With the technological advances in buffing pads, compounds, and techniques for the random orbital dual action polisher, the need (and desire) to use a rotary machine has diminished rapidly. For the longest time it was accepted in the paint correction / detailing industry that the rotary was the only machine to use for heavy correction and compounding needs, whereas the dual action (DA) existed strictly for glaze or wax application, or for those new to the trade. The DA was considered a stepping stone machine, and one would graduate to the rotary only after mastering the DA.
While the rotary has been the workhorse for major paint correction, it has definitely had its drawbacks as well. There’s a much higher risk of damaging the paint with a rotary compared to the relative safety of the DA, and there’s also a very steep learning curve to be able to use it properly.
Given these drawbacks, the door was wide open for the DA polisher to gain momentum.
The birth of the DA compounding evolution
The product that was responsible for this renewed interest in the DA was Meguiar’s M105 Ultra Cut Compound. The non-diminishing abrasive technology provided for fast, heavy cut with a finish that was far better than any other compounds on the market. Traditional heavy compounds would generate a tremendous amount of swirls or haze, and would subsequently require 2 more polishing steps to refine the finish. With 105 however, you could bridge that gap and follow it up with just one finishing step in most cases which obviously meant a savings in time and expense.
Detailers quickly adapted this product to DA use, and Meguiar’s made a change in the formula that allowed for a more friendly user experience when combining it with the DA. Then enter Kevin Brown who figured out the best way to combine product usage, pad priming, speed, and pressure to achieve the highest level of cut with the best finish, and the industry ran with it and even named it the “Kevin Brown Method” or “KBM”. Now that’s pretty cool to have a standard technique named after you!
Now that a seismic shift had taken place and more detailers (highline to beginners) were using this method, the doors were open once again for continued development and technological breakthroughs for this method of compounding. The industry had also discovered the Surbuf pads, which were hidden gems from the woodworking industry. When we combined the DA polisher with the Surbuf pad and Meguiar’s M105 polish, the playing field was officially even and you could now get every bit as good of a cut (with a better finish) than the old standby rotary polisher with wool pad combination. While it requires a little bit of finesse, you can remove heavy sanding marks out of paint with the DA/Surbuf/105 combination and at the same time finish it down to where there’s only a very light haze that’s easily taken out in a quick and simple finish polishing process. Swirls and holograms inflicted by heavy rotary compounding have become a thing of the past!
The evolution of the DA compounding technique continued with the introduction this past year of the Meguiar’s Microfiber Cutting Disc and D300 Compound (this compound was designed specifically for the revolutionary Microfiber Cutting Disc). The new microfiber pad technology was cutting edge to say the least, and it’s safe to say that most people were skeptics when they first saw it or heard about the new product. But the skepticism was quickly dismissed once the detailing world got the opportunity to work with this innovative new system. Fast cut, easy to use compound, fine finishing, and all with the ease of use and safety of the DA polisher…what more could you ask for?
I had the opportunity to be part of the pre-production development team for the Meguiar’s MF system, and while I had already been using the Surbuf/105 combination at that point, I was still primarily using the rotary for heavy compounding needs. Once I really got involved in the testing process and exploring the limits and capabilities of the DA, I quickly stopped using the rotary for compounding. The more testing I did, and the more time I spent perfecting my techniques, the more I realized that the need and desire to use the rotary for compounding had quickly become a thing of the past. When I would come across a difficult paint to work on with heavy defects or sanding marks for instance, I would set down the DA for a few moments to try the rotary and compare the results. After making a comparison on cut and finish, I would always throw the rotary back on the work bench and continue on with the DA…it cut just as good if not better, and finished down significantly better than the rotary. Each time I did this, it only strengthened the conclusions I had drawn from previous tests! I network with many of the most highly respected highline detailers out there, and when I would have discussions with them about this subject (or work together with them like I have with DJ Mayo many times), I always found that they had drawn the exact same conclusions.
At this point, it has been almost a year since I have used the rotary for compounding to any great level, and I don’t have a need to.
I asked a couple of special guests to submit a few words about their thoughts, opinions, and experiences with DA compounding versus the rotary, and I did it without telling them what direction I was planning on going with the article. It was no surprise that the comments they submitted paralleled mine.
First up is the legendary Kevin Brown, who along with Jason Rose are the two most technical detailers I know. Kevin likes to break down every process or cause and effect. He’s not satisfied with simply knowing what works and what doesn’t…he wants to know exactly why so that he can educate others.
Nowadays, the random orbital is truly a force to be reckoned with. Not only are the majority of these machines versatile, inexpensive, and easy to use, but they can equal or surpass the rotary polisher for accomplishing the task of defect removal and final polishing. Had this claim been made as little as four or five years ago, it would have been side-stepped, chuckled at, or disregarded altogether.
So, why the surge in performance and popularity? Did the capabilities of these machines suddenly become better? Not at all, in my opinion. Instead, advances in abrasive technology, experimentation using currently available buffing pads and backing plates, and discussions about how to wring the most performance out of our new polishing combinations made all the difference.
Although the Meguiar’s DA Microfiber Discs were not readily available to the general population, variations of the discs were being used at the OEM level for several years. The highly-regarded Surbuf Microfingers Pads were (and still are) touted by its manufacturer as being a fine polishing and waxing pad, yet it has gained popularity exclusively as a cutting pad.
It is important to recognize that neither product was originally used with a compound as capable as the type available today. Understanding this, it is pretty clear to me that although both discs have huge advantages over a typical foam pad, neither would be able to deliver jaw-dropping performance without compounds such as Meguiar’s M86 Cut and Polish Cream (the product Jason Rose and I initially used during the development of the Meguiar’s DA Microfiber System), and Meguiar’s M105 Ultra-Cut Compound (the compound that truly brought the Surbuf Microfingers Pad to life).
