By Allison Rogers
When it comes to collision industry innovations, Pro Spot International president Ron Olsson is at the forefront. Since 1986, Ron has been dedicated to providing solutions to all corners of the collision repair sector.
A born Swede with dreams of making it in America, Olsson has certainly achieved enough success for a lifetime. Since embarking on the Pro Spot journey more than 30 years ago, Olsson has made it his mission to give the collision repair sector a voice while providing top-notch welding products, comprehensive training, and overall support to the industry.
Collision Repair’s Allison Rogers sat down with Ron to hear about his extensive expertise in the sector, his company’s latest innovations and the happenings at Pro Spot International.
COLLISON REPAIR: How did Pro Spot International come to be what it is today?
RON OLSSON: I’ve always been innovative. I’m a builder and inventor by nature.
I started my own business in 1986, after moving from Sweden to California. The business was then called California Laser Alignment and Straightening Systems, or C.L.A.S.S., and focused on motorcycle frame repair equipment. We repaired motorcycles and developed a few laser measuring systems, frame straighteners and some other tools.
One day, while driving home on the freeway, I started to think about why I was seeing so many more cars on the road than motorcycles. That thought brought me into the world of collision repair and turned C.L.A.S.S. into Pro Spot.
Pro Spot started with resistance spot welding in the late ‘80s. The process was used by OEMs in the U.S. and Canada but not in the collision repair industry. It’s the process manufacturers use when they initially build the vehicle, so the process allowed repairers to replicate factory-type welds.
It was difficult to introduce resistance spot welding at first because a lot of bodyshops didn’t have the electricity grid required for these types of machines. Eventually, we were able to work around this by building electrical transformers. The industry also needed different arms to reach into the tougher nooks and crannies. Pro Spot got a few patents on those arms early on, and someone said, “Hey, Ron—you should build a welder,” and I said, “Hey, maybe I should.”
That’s the uniqueness of Pro Spot—we’re at the forefront and we always have been.
CR: OEM Certifications are a big topic right now, and Pro Spot has a lot of experience working with OEMs. What are your thoughts on OEM repair procedures in the industry right now?
RO: Vehicles are constantly changing— they’re much more complex now and have such different metals than say, 20 years ago. As an industry, we’re really at the point where OEMs need to be involved. Liability is greater nowadays, as is the responsibility to ensure technicians are following the proper procedures to repair them.
It’s funny how things have changed. Back when I started the company, I was knocking down the OEM’s doors to try and promote my product. I was met with a lot of resistance from them—no one knew what resistance spot welding would look like in the bodyshop or how we would use it.
Years later, we started gaining more traction with them, and now, they’re knocking our doors down. Pro Spot has cooperation with many OEMs and they often lean on us to develop welders that fit with their vehicles and repair procedures. Pro Spot enjoys working with them and it’s something we’ve always done—translating what they do into the repair scene and working to develop the best procedures with the proper equipment.
Mike Berardi, Ford director of service engineering operations, Ashley Olsson, Pro Spot director of communications, Ron Olsson and Steve DeAngelis, Ford manager of technical support operations after Pro Spot was named Ford’s supplier of the year in 2014
CR: On the topic of mixed metals, how has the rise of mixed metal components transformed Pro Spot’s products?
RO: In the early days, we were working with milder steels that were more forgiving. Now, in recent years, we’ve been seeing stronger, lighter metals used in vehicle parts.
In 2014, Ford switched its F-150 body from steel to aluminum, and that was a big shift for the industry. Welding aluminum versus steel is a different ballgame, so it changed everything. We got involved and worked closely with Ford at the time to look at a variety of different welders that could achieve this repair.
At the same time, additives are being integrated into steel to make stronger, lighter parts and whatnot. This material is even more difficult to work with. After a collision, you can’t even straighten these panels. You’d need to remove them, replace the panel and then weld them back on. That has introduced even more welding to repairs.
Now, the automakers that had never heard of resistance spot welders aren’t just recommending them, they’re requiring them. That’s been huge for our industry, and our company—changing our equipment with the times to serve the industry.
CR: Pro Spot supplies a lot of the required tools in OEM procedures. What was the process of getting your products listed as required for certain procedures?
RO: Since we’ve been involved with using resistance spot welding in repairs for so long, we’ve developed a name in that realm. By working so closely with automakers, we’ve become a reliable shoulder to lean on.
For example, we offer three of the six tools required for Ford certification. In any field we’ve had a product that meets a particular repair need, we’ve met the OEM certification for it. And, in turn, we’ve crafted and continually evolve our products to help meet the needs of OEMs as well. The OEMs trust our expertise.
