Selecting the Right Lighting for Automotive Paint Booths
Of all the tools professionals in the automotive service industry can take great pride in ownership of, the paint spray booth is perhaps one of the most coveted.
Of all the tools professionals in the automotive service industry can take great pride in ownership of, the paint spray booth is perhaps one of the most coveted. As surprising as it may seem, there many high quality shops in operation that can perform just about any part of a full on restoration, custom build, or standard repair job, except the application of a paint job. For many of these shops, the standard procedure is to perform all mechanical and preparation work in house, then send out the vehicle to a facility equipped with a paint booth to have the finish applied and then bring the vehicle back for final touches. This usually adds to the cost of the job, which is of course then passed on to the customer, but for some professionals this simply seems the best way for them to handle the problem of applying a quality finish. But why is this the case? As we'll see, there are a variety of valid reasons.
The application of sealants, primers and finishes to large surfaces is a highly detail oriented task. The last thing anyone applying a finish wants to see is contaminants such as dust or bugs sticking to a layer of freshly applied coating or paint. Not only this, but the application of a finish requires even coverage and the ability to easily detect any issues with prep work that may be present. In order to avoid contamination problems and more easily inspect the surface while working, performing all application work within a room designed specifically for this task is the way to go. Typically known as a paint spray booth, or just spray booth, these rooms provide a clean environment and a clear working area ideal for applying finishes.
First and foremost, a paint spray booth due to the extremely dangerous nature of the flammable and combustible liquids used during spray applications, must conform to OSHA regulations regarding spray areas. The proper wiring, electrical equipment, and ventilation guidelines must be adhered to, and the design and construction of the booth must also be in compliance. To get an idea of just what OSHA compliance entails, reference OSHA CFR 1910.107-"Spray finishing using flammable and combustible materials." Review of these OSHA standards by themselves should provide some good idea of why many professionals find the purchase and installation of a spray booth a daunting consideration, but there is yet more still to consider.
A good paint booth will need to be large enough to accommodate a wide range of vehicle types while still providing ample room for equipment and movement once inside. This means that a serviceable booth will require a good bit of real estate within what are often already cramped facilities. A common size for paint booths is 20 feet wide by 30 feet deep. With the overhead associated with maintaining a large facility being so high, most repair shop operators find a building 15,000 to 25,000 square feet in size manageable. This smallish size means space is at a premium, making it oftentimes difficult to justify the loss of workspace given to a large booth that sees intermittent use. Add in the support equipment in the form of ventilation and filtration and curing equipment, and still more space will be taken by the booth that could otherwise be used to perform high volume work.
In order for a spray booth to be truly effective however, it must have the correct lighting. While at first glance booth lighting might not seem like such an involved subject, a closer look at just what constitutes effective spray booth light reveals a different and more complex appearance. Booth lighting is critical because it directly affects the ability of the operator to apply a quality finish. Good lighting allows an operator to easily note variations in finish color as well as finish textures. If lighting is too dim it will not highlight the underlying color of the primed surface beneath the coating being applied, misleading the operator into thinking the applied finish is of sufficient thickness. Too bright, and details and irregularities will be difficult to notice due to glare and wash out. Lighting must also be very evenly distributed, providing uniform illumination of the irregularly shaped and angled surfaces of a vehicle. Perhaps most important of all however, paint booth lighting must be safe, meaning it must be approved for use within the hazardous area in and around a booth.
As mentioned earlier, paint booths are a hazardous area due to the presence of flammable and combustible liquids and vapors in the form of paints and solvents used during the spraying process. These vapors can turn the environment within and around the booth potentially explosive if they come into contact with an ignition source. In this case, an ignition source can be not only a lit cigarette or open flame, but a hot light bulb or an electrical switch that sparks when turned on. As a result, lighting used in and around the booth must be certified for use around hazardous locations. This type of lighting is typically known as explosion proof paint booth lighting or intrinsically safe lighting, and as can be imagined, is designed much differently than your typical fluorescent shop light.
Paint booth lighting usually needs to be certified Class 1 Division 1 groups C, and D, meaning it is safe for use in areas where flammable gases and vapors are normally present. Such lighting is much more robustly designed, incorporates a host of safety features including sealed lamps, housings, and connection points, and must be certified for paint booth use by a third party testing lab like Underwriters Laboratories. As can be imagined, such lighting is typically more costly than standard lighting systems, and not only this, must be correctly installed in order to meet OSHA safety guidelines for exposure, distance, and operating parameters as well.
For many small and mid sized shop operators, the end result is that a paint spray booth is simply just not a cost effective option, and the risk of not meeting compliance with OSHA regulations not worth the potential for accidents or citations.