Damage analysis is one way OEMs try to determine which materials and methods will best protect vehicles. Additional reporting by Christopher Ludwig.
Scratches, chips, dents and other minor blemishes disappoint consumers, annoy dealers, lead to warranty claims and sometimes even result in lost business as people are reluctant to return to the brand.
“Most protection systems won’t stop major damage, such as that caused by a collision,” points out Derek Sturley, loss prevention expert with Sompo Japanese Insurance Company of Europe, “but protecting the most vulnerable parts of the car with the right materials at the right time is of great benefit.” As the saying goes, though, there is no gain without pain— in this case the extra time and expense of buying and applying the chosen protection material or system. “The irony with vehicle protection is that you are only sure if a system [is worth the investment] when it is not effective,” says Willem de Lange, managing director of TES Automotive Claims Management Services in the Netherlands. “It is very difficult— maybe even impossible—to calculate what did not happen and why it did not happen. Every kind of protection I know of has strengths and weaknesses and, in the end, is a compromise between cost and result.”
Experimenting with different systems and analysing which works best can help. So can statistics showing which parts of the car suffer the most damage in transport. If the OEM or 3PL can work out where in the supply chain most damage occurs—a difficult proposition—or on which routes vehicles are more likely to be damaged, they may be in a better
position to know where and how to protect them.
“OEMs have to do some analysis of potential damage,” emphasises Sturley. “To protect all of a vehicle would be too expensive. Protection has to be targeted and you need accurate, timely statistics to do so.”
Sompo Japan Insurance Company found the front and rear bumpers and the driver’s door generally suffer the most damage as these are the parts most likely to come into contact with anything else, although not every model or route fits this pattern. Further analysis, carried out on behalf of OEM customers, discovered that in some countries where road infrastructure is poor, and cars bump against each other and the chains securing them on the lorry, for example, can also cause damage to vehicles.
“You can’t fix the infrastructure, so you have to give better protection to the vehicles, or put them in an enclosed trailers,” Sturley says. “But the OEM has to ask itself what will it save, how much will it cost, and is it worth it?”
Kia Motors (UK) analysed the vehicles coming over from its Slovakia plant a few years ago to try to reduce damage levels. “Vehicles are protected in Slovakia with wraps or foam,” explains Awais Ajmal, head of supply chain business processes.
“But our analysis found that door edgings and sills were experiencing the highest areas of damage. The factory now uses the same materials as before, but places the protection more strategically over these parts, rather than guessing where the material should go. Damage rates have gone down because of this change.”
Spain’s Seat, part of the Volkswagen Group, runs analysis during the design of vehicles to determine where to apply protective pads. According to Javiar Morales, CAD simulations during the design of bumpers and doors help determine the most critical points during typical handling processes (such as when doors are opened and vehicles are loaded). “Also, real tests with the first prototypes are necessary before serial production to decide the exact number and location of this protection,” says Morales. “During the launch phase periodical audits are necessary to check its effectiveness too.”
Seat’s tests have recently led it to develop a new kind of magnetic protection in the form of red, branded pads attached to the driver side door. “The protection is being provided for loading and unloading points and compounds, as well as fo our regular truckers,” says Morales.
Foams, films, tapes and more
Foam and wraps are two of the main protection products on the market. Film, tapes and old-fashioned cloth covers are also used. As already suggested, the choice of protection depends on a number of variables, including type of vehicle; transport mode; global location of origin and destination; time of year; length of journey; what kind of paint is used; and even the size and location of a storage yard. If a shipment is going to the Middle East, for example, it has to be protected against extreme heat and sand. If it’s going somewhere with severe winters, protection must withstand snow and ice.
Morales, who says that Seat uses plastic film as exterior protection, adds that it’s necessary to be flexible about protection decisions, particularly as a carmaker might need to switch transport modes at certain times. “Nowadays the flexibility of transport is really high nd thus it’s necessary to take this into ccount when determining what kind f protection to put on the car,” he says.