We also have a quick turnaround— we’re able to get things done very quickly, for OEMs or otherwise. We manufacture everything from weld caps to completed welders here in California, we’re even able to do prototypes overnight for some projects. We have our own engineers in-house, both mechanical and electrical, and a prototype shop where we can do machining and sheet metal. We don’t see delays often, so that adds a lot of reliability to all of our relationships.
From left to right: Art Ewing, Pro Spot marketing consultant, Ron Olsson and Russell Duncan, Pro Spot’s director of sales and marketing for Canada.
Ron Olsson, founder and president of Pro Spot International.
CR: Could you talk a little bit about Pro Spot’s current products? What’s a key feature the industry should be aware of?
RO: My mission with Pro Spot has always been to continue to update our tools and welders. Our tools have changed a lot since our first endeavours in the late ’80s.
Our latest welders feature built-in computers and Wi-Fi capabilities, and they use a process we call Auto-Weld. These spot welders can analyze and detect metal thickness—what type of metals we’re working with, how strong the metals are—before applying any energy. The technician doesn’t have to apply any settings, it’s all done automatically.
There are also frequent updates to the welders, the same way you receive updates on your phone. We simply send out the update, the technician processes the update and receives all the new information straight away.
Finally, we’ve had weld logs on all of our equipment for years now, and that’s something people have just started to take advantage of, with the amount of liability out there nowadays. They’re becoming really helpful in today’s market in proving the process was done per OEM guidelines. Since it’s been gaining popularity, we’re constantly working to improve that infrastructure.
CR: How important is training to Pro Spot?
RO: At Pro Spot, we believe we have a duty to ensure our products are used properly. We also have a responsibility for our product to provide quality structural repairs—training is a key part of that. We truly believe that training is just as important as the product itself; if we can get people to use our equipment the way it’s designed to be used; we can guarantee they will like it.
We’re very involved in training. We offer online training with all of our products, so technicians can pop their headsets on and do a training session right with the welder right in front of them. We also have training centres in Canada, the U.S. and all over the world where we conduct sessions.
Finally, we have a community with our loyal users for them to contact us or lean on each other for support. Technicians can post their questions and either a Pro Spot representative or other users will help them with their solutions.
The real product feedback is honestly from the technicians; the people holding the product in their hands. There will always be problems encountered in the real world that we may not have considered, so it’s great to have that feedback loop with the actual bodyshops.
CR: What other support does Pro Spot offer with its products?
RO: Our products are very service and repair- minded, and the industry appreciates that.
Sometimes welders fail, but we’ve always made it our mission to get technicians back up and welding as quickly as possible. We’ve put a lot of effort into designing products with the repair technicians in mind. When something goes wrong with our tools, it’s modular inside. So, technicians can just plug a different module in and quickly get the welder up and running. Then, we go back and diagnose the problem.
All our distributors are constantly trained on how to fix welders, so we have a community of support in our local areas dedicated to getting your Pro Spot welders back up and working properly.
Honestly, it feels like technicians seem to love the product more when it breaks and we’re able to solve the problem quickly as we do. Everyone hates to buy something and run into a problem they have no idea how to fix it. People want to buy Pro Spot because they know they’ll be taken care of.
CR: What sorts of tools are Pro Spot focused on right now?
RO: Well, there’s a lot there.
We’ve been working a lot on the automation of the welding process, and we want to continue to build more sophisticated products to meet the demands of the new technologies and metals being used today.
It’s become extremely complicated, and we do a lot of development through coding and programming. We want to make it so technicians can simply push a button and the job is taken care of. Our goal is simple, sophisticated welding processes, and that’s constant development for us.
We’re also focused on MIG welders, which technicians are a big fan of. Today, there’s steel, aluminum and silicon bronze, and our MIG welders can easily switch between any of these materials. It saves the technicians from swapping out multiple MIG welders for one job, which they appreciate.
Our riveting systems are gaining popularity among OEMs. A lot of today’s vehicle models use multiple materials, and you cannot weld dissimilar metals.
We’re also working on dent pulling. In the old days, the OEMs may feel it’s better to replace a quarter panel than repair it. But if you think about the challenges presented by breaking 50 to 100 factory welds to replace a panel, and then complete the 50 to 100 Pro Spot welds to reattach the new part, it presents a lot of structural challenges. In our opinion, it’s a lot easier to just fix a panel than replace it, and we’ve been working with OEMs to communicate this.
Finally, we’re working with high-performance glues as a cold process that prevents corrosion and rusting on the undercoat.
It’s pretty funny because I’ve been working with this process since the ’90s, but everyone thought I was insane back then. Here we are, 20 or so years later and look, I was right!
Olsson takes a trip around Pro Spot’s Carlsbad, California headquarters.
Olsson loads an older model of Pro Spots, the PR-10 welder for delivery.
Olsson has always been an inventor and builder by nature, he told Collision Repair.
Pro Spot has several training centres around the world, including one at its Carlsbad, California headquarters.