Technology marches on, as anyone who owns, manages, or works in an auto shop knows. All industries are inevitably affected by the march of technological progress, but car repair technicians must stay aware, and on top of changes within the industry in order to continue to serve their clients and remain competitive in a tight market. The challenge is predicting when a new technology will become mainstream enough that additional training of staff or investment in new equipment will pay off.
For instance, carbon fiber is a material that is becoming more and more common in more cutting-edge automotive design, as it is both lighter and stronger than steel. For car manufacturers looking to provide better options for high fuel efficiency, carbon fiber offers a real solution. It is already being used in the body of the Corvette Z07 and on two different BMW models. Until recently carbon fiber was too difficult and too expensive to produce at a low enough cost to tempt auto manufacturers, but recent breakthroughs may change that, and quickly.
From a repair perspective, carbon fiber is a very different material to work with than plastic, aluminum, or steel. It is both rigid and stiff, and learning to work with it will require new training and equipment. Shaping carbon fiber changes its properties, and anyone prepared to work with it must be adept at new skills like mold making, fiber cloth cutting, vacuum bagging, and polymer resin application. Additionally, handling and manipulation of carbon fiber must be performed under specific conditions for safety’s sake. Ground carbon fiber particles, if inhaled, can be dangerous, so technicians will have to suit up differently to work with it. Changes to an auto shop’s physical plant will have to be made as well, including the addition of clean room space. Certain new specialty equipment, including freezers, bagging equipment, and hand tools, will also be mandatory.
Many auto shop managers will read the above and decide the initial investment, in training and equipment, would be too expensive and complex for them to afford, certainly in the short term. Besides, hardly anyone owns a car made with carbon fiber. However, shops serving certain demographics should carefully consider the advantages of being able to handle carbon fiber repairs will be very valuable at some point in the future. If yours is the only shop in a large geographic area that can work with carbon fiber, all of the business in that area will be yours – certainly in the beginning of any carbon fiber automobile trend, and potentially much of it for a long time after.
As with any new service offering, think it over carefully, do your homework, and crunch the numbers. You may find that, after a little research, the bigger picture will look different to you.