Published in Automotive News June 6, 2014
Curtains or walls? It's a big decision that Ford dealers with body shops face as they gear up to repair the 2015 aluminum-body F-150 pickup, arriving late this year.
Collision shops need either a curtain or wall to separate their aluminum body work from their steel body work. When aluminum dust ends up on a steel body part, a reaction called galvanic corrosion can produce an effect similar to rust over time.
There is even a small risk of fire if aluminum dust comes in contact with a spark.
Ford says floor-to-ceiling curtains, ventilation systems and special vacuums are sufficient to keep the metals from mixing, and some dealers and independent repair shops have decided to go that route.
Randall Reed, CEO of World Class Automotive Group of Dallas, says: "We are actually doing curtains in all five of the body shops.
"I think it's very sufficient, and with the vacuum system should be just fine."
But others want walls.
Todd Hoffman, vice president of Hoffman Ford in Harrisburg, Pa., says: "We're going to build the walls up. We may actually expand to a whole different location off site for a body shop. From what we're understanding from the big players in the paint business and body repair, it is a pretty significant safety risk to mix steel and aluminum."
Speaking to Automotive News earlier this year, Paul Massie, Ford's collision marketing manager, said: "One of the things about our program that surprised the industry is that we didn't require a separate clean room."
Ford has said repeatedly that curtains provide sufficient separation.
Larry Smith, president of Autometric Collision, said that two of his nine independent body shops in the Detroit area work on aluminum vehicles for luxury manufacturers including Audi, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche.
Both of Smith's shops cordon off the aluminum work areas with curtains.
Smith's shops will be doing repairs on the aluminum F-150.
"Most of the manufacturers that have aluminum vehicles are satisfied that's going to be enough to keep the steel and aluminum dust from settling on the wrong species of cars," Smith says.
But as the volume of aluminum vehicles increases, Smith plans to have more permanent work areas in place.
He owns several buildings that could be converted to aluminum work centers that will be separate from the shop areas where his company works on steel vehicles.
'Not the sound way'
Lloyd Schiller, a consultant who advises dealerships on their service operations, is urging his clients to build walls.
"Rubberized curtains are not the sound way to keep the dust from comingling. Essentially, it's a very heavy duty shower curtain. The idea behind having only curtains is to separate steel filings and dust from aluminum filings and dust. I'm sure it will keep 70 to 80 percent of it from escaping, but there's still an opportunity for some of the dust to escape when it's not a sealed unit."
Schiller says erecting walls need not be an expensive proposition.
The dealerships can simply put up a galvanized steel wall with drywall or pressed particleboard panels.
"You're not talking about a structural wall with concrete blocks and bricks. There may come a time five years from now when everything you're doing is aluminum, and you tear that wall down."
Meanwhile, collision shops need to remove aluminum dust from the air to prevent fires and explosions.
"Aluminum dust in the correct concentration is explosive if it comes in contact with an ignition source," says Jason Bartanen, director of industry-technical relations for I-CAR, the nonprofit collision repair group that is organizing F-150 repair training for Ford dealers and independent collision shops.
Ford wants dealers to purchase special sparkless vacuums for collision shops.
Ford spokeswoman Elizabeth Weigandt says the company has reminded dealers and technicians that airborne dust, "from metals to wood, can be flammable, and proper ventilation practices should be followed."
By year end, Ford wants a network of about 1,500 aluminum-capable body shops, including about 800 dealerships and 700 independent shops. About half of Ford's 3,000 dealerships have body shops.
Ford maintains that most of its body shops are already capable of doing most repairs on the redesigned pickup.
But Ford is creating the Ford National Body Shop Network of dealers and independent shops capable of large structural repairs.
The network, whose members have the proper tools and training, will be Ford's conduit for insurance company repair referrals for the pickup.