Answering the Calibration Call

Experts Say It’s Worth the Investment

By Tara Taffera

“If you are going to be in the business, you are going to have to invest in the change of the business,” said George Weller, vice president, City Auto Glass. That change, of course, includes the fact that cars with ADAS features have to be recalibrated after windshield replacements. “We can expect to see 40% of the cars on the highway with an ADAS system, so it is worth the investment,” he added.
Weller was one of six expert panelists at Auto Glass Week 2019 held in Indianapolis in September. It was moderated by AGRR™ editorial director Tara Taffera, additional participants included: Jon Burra, owner of Windshield Calibration Center; Bill Purtell, operations manager of All Star Glass; Bob Scharaga, president of All Star Glass; Josh Bradley, owner of Clear Choice Auto Glass; and Jon Dickerman, the diagnostic quality assurance coordinator for Sullivan Tire.
For two hours, I, along with the audience, asked questions about the ins and outs of performing calibrations in their shops. They may know they have to do it, some attendees said, but many still have yet to make the leap.
When asked about what shop owners should know when contemplating entering the calibration market, panelists made clear: they should proceed with caution.
“You can’t cut corners to do it faster. If you miss one step, it’s wrong,” said Burra. “Take care of every single step and complete each correctly.”
“If you think it’s easy money, it’s not,” added Weller. “If you don’t do it right, we will point at you and look at you with disgust.” Why? Because, according to Weller, “it’s all about customer safety …”

How Much Will It Cost Me?

When it comes to adding calibration services, expense is often foremost on shop owners ‘minds. Panelists did little to allay those apprehensions.
“It’s going to be expensive and this is going to include attorney fees,” said Weller. He estimated his company invested $400,000 so far (City Auto Glass has 33 locations). Other costs include everything from subscriptions to data providers, such as ALLDATA, I-Car and Mitchell, to training and travel, loaner cars, and of course the calibration equipment, according to Weller.
“We have more loaner cars than ever before,” he added. Bradley said at his one location the process was a little simpler.
“It didn’t cost me that much,” he said. “I had a shop and bought the equipment and started performing calibrations.”
Once the related expenses have been laid to rest, what’s the length of return on investment, one audience member asked?
“It all depends on your market,” said Bradley. “Just be careful to calculate your numbers precisely. Be aware of them and keep up with them.”

How Do I Train My CSRs?

Many companies may not think about training for customer service representatives (CSR).
“The customer phone call has gone from 4 minutes to 40 minutes,” said Scharaga. “We had to add a lot more CSRs.”
“The CSRs need a lot of training,” added Purtell.
One way to do this is easy, according to Scharaga. “They need to go to a work area and see it being done.”

Do I Have To Do a Pre-Drive?

“If you don’t do a pre-drive, it [ADAS system] could be functioning improperly. We found out right away that we have to do the pre-drive,” said Scharaga. “If you don’t do it you are making a big mistake. For every one we do there are four to five major issues. I feel it’s an obligation to the insurance companies.”
Every panelist agreed. “You will run into things you didn’t expect,” said Purtell.
“You have to do it,” he added. “If you don’t, the dealer is going to say you broke it. When you do the predrive, if you notice anything that is not functioning you have to fix it before doing any work because as soon as you touch it, you’re liable for that vehicle.”

What if a Dealer Does a Scan?

Speaking of the car dealer, it is important to know that what they may describe as a calibration is really just a scan, panelists said. “It’s not the same,” said Scharaga.
“They’re either not informed, or they’re lying to you,” said Weller, so this is something shops should keep in mind before sending calibration work to a dealer.
One audience member complained of not being able to find a dealer that would do calibrations. “They just do post-tests, and then worry that a light will come on and they won’t know how to get it off,” said the attendee.
Weller told him it sounds like he is “being called [to offer these services in his area]”
“I know, that’s why I’m here,” the attendee responded.
It was this kind of helpful back and forth that kept the questions coming.

Is Insurance Billing Different?

I asked the panelists to address how their shops work with insurance companies in order to get paid for these services.
“Always be sure you have proof of whatever claim you are going to make,” said Scharaga. “Take pictures throughout the entire process.” It takes longer to get paid for these kinds of services than most, he warned.
The conversation then turned to whether or not a shop should set up a company that is separate from auto glass to offer calibration services—with one attendee inquiring whether or not that might make it easier to get paid.
“It’s easier to be reimbursed,” said Weller. “It is good to make sure you have a clear marketing tactic to let people know you do it, because sometimes your name doesn’t let people know and you want to make sure they know what you have to offer.”
Bradley set up a separate company, which he said does help with insurance billing.
“It is easier to streamline the process of getting the claim to them,” he said.
City Auto Glass did the same, and one reason is “we wanted to be able to market to body shops,” said Weller.

Final Words of Wisdom

“Know your numbers, and know your market,” Bradley reminded attendees.
Dickerman advised the audience of some key items when it comes to calibration not to forget.
“First, keep your equipment maintained,” he said, then added, “Keep employees trained, as we all know there is a lot of employee turnover. With calibration there is no learning curve.”
Ultimately, ADAS systems are changing on a daily basis, panelists suggested, and are providing auto glass shops with a moving target.
“It’s changing every day and you have to stay on top of it,” said Purtell. “But it’s exciting.”

