Best of Belron UK judges inspect a windscreen.

Best of Belron UK judges inspect a windscreen.

Autoglass recently brought together a group of highly skilled windscreen technicians from across the UK to compete in its Best of Belron national contest, staged in Milton Keynes.  Under starter's orders, and on a countdown from ten that culminated with the sound of a smashed car windscreen, ten technicians began their meticulous work watched by a committee of judges.

Given the complexity of the shape and design of today's windscreens and glazing systems, installing glass is no longer as straight forward as it used to be.  Glass surfaces are becoming larger, incorporating more advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) technologies. Consequently, glass repair companies like Autoglass must ensure their technicians are kept informed of the latest technologies and have the right tools for the job. 

Best of Belron UK covers all aspects related to customer service, safety and accuracy – the areas required to make a top vehicle glass technician. The winner, Ryan Millar, will represent the UK at the global Best of Belron, an Olympic-style car glass contest to be staged in Frankfurt next June. And the winner of this event will walk away with a cheque for one year's salary.

Belron business

In addition to Autoglass in the UK, Belron Group owns Carglass in Europe and Safelite in the US.  During the first half of this year, Belron completed some 6.33 million vehicle glass repair and replacement (VGRR) jobs worldwide, an increase of three percent over H1 2016. Belron says its core VGRR business has continued to show solid progress despite continued market challenges. Its US business served a record number of customers in H1 2017. In Europe, the foundation stone was recently laid for its new European distribution centre in Blizen, Belgium. This facility will become Belron's largest distribution centre, consolidating its three sites currently used in Belgium.

Belron Technical is the Group's R&D division responsible for the development of what is known as 'the Belron Way of Fitting'. This captures the expertise and know-how of Belron technicians around the world and defines a best practice approach to repairing and replacing vehicle glass. Every job worldwide is carried out, in the same way, using the tools and processes developed by Belron Technical, also evident at last week's event.

Windscreen camera calibration challenges

While self-driving cars are not yet available to the public, there are a number of models offering some form of advanced assistance to the driver. These include adaptive cruise control and forward collision warning systems that require a camera to be fitted, typically behind the windscreen. Upon replacing the windscreen, the camera usually needs to be recalibrated.

Calibration is also required after a major damage repair on the vehicle body or after the levelling of front axle or rear axle has been modified. Like other sensors for ADAS, video cameras collect information far ahead of the car. Those high tech sensors need to be accurately aligned parallel to the geometrical axis of the vehicle. If the windscreen position differs just slightly after it was replaced, the viewing angle of the camera is likely to be incorrect. Since the camera clips cannot be adjusted, any deviation must be compensated by the ECU if the ADAS is to function correctly.

In addition to the technical competition, Autoglass put together a conference in MK where Professor Chris Davies, Head of Technical Superiority, Belron Technical, shared some insights and innovation regarding how they have addressed the areas of windscreen ADAS calibration using state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment.  

Last year, Thatcham Research issued a voluntary code of practice to provide guidance on the recalibration of ADAS during the replacement of windscreens. This code emanated from a body of work compiled by Belron.

Given that value-added glazing products are becoming increasingly important in the automotive market - delivering greater functionality and adding a further growth dimension at a time when the industry needs it most - some of these elements are reliant on cameras and sensors. Davies said they are seeing "exponential growth" of forward facing cameras on new cars, adding: "In the UK alone, there are around 160 models requiring a camera calibration."