IS YOUR LONG ISLAND AUTO BODY SHOP TRAINED FOR MODERN WELDING?
For quite some time, we have discussed the life-saving qualities of ultra-high strength steel, and its continued use in modern car construction. As a Long Island auto body shop, we repair an ever-increasing number of cars with advanced and exotic materials including aluminum and even carbon fiber. Therefore it’s no longer a secret that vehicle materials have changed and are being used by auto manufacturers to meet Federally mandated fuel efficiency standards.
But those materials also present various challenges to auto repairers, that auto body technicians can’t afford to overlook, says, industry technical support manager at I-CAR. The present, the auto body repair industry is currently focused on steel and aluminum and learning how to handle these new types of repairs, as well as making the necessary investments in tools and infrastructure. But not all shops are making this investment. I-Car says vehicles with dissimilar materials including aluminum, steel and carbon fiber, that need to be joined together will become increasingly challenging for auto body shops in future.
“Technicians are going to have to get knowledgeable at a variety of materials. And not only understanding the materials themselves, but also understanding the precautions and requirements when they start joining these dissimilar materials together. Almost every car company has a higher-end premium vehicle where portions of it will be steel and portions will be aluminum. That’s starting to be common,” he says.
Cleanliness is increasingly important when welding these modern materials. Good auto body repair shops with well-trained technicians will receive new training dealing with hygiene while working on an automobile structure. Auto body shop repairmen will need to keep everything clean and be aware of what is are mixing with what.
Marks from I-Car has spent much of his career working intensively with aluminum and steel welding training for I-CAR’s OEM programs. He breaks down the equipment and training your chosen auto body repair shop needs to have for modern welding.
Advances in Auto Body in Welding
Vehicle materials are changing dramatically, and there are three materials your selected shop’s technicians need to be aware of and trained on to weld:
1. Modern Steel. In the past, steel was mostly welded with a MIG welder to do plug welds or continuous welds. Today’s vehicles that utilize ultra-high-strength steel also require resistance spot welding, MIG brazing, and more specifically, MIG brazing done as slot welds or open butt joints.
2. Aluminum. Most body shop technicians are trained for and comfortable with welding steels, however welding aluminum alloys can present a challenge, as higher thermal conductivity and lower melting point of aluminum alloys can easily lead to burn through unless welders follow prescribed procedures. Welding aluminum requires both special MIG welders set up aluminum repair and the skill to weld aluminum the right way.
3. Silicon bronze. Of all the welding techniques, silicon bronze is the least understood welding process, mainly because it has numerous variables to it. While you can do the silicon bronze process in pulse, transfer and short circuit, OEMs require silicon bronze be done in pulse. The reason techs need to pay attention and practice the MIG process with silicon bronze is that the process to do an open butt joint or slot weld is notably different than steel or aluminum welding.
The Proper Welding Equipment For Modern Auto Body Shops
The modern auto body repair shop needs to have a MIG welder capable of pulse, and the correct squeeze-type resistance spot welder. Collision repair shops should be equipped to match the specific welding equipment to the OEM requirements given for the vehicle being repaired.
1. MIG welder. There are many MIG welders on the market with an array of options, features, and levels of welding capability. As vehicle specific OEM certifications become increasing important to the consumer becoming an authorized collision repair facility for a specific vehicle maker network, the OEM will instruct the auto body shop on what specific equipment it needs to be in compliance with the manufacturer’s repair specifications. Typically this will be a MIG welder with a machine capable of pulse synergic welding.
Many car manufacturers require a specific repair area for welding aluminum as steel can contaminate an aluminum repair and cause all kinds of problems like electrolysis. The OEM’s don’t like for body shops to move these MIG welders from the aluminum clean room and then run out in the shop and back and forth.
2. Resistance spot welder. Whether or not it’s for a specific OEM, resistance spot welding equipment is all about higher power and more squeeze force.
“With today’s high and ultra-high-strength-steel, there will be more OEMs that will have specific areas of the car where they will require squeeze type resistance spot welding only,” he says. “With that requirement, we are talking about welding structural parts. So we need to make sure the joining is done perfectly and it has to be strong. We’re talking about a safety issue.”
Marks recommends looking for machines capable of putting out an increased amount of squeeze force and a considerable amount of higher amperage output. In general, those machines hitting OEM requirements are three-phase, 220-volt machines.
Regardless of the brand of equipment, it is important that auto body repair technicians receive proper welding training, even if they’ve been welding for a number of years. That training could come from an organization like I-CAR, automakers, or welding schools, such as the Lincoln Electric program. I-CAR’S welding certifications have a five-year expiration, he says, but some OEMs require certification to be renewed sooner.
Training is one of the best training investments an auto body repair shop can make. Any time a technician is performing a joining process, there’s an obvious safety issue there.
“We’re talking about holding the car together,” he says. “You’re giving the customer a vehicle that is safe.”
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