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Tullett: The Importance of ADAS Calibration Training

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Jan. 13, 2021—Even before the pandemic, the labor shortage stymied collision repair centers nationally. Yet, as more cars with advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) crowd today's streets, the need for qualified technicians becomes increasingly important. Why? Even a low-speed collision can damage these advanced systems, reducing driver safety. 

While recruiting talent remains a vital step, advanced technician training such as understanding the impact of certain metallic finishes on ADAS will also be necessary for the industry's road ahead.

Next-gen learning 

Automakers have been installing ADAS such as forward collision, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warnings and adaptive cruise control in peripheral, easy-to-damage car parts like windshields and bumpers. These parts can house RADAR, a system that uses radio waves to detect people, cars and other objects close to it, to enable some of these safety features. 

These safety systems can be hard to detect visually. Body shops now rely on customer discussions, visual indicators and automaker data to pinpoint ADAS. Training to spot these systems more precisely may be necessary for technicians to determine the repair process carefully. For instance, body shops could simply fix minor bumper damage by filling scratches and then spot painting in the past. However, body filler compounds and new paint could impair today's vehicle sensors. 

Technicians will also need training on recalibrating the sensors using specific equipment and software for diagnostics, services, replacements and repairs to meet automaker specifications. However, it could be some time before most shops are equipped to offer in-house calibrations because most independent collision centers do not have proper calibration equipment. According to a 2021 Fender Bender survey, only 22 percent of responding independent shops are equipped to perform ADAS calibrations. 

Body shops will also have to consider investing in more sophisticated estimation tools, along with technician training, to assess the costs of damage to driver safety technology installed in areas such as bumpers. Using historical data, predictive analytics and VIN integration, the estimation software can build a more accurate estimate for collision repair professionals.

The issue for certain metallic finishes 

In addition to considering the ADAS vehicle's technical safety and functionality components, technicians will need education on how certain colors and finishes can impact the sensors of these safety components.

Until recently, automakers initially opted to replace instead of repair the damaged bumper, which proved expensive and with significant pushback from car insurance companies. As such, automakers turned to paint and coatings suppliers to identify a better solution. PPG partnered with many automakers to calculate the impact of all their dozens of colors, including metallic finishes, on repainted bumpers to better understand the transmission loss of RADAR signals. Data showed that while the vast majority of colors do not impact the functionality of ADAS, a handful of metallic finishes did pose an issue. At certain concentrations, the aluminum pigments used in metallic paints reduced the transmission of RADAR signals and interfered with the operation of the ADAS.

Paint and coatings suppliers have evaluated swapping the aluminum pigments in the metallic finish with alternatives to improve RADAR transmission. These reformulated colors maintain a good match to the vehicle's original finish while reducing the RADAR transmission loss so that safety systems can function as they should.

Road ahead 

More and more body shops are utilizing training from paint vendors, according to a 2020 FenderBender survey. So, automakers and paint suppliers will need to take a greater role in guiding best practices to address complex, evolving ADAS vehicle repairs adequately. For instance, PPG recently launched the PPG KNOWLEDGE COLLEGE™ online learning management system, which provides the refinish industry with the most comprehensive online training programs.

Body shops will need to consider the repair guidelines, technical and service bulletins provided by automakers to keep safety intact. For example, PPG will issue a technical bulletin relating to RADAR and the impact of certain metallic finishes for body shop professionals. 

Market research predicts a $19-billion growth in the ADAS market over the next four years, with most new cars and trucks today available with various advanced driver assistance systems. As a result, the aftermarket industry will need to close the qualified technician shortage, offer adequate training for these next-generation car repairs and know how certain finishes impact safety components to keep drivers safe on today's roads.

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