In my opinion, the biggest reason the random orbital polisher has become so wildly popular is evident: it is simple to use. After all, there are countless products in all segments of our lives that can deliver uncanny performance. It just so happens that some of these products are not so simple to use (race cars and jet airplanes are only two examples). However, if the masses can afford the product, operate it with relative ease, and achieve cutting-edge results using it, then the product’s popularity is certain to rise immensely.
Rotary polishers require diligent attention by the user while they are being operated, and that is not likely to change. Because of this, the rotary polisher is likely to remain in the realm it currently exists, which is as a mainstay piece of equipment used in body shops, detail shops, and assembly plants. Even then, the professionals in these industries cannot resist the intrigue of the random orbital for long, because the performance and user advantages are many. At what point will the rotary polisher regain momentum in popularity? When it can maintain its performance or increase it, all the while becoming easier to use.
And for another perspective I got in touch with Bryan Burnworth of Peach State Detail in Atlanta, Georgia. Bryan was also selected by AutoWeek Magazine as one of the top 9 Auto Detailers in the U.S., and he was an early adopter to the DA compounding movement.
After using a rotary for 4 years, I have only picked up a rotary in an attempt to do correction twice in the last 3 years. Both times it was taking just as long to compound the area with a rotary. The rotary was leaving the surface in worse condition then a r/o with a Surbuf pad and some M105.
TC: So as a detailing business owner, what are some of the benefits of DA compounding?
For one…shorter learning curve for those hiring/training new helpers. How many would really want your new guy with limited experience helping out with a rotary? I can take someone with limited r/o experience and train them to safely help out without constant supervision in 2-3 correction details.
I could dedicate pages and pages of this article to comments like these from some of the most highly regarded highline detailers in the business, and they would all sound the same!
Key benefits for DA compounding versus a rotary:
- Equal, if not better heavy cut on most paints
- The ability to achieve a much more refined finish after the compounding stage, which translates to a quicker, easier finish polishing stage
- Shorter learning curve
- Much less risk of damaging paint / burning edges
- Less taping required to protect adjacent surfaces
- No holograms!
- Easier (and safer) to work tight areas
How does it all benefit the industry?
The evolution in compounding from the rotary to the DA polisher benefits the paint correction industry in many different ways. For one, it will force the machine, pad, backing plate, and abrasive compound companies to develop new products and technologies that follow this trend. Nobody wants to be left behind, and the creative minds in the labs will have to re-think their design and development processes. For the companies that have traditionally done all of their development in-house, they will now have to reach out to the highline detailers that have carved this path to help develop products that the industry is asking for. New technologies and products (that work) will benefit everybody working in the business as it will generate new product sales for the companies, and it will provide more products to choose from for those doing the actual work.
And from an educational standpoint, it will force those working in the training industry to learn modern tools, techniques, and products that detailers will be using into the future. Unfortunately I still see a lot of “detailing schools” that are focusing on outdated techniques, and those attending the schools will find themselves behind the times as soon as they complete their training. We are in an era in the detailing and paint correction business where technologies and techniques are changing rapidly, and those responsible for teaching others need to keep up or step aside.
And finally I see the trend benefiting the industry because it will mean that as a whole, we will be putting out better work. It pains me to continually pull up to a traffic light, in a parking lot, or even at car shows and see buffer trails and holograms caused by improper rotary usage. It puts a bad name on the trade. I do realize that many of the people inflicting this damage will never research the latest methods and technologies to step up their game, but if we can convert even just a few of these people, then fewer cars will get hacked as a result. An improper DA buffing job is still much more difficult to spot than an improper rotary buffing job!
What areas for improvement do we still face?
While compounding with the DA polisher has made quantum leaps, finish polishing hasn’t developed at the same rate. On harder paints you can get close, if not equal the pure finish that you can achieve with a rotary, but on soft paints you really need to know what you’re doing and have just the right products. I’ve been working with a tremendous amount of ridiculously soft paints (or aftermarket paints that simply don’t like the action of the DA) where it’s extremely challenging, if not impossible, to achieve an absolute pure finish even on a rotary with the finest polishes and pads available. These paints will look perfect under all types of lighting, and even under a Brinkmann LED from a foot away, but if you inspect them very closely (just an inch or two away under the LED), you will notice very fine swirls or haze in the paint.
Now this will be more than acceptable to over 90% of detailers out there, and just about all consumers, but not for those of us that are looking for an absolute perfect finish under all lighting conditions and viewing distances.
I’m confident however that the manufacturers will soon overcome this hurdle, and when that happens, there will be even less need for the rotary!
So is rotary compounding dead?
While there are many people that will hold on, I personally view rotary compounding to be on life support. And as companies continue to focus developments and improvements to DA compounding, the potential death of rotary compounding becomes more imminent.
I do realize however that there are a lot of differences in styles, techniques, and products from one part of the world to the next, so knowing this I’m not ready to carve the headstone just yet. There very well may be some areas where the rotary will always be king.
Should pad and compound manufacturers improve their technologies to a point where you can achieve a high level of cut with a finish as fine as you can with a DA (read…no swirls / holograms), then rotary compounding may stand a chance.
But with all things being equal, and technologies being what they are right now, I see myself continuing to promote DA compounding over the rotary without question.
Thanks for taking the time to read my (lengthy) article, and please feel free to share your comments below, and / or share this article by clicking on the appropriate icon for your favorite social networking sites.
Esoteric Auto Detail
NOTE: While this article may sound like a commercial for Meguiar’s…it is not. They were at the forefront of this trend and technological breakthroughs, and I feel they should be recognized accordingly.