Volume 13, Issue 4 - July/August 2009

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The Evolution of Paint Protection as an Add-On
by Manny Hondroulis

Diversification for auto tinters is nothing new. Whereas in the past it may have been through alarm or stereo installations, detailing, or even aftermarket rims, paint protection film (PPF) has gained popularity these days. Given that the association between automotive window tinting and paint protection film has never been stronger, I thought I’d devote this edition of my column to the technologies that have allowed the PPF industry to grow.

In its infancy, paint protection film was installed on the painted surfaces of a car by applying bulk roll material to the hood, bumper, and fenders, then hand-cutting it to fit around the edges. This time-consuming process also came with risk—one wrong move with the blade and the car’s paint was damaged. But, not unlike other industries, PPF has been transformed by technology. The use of sophisticated software and film plotters has allowed installers to overcome three major drawbacks associated with bulk roll installation: time, risk, and waste. In fact, industry analysts suggest that the conversion from bulk roll to pre-cut kit application has given PPF a two- to three-percent market penetration, which is still low, but much higher than it was ten years ago. With the click of a button, installers can now use a film plotter to create a pre-cut kit for most makes, models, and trim levels of modern cars. 

Boxed In
David Benz of A-1 Automotive Solutions says applying a rectangular piece of film as it comes off the roll to a curved automobile isn’t easy. “The amount of time necessary to plan, measure, and execute a free-hand kit properly is way more involved than having a kit where, usually, a team of designers has already accomplished those tasks for you,” Benz says. “Generally, pre-cut kits cut your installation time in half, or more, depending on the complexity of the vehicle.”

Pre-cut kits facilitate the training of new installers as well. Daniel McPhail, product manager for PPF and software provider Venture Tape believes that pattern software is important as experienced installers employ apprentices to handle work overflow. “Professional installers will need to make adjustments to managing future generations of new installers,” McPhail says. “Most new apprentices will not want to use a knife when it comes to cutting PPF on a vehicle. It is too much of a risk.”

Pattern software also helps to reduce material waste. “[Computer cutting] optimizes film usage,” Melissa Jenkins of Matter Communications, a public relations firm for Bekaert Specialty Films, explains. “The software sizes and arranges patterns on the screen to make maximum use of film—eliminating up to 20 percent of waste incurred by hand cutting.”

Numbers Are Important
In order to cater to the general public, a PPF installer needs access to thousands of patterns. There are multiple automobile manufacturers that offer many models in different trim levels with different options (i.e. with or without parking assist or fog lights and other options that affect the appearance of the bumper) over many different years. And that’s just in the United States. Many software companies create patterns for the global market.

Software programs offer uses beyond paint protection film patterns. Many allow you to cut window tint patterns, or even your own designs. For example, Bekaert’s ComputerCut® contains pre-loaded vehicle patterns, as well as letters, shapes and custom designs that could be useful in flat glass installations.

Because each offers its own unique uses and features, it’s not unusual for an installer to subscribe to more than one software program. For this reason, installers judge software based on a number of criteria. Some film libraries are more comprehensive than others, so the most important criterion may be the number of available patterns (make, model, year, trim level, etc). Some patterns have been designed to work best with a specific film, especially if the software is provided by a film manufacturer. And there are good reasons for this. For example, one manufacturer’s film may stretch easier than another’s and its in-house software program may be designed to cut a pattern short, knowing that the installer is going to stretch it into place.

“The use of sophisticated software and film plotters has allowed installers to overcome three 
major drawbacks associated with bulk roll installation: time, risk, and waste.”

It should come as no surprise that one software program may be easier to use than another; so user interface also plays a part in an installer’s choice. Some programs allow the installer to change the size of the pattern to wrap around the car’s edges or create extended coverage.

Finally, cost plays a major role in an installer’s preference. Some software programs are offered to the installer for free, as long as the manufacturer’s film is purchased. Other programs charge a one-time, up-front fee, are “pay-as-you-go,” or a hybrid of the two.

In years past, PPF may not have been a viable business given the risk and the time factor. But sophisticated software solutions have evolved over the past five to ten years to create an opportunity for skilled labor to profit handsomely. It is no wonder that more and more installers are diversifying into this area and investing in the technology to make it profitable.

Manny Hondroulis is marketing manager for Energy Products Distribution in Baltimore. Mr. Hondroulis’ opinions are solely his own and not necessarily those of this magazine. If you have questions, e-mail Manny at mhondroulis@epdwindowfilm.com.

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