Advanced metal repair can mean higher quality repairs, less replacement
Las Vegas—“Repair or replace?” is the decision often made by estimators and collision technicians as they assess what is needed to restore a vehicle to its pre-loss condition. But what was commonly replaced before can now often be correctly repaired — with a savings in time and often money — with advanced metal repair equipment that has been common in other countries for many years and is now garnering more attention in the U.S. after being available a few years here.
There are a number of systems on the market that employ metal “keys” or studs, a rod, and “bridge” pullers to lift on the center of a dent while the metal’s stress is relieved through taps of specialized body hammers. They can provide higher quality repairs with less panel replacement, according to two equipment providers that Parts & People spoke with at the SEMA Show, Nov. 3-6.
In Europe, insurers have been more strict about the cost of each claim and have encouraged more repairs instead of replacement, said Bryan Robaina, president and CEO of Eco Repair Systems of North America, which he established as the North American distributor about two years ago for the system that has been available in Switzerland since 1999. Comparatively, he said, the cost of labor in the U.S. has allowed for economic parts replacement. But insurers and OEMs are concerned with the liability of intrusive parts replacement, he said, such as replacing quarter panels through rivet-bonding or welding.
“Now you have the element of the human side of it,” Robaina said. “Has that person gone to training? And has that person replaced that panel to the OEM standards? So by getting into the panel repair side of it, it allows everybody to say, ‘OK, we have a process where as long as the panel is not ripped, torn, or cracked, we can ethically say that we have a repair process, and these are the tools.’”
The Miracle System dates back about 30 years ago to Japan and has been available in the U.S. about eight years for steel and three years for aluminum, said Matthew Bannister, CEO of distributor Equipment Gateway, whose videos featuring Miracle System Instructor Charles Aoun have seen a recent surge in popularity on social media, with the most popular reaching almost a million views on YouTube as of this writing.
“I think there is more of a push to repair than in the past, which has sparked more interest, along with the Ford program requiring aluminum dent repair equipment,” Bannister said. “While our system was not specifically in the program, we did benefit from increased sales and interest in panel repair in general for steel and aluminum.”
The systems from Eco Repair Systems and Miracle System are similar in operation but with some differences, particularly for aluminum. Each company offers welders specific to aluminum and steel. Miracle Systems’ aluminum welder is of a lift-arc design and welds aluminum “keys” to the panel. Those keys can be reused about five times, and that weld technology means the system can remove heavier-duty dents in aluminum than competitive systems, Bannister said.
The Eco Repair System uses a capacitor-discharge welder to braze consumable studs to aluminum with M4 nuts attached to them and a channel that slides over them. The studs can be spaced more closely together than competitive systems, Robaina said, while the nuts allow the pull at each stud to be adjusted independently so that the lowest stud — at the deepest part of the dent — is pulled first.
As demonstrated at the SEMA Show, both systems did not appear to burn through the corrosion protection of the e-coat, although Robaina said the Eco Repair Systems’ capacitive-discharge welder uses “smart” technology to read the panel’s resistance and supply only the energy needed to attach the studs or keys.
Compared to draw pins used with stud welders, both systems appear to offer a smoother, nearly metal-finished surface requiring less body filler.
“We call it the ‘Rocky Mountains,’ Robaina said. “You’ve got your highs and lows that you’ve accentuated with your stud-welding systems.”
Restricted parts can be repaired, in some cases
For certain vehicles that have parts availability restricted to only certified or dealership-sponsored shops, having advanced metal repair equipment can mean metal damage previously judged severe enough to warrant replacement can now be repaired to a high standard, Robaina said, noting that his equipment is approved by the BMW Group, which includes Rolls-Royce.
“Let’s say you have a softball-size dent on an aluminum quarter panel that’s going to Joe’s shop, who’s an independent,” he said. “If they have our equipment, given that it’s good enough for, say, the BMW Group, they know they can repair the other restricted-part car, because if the metal is not ripped, torn, or cracked, it’s a safe, ethical repair.”