Films and tapes come in various formulas, but films are normally either clear or white. “Clear film was developed at the request of a customer and is used when the OEM doesn’t want to see white,” explains Sam Veitz, automotive and industrial specialist at Abi Tape. “But both clear and white come in a variety of adhesive levels, depending on the paint system, in order to prevent ‘blow-off’—the film literally blowing off within the logistics chain. If it’s very hot, you use less adhesive; if it’s very cold, you need more.
“We’re always looking at the next generation product as the paint formulas keep changing. The film is usually put on the vehicle right after the paint, before assembly, although sometimes it is applied after assembly. We have to make sure the adhesive won’t react with the paint, but the product must also be easy to apply and last as long as is needed.”
Abi Tape’s latest product release, Number 932, the clear film already mentioned, came out a couple of years ago. Meanwhile, Tesa Tape is bringing out a new bumper film, which is currently being tested by Ford for approval this year.
“Ten or 12 years ago, everyone wanted to cover all horizontal paint systems,” explains Bob Fallon, account manager for Ford and Chrysler at Tesa Tape. “New paint systems are more resistant to blemishes, so the amount of film needed was reduced. Most Asian companies still cover most of the vehicle, but in North America, they use small patches– under the door handle, on the bumper, etc.”
The Japanese increase in inspection requirements for imports also led to clear film being developed for windshields. According to Fallon, a few years ago, the Japanese began insisting on a 15-minute inspection by two people for every vehicle imported into the country. “If they find any scratch on the windshield, the vehicle is rejected. We were requested by VW and Mercedes to provide clear film for the glass which still allows people to see out so they can operate the vehicle.
“The film stops scratches from windshield wipers, too. The wipers are generally turned on after the sea journey because of debris falling on the vehicle while in transit.”
Tesa Tape, like its competitors, continually updates its products to take account of new paint systems. “It is particularly important to ensure there is no adhesive residue or ghosting on the paint,” Fallon emphasises. “Bumpers usually have a two-component paint system, which means we need different solutions to ensure the protection adheres to the vehicle.
“However, as the film is applied soon after painting, the paint is still ‘curing’, issuing gases in the process which can react with the adhesive. We have to be careful that the protection doesn’t damage the paint.”
The increasing use of plastic bumpers makes protection more difficult as it is hard to get film to stick to plastic. “Sometimes,” says Sturley, “conventional cloth covers work better.” Foam padding offers another alternative.
Some carmakers use full body covers for select movements. Seat’s Morales says that while foil protection is the most cost-effective when combined with the right processes, the company relies on full covers for “the most complex logistics chains”.
One important producer of body covers is Covercar, headquartered in Italy. According to sales manager Alessandro Bolleri, Covercar produces full body covers which do not have any adhesive that comes into contact with the paint. “Our body bags offer multi-layered protection against dust, rain, rust and so on,” he says. “The full body cover is applied in three or four minutes by hooking it under the body of the vehicle; a bonnet or roof cover can be applied in seconds. It’s equally quick to take off.”
But full body covers are expensive compared to other protection, at a cost of €30-€40 ($38-$50) for one body bag, 20-30% more than normal film. But Bollera adds that such covers can actually be cost effective during long-term use on complex supply chains, as they can be left on for a year. “For short-term destinations we also provide partial covers, [specifically] for the bonnet and roof, but also bumpers, rearview mirrors, etc.”
Another trend in in North America is for wheel covers, which have been used in Europe for ten years. “With the new types of wheels, you can see the brakes and brake pads,” Fallon says. “If the vehicle sits still for even a week, it gathers dust and is affected by moisture in the air. These environmental affects usually go when the driver hits the brake, but it looks bad and customers don’t want to buy a vehicle that looks rusty. And if the dust is not cleared off by driving the vehicle, it can become ingrained and cause pits on the rotor, which leads to brake shudder. The answer is to cut protective material in a circle to apply to the outside of the wheel.”
