In more progressive parts of the world, the drive towards cleaner air has resulted in regulations that mandate auto body repair shops to use waterborne paints in lieu of solvent-based paints. As with new technologies however, perfection takes time and a lot of shops that initially tried low VOC (volatile organic compound) paints have been disappointed with the results. Furthermore, a very clean surface is absolutely necessary when using these paints because the coatings are very sensitive to contaminants. Being less forgiving when it comes to hiding even small particles of dirt, a less than clean surface will show evidence of subsurface contamination after the paint dries. Because of the possibility of a botched finish when using waterborne paints, the importance of cleaning and degreasing the surface to be painted becomes a top priority.
For auto body repair shops that rely on volume to maintain their margins, the fact that you have to be more careful with surface prep coupled with higher flash times (slower drying paint) means that the bottom line could be adversely affected. Base on the experiences of some early adopters, one of the challenges of using these new paints is adjusting to the curing time. Waterborne paints require more time to dry due to water's higher evaporation point compared to the hydrocarbons found in solvent-based paint. Most auto body repair shops have circumvented this problem by installing air acceleration systems. Working with downdraft spray booths, properly designed air acceleration systems have been shown to hasten drying times close to that of solvent-based paints. Actually, air acceleration systems reduce curing times by 30 to 60 percent and can be used for all types of paint systems.
More open-minded technicians in North America have actually embraced waterborne paint and have learned to structure their workflow to minimize the negative effects on productivity with using these new paints. They say that all types of paints have their own rules on proper preparation and use. However, solvent-based paints are more forgiving to work with, hence shortcuts could be employed with no ill effect on the finished product. In contrast, using waterborne paint in your auto body repair shop means that you have to follow the paint manufacturer's guidelines to the letter.
But technology marches on and even now, a new generation of non-solvent paints are coming to market which offer flash times similar to solvent-based paints. And when proper surface preparation becomes second nature to paint technicians, the continuing advances in waterborne paints means that auto body repair shops need not fear its impact on the quality of their work or the productivity of their shop.