by Bob Beranek
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Are carmakers going to start pushing the use of their own, specifically branded, urethane kits? Recently I’ve learned that both Mercedes and BMW have moved in that direction. The developing story of branded urethanes is an interesting one.

Many of you know that my son, Jay, is the glass manager of an automotive dealer group in Madison, Wis.  Recently he attended a technical training held by Mercedes Benz. During the training, the instructor stated that Mercedes will only warrantee installations completed with their OE glass and OE adhesives. This raised some concerns for Jay, and he called me asking what I knew. Specifically, he wanted to know what brand of adhesive does Mercedes use, and does he have to follow the directive? So, I set out to do some research.

What I found out was that there is little consistency in the brands of urethane being used in the Mercedes assembly plants, depending on where the cars are being manufactured. The dealership’s service department and Mercedes themselves are rather secretive as to the brand they distribute to their dealers. The kit received by its dealers is a “no name” product with limited markings on the tube. They don’t supply a Safety Data Sheet (SDS) with the product but put generic warnings on the packaging.

The tubes themselves look like Sika packaging, but make no mention of brand. Mercedes says it is a Dow product, and Dow agrees they are the OE supplier for “some” Mercedes models. Sika says it sells product to Mercedes aftermarket.

What does this mean to you in the field? Jay’s instructor said that Mercedes urethane needs to be heated, requiring more time for the technician and a cost for an oven. If that is not enough for those of us replacing glass in the aftermarket, dealer branded adhesive comes with the glass, and, if it is out of date, it is essentially difficult to return for credit. 

I mean this only as a “heads-up,” in case your dealer clients start to require that you use their OE adhesive. If they do, I would suggest that you ask them to supply you with an SDS and instructions for use. Also, find out your cost and get special authorization or inform your customer accordingly. If Mercedes’ warranty requires its branded urethane to be used, even though our ARG adhesives meet (or exceed) their specs, it is a discussion you will need to have with your customer and/or their insurance company.

In August of 2012, President Obama directed the EPA to set Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards for passenger vehicles to mandate a fleet average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. It was a stiff regulation to reduce emissions, but the automakers began to design vehicles to reach that goal.

How did they do that? We know from past experience (1973 fuel crisis) that vehicle manufacturers have at least two methods that have proved effective: They can downsize the vehicle to reduce weight, or make the vehicle more aerodynamic to reduce drag. Both of these methods of reducing fuel consumption directly influences the auto glass replacement industry.

How are we affected when CAFE standards change?

  • Thinner gauged steel and the increased use of aluminum bodied vehicles reduced the weight of the vehicle and changed the role of auto glass and its contribution to the safety of vehicle occupants.
  • Lightweight glass parts, like asymmetrical windshields, thinner tempered parts and the introduction of “gorilla” glass for automotive use, reduced weight thus making vehicles more fuel efficient. This can result in more glass breakage, also affecting those in our industry.
  • The increase of glass surfaces, such as all glass roofs and unique windshield designs like on the Tesla X, means less drag and better aerodynamics, but can change the way we do business, possibly reducing the opportunities for one-man sets or mobile service.
  • The introduction of Advanced Driver Assist Systems (ADAS) save not only lives but fuel as well through better use of electronics and the reduction human error. However, ADAS equipped vehicles frequently require after installation calibration to restore the safety originally designed into the vehicle.
  • Even subtle differences, like the elimination of exterior reveal moldings, can make a difference in weight reduction and lower drag from the wind. This can make our jobs easier with fewer parts to remove, or hold us more accountable with not as many ways to cover a mistake.

In March, the new administration announced that they are rethinking the Obama CAFE requirements. As a matter of fact, President Trump has announced that he will roll back the CAFE laws put in place by Obama and the EPA as a result of his corporate regulation reduction initiative. Will this make a difference in how the vehicles of the future will be designed? It may, but I doubt it will be a dramatic change.

The new vehicle designs that have already been introduced, and the ones currently on the drawing boards, are proving effective and desirable. Some large states, like California, still require the increased fuel efficiency in new vehicles. The average vehicle takes years to design, perfect and produce. I doubt that the vehicle makers are going to throw away all that preliminary work and the work already completed toward compliance simply because they can.

Obviously, car companies will weigh the cost of design changes versus the cost of production, but I don’t think it will matter much. It may be a relief for the carmakers to not have to worry about meeting a particular target, but I believe that the vehicle design, especially to glass and its mounting, will not change much due to regulation differences. Of course, this industry is always changing, so stay tuned.

Why do people often fight change? Is it because change is uncomfortable? Is it because people are convinced their way is better, despite all of the evidence to the contrary? I think it is a little of both. I have personally witnessed heated discussions that rarely change minds or beliefs.

In my interactions with technicians over the years, there seems to be a competition between installation procedures. Two perennial favorites are the arguments over “tucking” or “stuffing” the glass without pulling the cowl panel versus pulling the cowl panel, and squabbles over the benefits of round bead versus triangular bead urethane application.

When it comes to “tucking” or “stuffing” the glass, I always thought that even those who do it realize that it is an improper practice. I believed that if they were given enough time to get the job done right, they would practice safe sets. However, recently I heard a technician actually brag about the great job he did using the “stuff” method of install.

From his description, the bead was applied above the top edge of the panel and the glass is set into a cowl that uses hooks for support and panel attachment. This does make the “stuffing” installation possible because the glass can be set onto the bead and not into the bead. However, the seal and bond are hidden from the tech by the panel. This is not visual confirmation of a bond or a seal being made. If the glass is not set properly, even by a fraction of an inch, the bead will be displaced and the bond compromised. If it oozes out and the cowl is adhered to the glass, the cowl may be damaged upon removal by the next installer. If the glass is inserted into the bead, the chances of air leaks are increased.

The kicker here is that none of the issues described above will be known until the glass is replaced again or if someone is seriously hurt due to a bad bond and installation. Yet the technician bragged about “stuffing” the glass and holds it up as proof that his method is better and faster than everyone else’s. I don’t get it.

In the same vein, triangular beads are recommended and in some cases required for use with adhesives.  Every adhesive company, (automotive, structural or architectural) instruct the application of triangular beads. Every vehicle manufacturer instructs the application of triangular beads. Every assembly plant using adhesives uses triangular beads. Every physics teacher can explain the benefits of the triangular shape and how it is superior in distributing product on a surface. Yet, some auto glass installers continue to believe that round bead distribution is better. Again, I don’t get it.

I know that change is not an easy thing. We all feel more comfortable when the procedures we use are familiar and we all believe our methods work. I remember a time years ago when my boss instructed me to use a plastic stick to put in gasket jobs from then on instead of a metal hook tool. Even worse, he told me to teach this new method to all our technicians. I fought the concept tooth and nail at first because I felt that all technicians needed to know how to use the hook tool. However, if I wanted to keep my job I had to learn and master the “stick-in” style of installation and forget the “hook-in.” How did that workout? Glass breakage dropped by over 75 percent and our company saved thousands of dollars. I learned something new.

I would like to propose a challenge to all who “stuff” and apply round beads. Give change a chance, it will bode us well to be a little less rebellious at times and to try new things that experts tell us work. It may save you money and hassles down the road. What could it hurt?