A Raspberry Pi, shown above, lies at the heart of the new paint monitoring system from Enviro Database Solutions. The Raspberry Pi is a simple computer designed to be cheap to produce.

By Jeff Sanford

Toronto, Ontario -- January 28, 2016 -- Steve Ark first came into the industry way back in the 1970s. He started out painting custom cars, and he’s been working in the industry one way or another ever since. In his latest incarnation, he’s been working as a developer and inventor of a new device that helps collision repair facilities monitor paint use.

As every shop owner knows, some years back the Ministry of the Environment stepped up efforts around the regulation and approval of the use of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), prompting the switch to waterborne coatings. Once you’ve got your Certificate of Air, that’s when the paper game begins. Logbooks have to be maintained and produced upon request if a ministry inspector shows up. Keeping these books up-to-date is a time-intensive task. Time-stressed painters may only take a few seconds to quickly scribble down usage numbers on a piece of paper. Entering the data takes up time that could be used for more profitable endeavours.

“Put it this way, in 1986 I only had to fill out a one-page form and fill out the certificate. Now the average report is 90 to 100 pages. They've got a lot more restrictive,” says Ark in an interview with Collision Repair magazine. “I do a lot of environment administration and approval certification work. I began hearing from shop owners, 'I need help keeping track of my paint usage.' They've got to keep all those records. They've got reams of paper in a drawer. And then when the ministry comes in they have to go through all that. I wanted to develop something that allows them to do this more efficiently.”

Recognizing an unfilled market niche, Ark got to work. He went into the garage, began reading books on how to code, and eventually came up with his device.

“It was hours and hours off work,” he says. “At a summer BBQ when everyone else was having fun, I'd be the one sitting in the corner reading the textbook. It took me five years.”

Using a computer language called Python, he developed software to run on a Raspberry Pi computer and Enviro‐Database Solutions (EDS) was born. Ark is now selling a digital paint usage assistant.

A sensor on the gun registers the amount of paint being used. The stats are uploaded to a cloud-based site. No more piles of paper scraps, or data-entry labour time. When the MOE does an inspection and asks for your records, you simply go to the website, log in and hit print. All of the data from when the painter starts the job is stored. No more checking scribbled notes or trying to reconstruct the data from paint supplier invoices.

One of the benefits is that this paint usage monitoring system updates in real-time. The feed can be sent to a smartphone, so the owner or manager can see how much material painters are using from anywhere in the world. “You can be sitting on a beach in Florida and watching how much paint your guy is using in the booth,” says Ark.

There’s also the question of the painter’s time, productivity and morale. They didn’t get into the business to do paperwork. They want to paint.

“It's tough for painters. They're running around with all these scraps of paper, dumping it on the manager’s desk on the end of the day. Then that gets passed off to someone. This eliminates that whole step. You are notified by email if you've gone over your limit,” Ark says. “The painters love being freed from paperwork. They weren't hired to do all the tracking of usage. Painters were hired to paint. Let them do that.”

The device can be installed on any paint booth or prep station and works with any spray gun. The data stream includes the time the painter pulled the gun trigger and for how long. The software keeps a log and totals this all up automatically, giving you a number in terms of total litres per hour used. “Owners will say to me, well, 'My paint mixing scale does this.' Oh really? Tell me how much actually went up the stack. This device tells you how much did,” says Ark.

“Normally a painter would have to write down how much mix, time he started, time he finished. Does that cover for waste? That doesn't cover that.”
The system has been beta tested for over a year. It works on smart phones, laptops, tablets or a desktop PC. “You can run nine booths off one unit,” says Ark. It has already been installed at two facilities, Highland Collision BSM and Carcone's Auto Recycling.

One of the most interesting details about the device itself is that the computer is a Raspberry Pi. For those who may not have heard, this is a revolutionary new computer that was designed to be durable, easy to use, small and inexpensive. It was designed so that kids anywhere in the world, even in developing nations, could acquire it and learn programming.

“I was reading about it. I began to play around with it,” says Ark. The computer is tiny. It's really just a motherboard with chips attached. It's not even laptop or tablet size. “It's really unobtrusive. You don't have to lug another big computer into the shop. You just need an internet connection, which a lot of shops have for their scales,” says Ark. “Why not make it easier on yourself?”

For more information, please visit envirobase.ca.


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