Some argue that body covers lead to other types of damages that might go unnoticed. Justin Newell, manager of vehicle logistics for Porsche North America, revealed at the recent FVL North America conference that the carmaker uses covers for cars moving on open rail wagons in Germany for export to North America. “These covers are effective against rail dust, but there are also hidden damages, such as chafing,” he said.
“Those damages might show up later in warranty claims.” In North America-bound vehicles at least, Mercedes-Benz has made some moves away to reduce protection material and equipment, as well as switching from enclosed to open trailers for road carriers (see box above).
According to Ted M. Boudalis, responsible for managing MBUSA’s vehicle processing centres (VPCs), the carmaker has eliminated all protection on most exported vehicles between Germany and the US except for some exterior transport tape on certain critical points, such as behind the door handle and where people get in and out. There is also no more foam used on bumpers. Considerable protection remains for interiors, however, with driver seats, floors and centre consoles completely covered, Boudalis says.
Transport mode setting
Boudalis highlights several innovations that are also coming right out of the factory, including a new ‘transport mode’ that cars will be set to. When enabled, the rear doors won’t open, windows won’t go down, the radio won’t turn on, air conditioning is limited and the boot is sealed, which will have important implications for anyone handling the vehicle. “It’s going to hit the entire logistics chain, limiting the speed, lighting and other electronics to avoid any unnecessary drain on the battery,” says Boudalis.
When the car reaches a VPC, the mode will be deactivated so that all the necessary checks can be carried out. “We will then reactivate it and it will stay in transport mode all the way to the dealerships,” says Boudalis. The system will first be introduced in the new SL and 2013 GLK.
Environmental concerns are also leading to changes in OEM demand, but the uptake of more environmentally driven products appears to be slow thus far. Canadian company WGI Manufacturing, part of the Walker Group, has launched what it claims is the most environmentally-friendly protection: a water-based spray it calls WRAPS. Although initially developed seven years ago, it is still being tested and modified to meet OEM specifications and is not expected to be commercially available until this autumn.“As far as we know, WRAPS is the first water-based spray developed specifically for the extremes of the Canadian market but which is still resistant to the heat of the US southwest,” says Steve Clelland, president of the Walker Group. It’s easy to apply robotically, competitively priced, and being liquid, can’t tear like tape can. “OEMs with a stronger environmental commitment are keen to talk to us, but trying to change a business that has worked the same way for a long time is a slow process,” says Clelland.
Yet another revolutionary product has been shelved, for the time being at least, because of cost. Chemicar’s temporary polymer coating was developed for the Mexican market, where vehicles suffer from problems with contaminants and metal fallout before being loaded on ships.
“We developed a white spray, almost like thick paint, which dries to a thin coating” explains Gino Bauwens, manager at Chemicar. “It sticks to the car completely and moulds to its shape, preventing anything from getting underneath it to damage the car. To remove it, the dealer simply sprays it with water, grabs a piece of the coating that comes loose and peels it off. It’s really effective when you want to protect a couple of vehicles—say to take to a show—but to apply to 500 or 1,000 vehicles a day becomes too expensive.”
A false faith in protection
Protective wraps, film and tape pose two more problems for OEMs to consider. First is the environmental impact of the disposal of used protectors: if these materials can’t be recycled, they must be burned or returned to the manufacturer.
Secondly, however necessary protection may be, the more a vehicle is protected, the less care might be taken when handling it. “If you apply foam protection to a bumper, some car handlers use that to stop,” says Sturley. “They position the car until they feel it bump.”
“Protection can lead to an increase of risk,” agrees De Lange. “A false faith in the protection, coupled with more resistant and ‘self-repairing’ paints has led some OEMs to abandon protection altogether.”
That might sound frightening to dealers, although so long as damages remain low they will likely accept such changes. However, given varying conditions for transport, most OEMs will likely choose from a basket of protective materials and methods that will vary by model, region and transport mode. When it comes to protective products, there appears to be little prescription for a ‘one-size-fits-all’ strategy.