For those of you who don’t know me, I’m a bit of a high-tech nerd. As a nerd, I was blessed to receive a lot of high-tech toys this year for the holidays, some given to me as gifts and some I bought when my wife wasn’t looking. For instance, I have a new cell phone that I purchased on sale after the holidays. By now, I’m sure my wife has caught on to my little ruse. But until she does, I’m keeping my head down and the new phone out of sight.
Before purchasing anything, I inevitably read the specification sheets and manuals for my new tools, toys, appliances, cars, etc. I figure the more I know about something, the more use I can get out of my investment. The manuals are usually online now, and so I take the time to download them. I read them from beginning to end, whether they’re for a $10 tool or the family car. I’ve always enjoyed getting the maximum capabilities out of everything I purchase.
That’s what leads us to this article. Last year, BodyShop Business asked me to do a series on how to get the most out of the tools and equipment available to collision shops. We’re calling it “How It Works,” and I look forward to helping you this year.
For my first assignment, we’re going to talk about frame machines. Yep, those big, expensive hunks of metal taking up a ton of floor space in your shop on top of which you stack up your parts, tools, project cars and general junk. Don’t laugh. If you’re not actively using it in your repair processes, you’re wasting a valuable resource that could be contributing to safe repairs and also making you money.
So, let’s talk about how we can leverage your investment and fix your customers’ vehicles more efficiently and ensure they’re safe to drive.
Plan Your Repairs
I know there are still plenty of you out there working on vehicles without a repair plan. If you take one thing away from this article, I would like it to be that you should be doing 100-percent teardowns on all vehicles. This includes running a diagnostic scan and pre-measuring every vehicle you fix. As a shop owner or manager, your job is to know what you need to do to fix the car properly and then execute on a well thought out repair plan. If you don’t know what’s wrong with a vehicle, how can you return it to pre-accident condition? How can you most efficiently route it through your shop?
During the repair planning process, you should be printing out the OE information on the vehicle for your technicians. Areas I would focus on are:
- Construction materials (substrate information)
- Safety and restraint systems
- Suspension systems
- Structural repair procedures
Print them out, put them in the jacket and go over this information with your technicians.
If you’re doing 100-percent teardowns in your shop, you will inevitably drive more work to your frame machine. The time you spend on pre-measuring will be offset by the increase in frame repairs and the gains in having an efficient production process.
Before You Pull
Before you start setting to pull a vehicle, take a good look at your equipment. Examine the chains for bent, twisted or cut links. Look at your clamps and fixtures to make sure there are no stress fractures and their teeth are sharp. Examine bolts and securing equipment to make sure they’re not bent or stripped. Check your base, towers and other moving parts for signs of metal fatigue.
Visually inspect your hydraulic hoses for cracks or age-related defects. Replace your hydraulic fluid annually or per your manufacturer’s specifications to avoid build-up of contaminants and water in the lines. When in doubt, call a service technician to review your equipment or replace any questionable items. Scheduled and ongoing equipment maintenance ensures your equipment is operating efficiently as possible.
Using the best practices we’ve already discussed in this article, you’ve created a repair plan before the vehicle goes into production. In it, you’ve included the construction material information for your technicians to reference as they’re creating their structural repair strategies. We’ve all heard the stories about someone pulling on a vehicle structure and ripping the floor or some other part of the vehicle.
As you’re reviewing the construction materials, analyze the energy distribution paths of the vehicle and compare them to the vehicle damage. Today’s vehicles are designed to transfer the energy away from the occupant safety area of the vehicle, which can add complexity to the straightening process as damage is radiated throughout the vehicle and into areas that may be far away from the original impact point.
Work with your technicians to make sure they have a strategy for pulling out the damaged areas. The last thing you want to do is work on areas that were not affected by the original damage. You will waste a lot of time performing rework unless you spend a little time planning your pull strategy.
A trend in repairing structural components is moving away from holding a single anchor point. Some manufacturers are moving toward multiple holding points for a vehicle; sometimes more than five anchor points are recommended. This is important to the technician as they’re attempting to relieve the stress created by the collision damage. Always follow the OE guidelines and equipment recommendations for any vehicle.
Manufacturers also have specific guidelines on the use of heat on their steel types. Using heat on high-strength steels will weaken them and significantly impact their ability to transfer energy in a subsequent accident. Avoid using any heat if you cannot properly identify the steel you’re attempting to straighten. Let’s not forget to keep any heat away from your pulling equipment, including chains, clamps and electrical components. Applying heat to areas close to these items can lead to device fatigue, device failures or the melting of electrical components.
In the collision industry, one of the most overlooked and undervalued investments is training. I’ve heard many shop owners complain about the expense of training in terms of lost revenue from their technicians and hard cost expenses such as training dollars spent. When it comes to training, we aren’t doing well.
Let’s be honest with each other: you can’t run an efficient business if you’re not supporting ongoing training for you and your staff. I’ve seen shops invest thousands of dollars in equipment and then skip the training. Budget training dollars and spend them on areas that can improve your businesses. Don’t forget to budget the time necessary to get the techs and yourself out of the shop to attend training courses.
It’s recommended that your staff attend ongoing structural repair training every two to three years. The equipment is changing as manufacturers attempt to keep up with the changes in vehicle manufacturing technologies. Not only will you need to keep up on the latest vehicle structural repair practices, but also the rapid changes in anchoring, holding and attachment methods. Vehicle structures and construction materials are also evolving rapidly, so your staff needs to stay on top of these changes too. Training ensures that your technicians will continue to operate the equipment safely, efficiently and effectively.
Finally, I strongly recommend that you have a conversation with your frame equipment vendor. These folks work in numerous shops and can provide you with examples of how other businesses are fully maximizing your frame equipment. They can also share tips on how to minimize the setup time, best practices, the latest requirements for new vehicle straightening and vehicle flow recommendations.
Given what it costs to purchase frame and measuring equipment, make sure to maintain a focus on their utilization, staff training and ongoing maintenance needs. Just because you’ve paid for them doesn’t mean you’re continuing to maximize revenue from these investments.