Tomorrow’s technicians now have opportunity to use today’s latest equipment
St. Louis — As vehicles rapidly become more complex and require manufacturer-specific repairs, proficiency in operating the latest in equipment will be fundamental for tomorrow’s collision repair technician, said John Helterbrand, department chair of the Automotive Collision Repair program at Ranken Technical College.
“If you look at the systems we have today on some of these cars, we’re going to have a very different, highly skilled technician 10 years from now,” he said.
Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS,) designed to reduce collisions, are one example, he said, noting that by the end of 2022, “every manufacturer will have cars that stop themselves at low speed. There’s a lot of technology out there that somebody’s going to have to be ready to take care of.”
Glossy new pieces of capital equipment in the department, on loan from partners such as Chief Automotive Technologies and Hunter Engineering, are visible reminders of that. As I-CAR’s first fixed-site location for training last year, Ranken now draws I-CAR training from a 100-mile radius. This year, it changed from a traditional two-year program to one incorporating paid internships, with students alternating eight-week periods between attending school and working in a collision repair shop.
“This is a time of change,” Helterbrand said. “What we teach today is not necessarily what we teach tomorrow, because the industry is changing quickly.”
Those enhancements helped draw the attention of Chief and Hunter. Chief’s Product Development Manager Mike Croker provided equipment such as welders, a Globaljig by Chief Super Rotax frame bench, and universal jig system. In return, Chief borrows Ranken facility space to teach classes using the equipment, so the arrangement is mutually beneficial.
“They actually help me out, because my students see this is the training the industry uses; it’s not just something we made up.”
Hunter, whose training center and headquarters are in nearby Bridgeton, is a longtime supporter of the automotive program. But Sales Representative Bret Spiller saw an opportunity to install alignment equipment in the collision repair department, using the existing frame equipment.
It’s a trend that Helterbrand sees coming to more shops, as they seek to keep more mechanical work in-house for faster cycle time and less liability. Customers also prefer to do business with shops that can do it all.
“A one-stop shop is the future,” he said. “People want to stop in one place, know the people, feel like they got good service from them, and then move on. So it’s very important to teach our students how this equipment works together.”
As the industry moves to taking on more types of repairs, more is asked of the equipment, Helterbrand said, with the need for ADAS recalibration becoming more frequent as once-simple operations such as windshield replacement now require a recalibration, thanks to the camera mounted to a bracket on the windshield. The Hunter HawkEye Elite alignment equipment can recalibrate some of those, he said, without the need for procedures that often call for as much as 30 feet of space marked off on the floor, together with targets, to calibrate lane-departure systems.
With the simple addition of turntable plates, a collision repair technician can perform an alignment early in the repair stage, well before the vehicle is assembled and nearly ready to deliver.
“Now you don’t have this cycle time bandit that’s eating away at your time at the end,” Helterbrand said. “Instead of, ‘We took the car down to ‘XYZ Shop’ and we found out we have a bent spindle, and now have to wait three days for the spindle and then get it aligned.’”
Helterbrand said he is working on similar agreements with other equipment providers.
“Besides people learning on their equipment, I think what is attracting them is that now we have students who are going to be better technicians because they do the internships,” he said. The five rotations of eight weeks at the school and eight weeks at a shop also show students the daily work culture of a shop, and expose them to different equipment, he said.
And for shop owners or managers considering the purchase of new equipment, they can ask the student what is being used at the school and come to Ranken to try it out.
“And I have a multitude of welding equipment, so employers have come here and used more than one piece of equipment so they had a better idea of how it worked.”
Similarly, students on campus for I-CAR classes can see the equipment up close and try it out, even if it is not part of a hands-on class such as the resistance spot-welding class.
Having such support from industry is common among Ranken’s departments, said Missy Borchardt, dean of Enrollment Management.
“It’s a good partnership,” she said. “We can help train the workforce for industry, so it’s a triple win: for the students, the school, and industry.”