As everyone in the automotive paint industry will know, energy is the greatest cost in OEM paintshops. A conventional paintshop can account for as much as 70% of a car plant’s total energy consumption, including 92% of a facility’s gas consumption. And of course wastage of paints and other raw materials is a significant expense.

So it has followed that innovations in paintshop technologies have been primarily aimed at reducing energy consumption and waste. These have been through improved PT and ED technologies, more careful use of drying ovens, more separation and collection of solid particles and greater use of robots and atomizers in electrostatic paint applications. And now, as concern for the environment has moved up the agenda in government and business, so a ‘perfect storm’ has been created; cost saving now meshes with ecological concerns to create what some OEMs and suppliers have dubbed ‘eco-efficiency’. From careful buffering and batching of bodies to run same or ‘finish-complementary’ colours, optimum PT and ED tank temperatures and chemistries, intelligent robot path design and lower bake ovens, throughput can be increased at lower cost to both the bottom line and the environment. Many of these savings are made in careful planning and sometimes moving to a different shift pattern or moving from one to two to three shift operation. And some savings opportunies are in the hands of the materials suppliers. As McLaren have proved with their 80°C bake for the carbon and composite bodies of their sports cars, lower temperatures can give coatings fine finish quality and durability, given the right chemistry. While some OEMs have been closing plants in Europe, the paintshop builders have seen their work in the region grow beyond that of the rest of the world, as carmakers rebuild or re-equip their facilities.

The picture in the US is very positive too, with the rapid growth of compact car programmes. Ever-tightening environmental legislation and the new ‘eco-efficient’ paintshop technologies are meshing perfectly with federal measures to force vehicle makers to downsize their vehicle range to improve efficiency and lower emissions. Add into the mix environmentally-friendly power sources, from hydro to solar, and the continuing research into UV curing of more diverse components, if not complete bodies yet, and the future of the paintshop looks better than many other areas of the automotive plant of tomorrow