BMW April 2022

Over  the past decade, many sectors in the collision repair supply chain have made huge strides to reduce the environmental impact of their products throughout their lifecycle. Improvements in manufacturing methods mean the amounts of energy in production have been dramatically reduced, while significantly less harmful waste is entering the atmosphere and our landfills.

UK lawmakers have introduced stricter regulations to manage solvent use in a bid to cut emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and combat “ground-level ozone” – which seriously affects human, animal and plant health.

This has resulted in an industry-wide shift to waterborne paints, UV-cured coatings, non-heavy-metal colouring agents, catalyst technology, synthetic glass fibre filters, and other more refined eco-friendly refinish solutions.

One company at the cutting edge of this trend is leading spray booth and air filtration specialist Beta Group. “We are continually looking at our sustainability and corporate responsibility plans,” said company director David Meehan. “The sourcing of products forms a huge part of this and, with this in mind, Beta Group is currently working on several new innovative filter products with ‘greener’ credentials.

“With manufacturing focused on the environment and a product that reduces energy consumption, there is clearly a synergy here. We are cutting wastage to a minimum and planning deliveries in a more eco-friendly manner,” Meehan said, referring to the company’s aim to transition its fleet of 35 diesel-powered commercial vehicles to hybrid and electric replacements.

“We offer energy saving LED lighting upgrades, variable speed drives and modulating burners, which can be retro-fitted to existing equipment. We are also due to replace all paper systems with hand-held devices linked to our ERP system. This will remove 85% of paper consumption from the business,” he added.

As with all industries, consumers are becoming much more aware of climate change and their own environmental footprint, and as such are demanding more eco-friendly processes from their repairers and the automotive aftermarket supply chain.

Environmental stewardship

It is no longer a question of whether or not suppliers should change to meet consumer and regulatory pressure, they must act now both from a commercial and corporate responsibility perspective. Companies will face bigger fines and stricter sanctions on their emissions and so they must use equipment more responsibly and keep pollution from the refinishing process to a minimum.

Global coatings giant Axalta is already ahead of the game in that regard, according to vice-president for refinish systems EMEA, Jim Muse. “We are committed to environmental stewardship in our own operations and for the longevity of our industry. Today, body shops around the world realise the need for sustainable practises, and more of their partners, suppliers and customers are also demanding higher standards,” he said.

“Body shops are turning to modern product application systems that help them reduce their impact on the environment by lowering energy usage and thereby reducing their carbon footprint. Axalta’s patented Fast Cure/Low Energy systems help body shops meet this challenge. Each of our three premium refinish brands – Cromax, Spies Hecker and Standox – can be used in these systems, helping body shops be more sustainable without compromising on appearance,” Muse said.

Raffaella Censi from Symach agreed: “Every product or service a body shop buys has an impact on the environment, so all future investments need to be made taking this into consideration. Symach’s philosophy evolved around automation and efficiency which naturally saves energy… and our production site in Bologna doesn’t use any chemicals and therefore doesn’t produce any polluting waste.

“Our drying technology is not only one of the fastest ways to complete the repair process but also the most energy efficient available, using up to 90% less gas/lpg per paint cycle,” she added.

One of the main challenges for body shops and the supply chain is striking a balance between maintaining minimal environmental impact while remaining profitable and viable. Often the “green” approach will be more costly. Price points on non-recyclable materials tend to be lower than eco-friendly alternatives, and with margins squeezed it is a difficult balance.

Abrasives specialist Mirka views sustainable innovation as both smart and profitable and has made a number of advancements in this area, including: developing new low-energy technologies; reducing heavy metals in its products; improving the handling and processing of waste resin; and developing new catalyst technology to make its thermal machine lines more efficient.

Customer expectations

Mirka national sales manager Steve Smith said: “As a business we will always keep an eye on both regulatory changes and customer expectations so we can ensure that we can offer eco-friendly repairs. We do not use chemicals which appear on the list of Substances of Very High Concern (SVHC) and we are in full compliance with the EU’s Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals legislation (REACH).

 “To assist with the issue of air quality control and to minimise occupational exposure to airborne dust, we listened to what our customers were looking for and our R&D team developed and introduced a dust-free net, which when used in conjunction with a Mirka sanding system, provides the user with a dust-free work environment,” he added.

One group of body shops that is doing its bit to reduce consumables waste – and at the same time save money – is Gemini ARC, which is changing from single-use polythene seat- and steering wheel covers to long- lasting, washable covers.

Managing director David Sargeant explained: “Gemini is constantly looking for ways to reduce its environmental impact and one of the areas in the spotlight was our seat covers, which could not be recycled and went straight to landfill. While looking for a solution we came across Coplan-Europe, which has become the benchmark in the European market. We have now received our initial order and we are very pleased with the quality and artwork, not to mention the long-term cost savings this product will provide.”

As the collision repair industry embraces yet more change, its supply chain will continue to drive down emissions, pollutants and consumables waste as technical advances, education and regulation edge the UK towards a more sustainable future.

But one area of concern highlighted by Meehan was the trend towards SMART repairs on a consumer’s driveway. “On the surface these appear to be less polluting and do not require the same pollution permits. Sadly, this is because the pollution occurs in differing locations rather than one fixed position. Clearly the emissions are compar comparable with fixed spray booth repairs, and tighter regulation is needed,” he said.

By Bodyshop Magazine