “Clean them down as needed.”

Most newer booths have ceiling filters which can direct airflow away from the walls, Garfoot said. While some overspray is still likely to reach the walls, contamination will typically come from the floor or from the painter, he said.

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Booth protection also is “very important,” Garfoot said.

“It can be overlooked pretty easily,” he said.

Such protections include sprayable coatings which can cover booth surfaces, attract the overspray, and then be pressure-washed off for easy cleanup — so long as you follow the directions on removal. If a shop allows too much overspray to build up on the coating or lets the coating stay on the booth for too long, “it can be a nightmare to get off of there,” Garfoot said.

“Make sure you’re not getting lazy with your maintenance schedule,” he said.

Other options include roll-on or adhesive coverings, and “they work phenomenally as well,” Garfoot said. If you’ve never used such a technique before, you’ll likely be impressed by how much cleaner the booth seems and possibly notice less of an echo in the booth, he said.

While potentially “pricey,” they last a long time, Garfoot said. Some resemble a giant tack cloth, and some can even be vacuumed.

As always, make sure to follow the instructions on maintenance, and you’ll likely see a “huge improvement” in paint jobs and overall work quality, he said.

More information:

“Proper Paint Booth Operation”

Global Finishing Solutions via Auto Body Repair Network, Automechanika, Dec. 6, 2016

Featured image: Proper paint booth maintenance and cleanliness can save a shop from losing money and cycle time from clogged filters and ultimately offline booths, a Global Finishing Solutions trainer advised in a GFS-Auto Body Repair Network-Automechanika webinar in December 2016. (ArthurGraphics/iStock)

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