The Link Between Auto Glass Quality and ADAS

“Once a float glass process line begins it stays online between 10-15 years, and a lot of glass  is moving through these lines—about 6,000 kilometers annually,” Erica Clouse, Pilkington North America business development manager, said at this year’s Auto Glass Week™. The glass process is crucial, according to Clouse, as she explained how the slightest glass distortion can alter a vehicle’s viewing area for cars with ADAS features. She noted the float glass process hasn’t really changed in the past 70 years, but the speed at which glass goes through this process is important. According to Clouse, there are several steps that must be followed in order to create safe automotive glass. Some of the steps she highlighted included:
1.The melting furnace: where the company puts all of the ingredients in. Sand is the base material and other things are added, according to Clouse, to have an easier time to melt. “It’s about 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit.”
2. The float bath: which is typically 60 meters long and 7 meters wide and is where a glass ribbon, or a large piece of uncut glass, flows through the melting furnace.
3. The cooling process: which Clouse stated is one of the most important steps, because if you go too slowly or too quickly “you run the risk of having a lower glass quality, the aim is to try and minimize distortion in the glass ribbon.”
“It’s important to note the levels of acceptable distortion are even lower
with [windshields with] ADAS,” Clouse said. She said acceptable distortion
levels come down to driver/customer safety, of which many in the audience
agreed with. Distortion, according to Clouse, has real-life implications, as it
could make the detected object in the camera’s view move in an unexpected way.
“Why are we talking about this—about calibration and ADAS and how it
affects us? It’s because the specifications for a windshield isn’t just about
making the driver comfortable,” she said. “With the new comfortability needs
that started about 10 years ago people wanted more features and we had to
adapt,” Clouse added. Now with ADAS, more adaptation is necessary.
“If you don’t calibrate the vehicle it doesn’t know anything has changed.
We like to say if you don’t calibrate it you’re stealing a range of tolerance
from your customers. When you don’t do this step you’ve shortened the
vehicle’s tolerance range which can increase the chances of drivers having
an accident,” she said.

Recalibration Standards

Following the two-hour panel discussion, Bob Beranek, president of Automotive Glass Consultants, gave attendees an update on ANSI/AGSC/AGRSS 004-2018 standard, and how calibration ties in.
First he reminded attendees that the standard is a living document that addresses safety issues for consumers and technicians, aiming to reduce liability, and reflects current changes in the industry. Beranek outlined what is currently in the document regarding ADAS systems, which includes the following per section 4.2: The vehicle has an ADAS which could require recalibration after any automotive glass replacement, and the technician chooses not to follow the guidelines in 8.9, the technician shall not undertake or complete the installation. The owner/operator then shall be so notified verbally and in writing.
He then addressed whether ADAS systems are a blessing or a curse for the auto glass shop. The pros include a new profit center, new customer base, an increase on ROI, and a way to improve your standing in the industry. The cons include having to buy expensive tools, improve infrastructure, and the need to reduce mobile installations.
“The standard gives you the background and support for your decisions. It is your choice to do calibration yourself or not. Just make sure to do your research beforehand,” he said.

Calibration Billing

Paul McFarland, senior director of supply chain management for LYNX Services, a Solera company, spoke to attendees during Auto Glass Week 2019 and gave some insights into just how many calibrations are being performed, just by sharing some of his company’s numbers.
“It overwhelmed us, quite honestly, how many we received,” he said. If you were one of those glass shops making a submission, you likely encountered wait times.
“I believe we have that issue corrected,” said McFarland. “Our goal eventually is 3-4 business hours,” he added. “Now it is two days. Shortly we will be at one day.”
LYNX, which created part numbers for recalibration, shared some of the numbers to showcase how the market is growing.
“In November 2017 we processed 5,800 calibration payments,” said McFarland. “In 2018 that number increased to 18,000. By the end of August 2019, the number was at 37,000.”

Discovering Equipment

Many of the representatives on the panel said they use calibration equipment from various providers, and attendees were eager to know more. One attendee asked: Knowing what you know now, what questions would you ask when searching for a tool provider?
“I would ask them about the coverage they provide, and the support they offer,” said Bradley.
Here is a look at four suppliers who showcased their calibration options at Auto Glass Week.
Pilkington North America was in Indianapolis doing demos of its Opti-Aim system and its representatives talked to attendees about additional calibration options it can provide. Business development manager Erica Clouse, talked about how the company is expanding its product range and gave one such example.
“We are showing our 360-view camera mat for the big Ford and GM pickup trucks. It is 40-feet long so takes up a lot of space but if it makes sense for your business we want that as an option for our customers.” Autel unveiled its MA6000, a new MaxiSYS ADAS Calibration System which is extremely portable.
“The easy-to-use frame folds and dissembles easily for transport to calibrate in multiple locations,” according to the company. “The product helps shops affordably target a new revenue stream of ADAS calibration.” The company adds that the five line laser leveling process offers a quicker and more efficient centering and squaring procedure of the vehicle to the calibration frame.
AirPro Diagnostics showed off its OEM-compliant scan tool that uses Orion, a cloud-based Diagnostic Enterprise Management System. Orion allows simple, streamlined interaction for shops to view all of their data in one easy-to-use application, according to the company.
“They require a calibration and we do a pre-scan prior to the process,” said engineer John Winslow. “That prevents them from having a failure.”
asTech showcased its solutions, including Onsite Mobile Diagnostics and its patented remote process. The company says its technicians provide diagnostic help through its OEM factory scan tool and on-site technician support. The company adds that its pre- and post-scan reporting makes for simple billing and easy record keeping.

Tarra Taffera is the editorial director for AGRR magazine. She can be reached at ttaffera@glass.com

Krya Thompson, editorial assistant, contributed to this report.

To view the laid-in version of this article in our digital edition, CLICK HERE.

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