Virtual technology aids in learning to weld advanced materials

Richard Perry of Chief Automotive (right) helps a journalist set up equipment at a recent media event. Collision Repair magazine was the only Canadian publication present.

by Jeff Sanford

Toronto, Ontario — October 5, 2015 — Chief Automotive recently hosted a meeting at its headquarters in Madison, Indiana. The purpose of the gathering: Introduce a new line of joining tools collision repair centres can use to keep up with the industry-wide shift to more advanced materials.

The biggest news in the collision repair industry of late has been the use of aluminum in many more mainstream vehicles. Everyone has heard about the Ford F-150, but the new Cadillac CT6 will also make more use of aluminum (the new body of a CT6 was on display at Chief). Another mainstream vehicle, the latest Chevrolet Malibu, features eleven materials in its body. So the shift to advanced materials is happening. A trend once confined to the luxury and sports market is going mainstream.

In a presentation to the gathered reporters, Richard Perry, OEM and Strategic Account Sales Manager, explained why these changes are happening now.

“The OEMs have spent a lot of time on working on the power train to achieve corporate average mileage requirements,” said Perry. But those efficiencies have largely been harvested at this point. “The OEMs realized they had to start working on weight. A good way to do this is through a shift in body materials. Carbon fibre, boron high-strength steel, magnesium, aluminum. It’s what they have to do, and are trying to do.”

For collision repair shops wanting to stay on top of these trends, Chief offers a suite of new products designed to allow shops to join different metals. During the recent day-long presentation at Chief headquarters, the company showed off these new products. But first up was a demonstration of a virtual welding device that Chief uses to train new techs.

Welding is hard to do correctly. It takes a lot of practice, but practicing on customer’s cars is out of the question. As one Chief exec noted, “Guys can be good, go on vacation, and then come back, and nothing … they have to learn it over.” The welding simulator helps Chief keep its techs in tip-top shape. Utilizing a series of motion capture cameras, the simulator tracks in real-time the position of the welding gun. In a manner similar to a video game, the techs are tracked and scored on their technique.

After the classroom session, the group headed into the factory and took in a live demonstration of Chief’s MultiMig 522 for welding and brazing aluminum, magnesium and various modern high-strength steels, including the exotically named “Ferritic Phase,” “Stretch-Flangeable” and “Transformation Induced Plasticity” steel types.

To this point most car bodies have been joined with resistance spot welding. But with the evolution of advanced high-strength steel, alternative joining methods have to be used. A MIG welder allows techs to join two pieces of metal through the use a filler material to create a metallic joint between two parts, a process known as brazing. The technique maintains the integrity of the base metal. But what is great about the 522 is that programmed algorithms help technicians achieve the perfect weld.

“People say welding aluminum is difficult. Not so,” said Bob Holland, Director of Collision Sales (North and South America). “Let’s face it, there’s lots of labour turnover in auto body shops. There is a lot of difference in the amount of experience technicians have. This makes it easy.”

Collision repair techniques are becoming more complex. Maintaining consistency and what the Chief execs call “repeatability,” is key to staying ahead of the trend. 

Collision Repair magazine was the only Canadian publication at the Chief Automotive event. Watch for more exclusive content later this week! 


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