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A Place For Everything: Organization and Productivity

Organizing tools often falls last on a shop owner’s to do list. Unfortunately, a lack of organization can be one of the first things to affect productivity.

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Organizing your shop for the best use of space and storage is something every shop owner should be concerned about. Unfortunately, among the other issues at hand — shop design, layout, etc. — organization often ends up as one of the last items on every shop owner’s "to do" list.

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Proper organization, however, can have a big impact on shop productivity, safety and customer satisfaction — especially when it comes to the organization of technicians’ tools.

A good shop requires not only the right tools, but the right work surfaces and the right storage for those tools. For instance, work surfaces should be clean and orderly. Why? It makes for a more productive area and looks more professional than a bench strewn with old rags and discarded tools. Even the surface itself should be considered. Stainless steel and wood make good work-surface materials based on durability, aesthetics and return on the dollar invested, but other materials are also available. Which one should you choose?

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When determining the best tools, work surfaces and storage options, remember what’s best for one shop may not be best for yours and what’s best for one technician may not be best for all. You need to consider your shop, your techs and your specific situation.

Put Your Tools Away
When evaluating tool storage, look for units that offer easy access to tools and equipment, durability and ease of movement. Most tool storage units need to be where the job is, so maneuverability is key. A mobile work station means a tech is able to do more in a single bay than if tools constantly have to be moved across work areas. Whatever mobile work station you choose, be sure to push, not pull, the unit.

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Where the technician stores certain tools is also an important factor in setting up a shop that’s organized and safe. Ask yourself — and your technicians — these questions: What tools are used most? How heavy is the equipment or tool? These considerations should drive decisions about placement of the storage unit and where equipment is stored. For example, if you have a heavy power tool that’s used several times a day, it makes more sense to store that tool where the technician doesn’t have to bend over to access it. This is part ergonomics, part common sense.

Available options for storage include roll-away units, top chests, lockers, end units, drawer sections and wall units, and easy-to-move storage options include portable chests and roll carts. Each of these can work in conjunction with other equipment as an integrated system. For example, a rolling unit equipped with a top chest and two sets of end units may serve as the tech’s primary work station. For jobs where a tech can’t move the storage unit, separate roll carts will allow him to move selected tools and equipment to the job.

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Another option is vertical tool storage. This set-up brings safety into play by allowing the user to avoid any heavy lifting or awkward movements required to access certain tools. Put those tools at the top of the vertical storage unit and smaller, lighter items at the bottom. Also, you need to ensure the storage units you choose are strong and durable and without burred or sharp metal edges that can cause injury or put holes in clothing.

Get Organized
Better organization has a lot of advantages — one of which is improved productivity. Knowing where the right tool is when you need it translates into quicker response to customer needs. And work-station construction is a big part of that equation.

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Searching for a specific tool can be a time-consuming and costly process, especially if it’s a reoccurring problem. Good organization of a work area with large tools and equipment in bulk storage areas, away from smaller equipment, is important. That way, smaller items won’t get lost among larger equipment. Again, considerations for lifting and bending should dictate whether those bulk storage areas are high or low.

But better organization’s greatest payoff may come in the form of improved customer impressions of your operation. A clean, neat work area says your technicians pay attention to detail, that they know what they’re doing and that they’re professional. When a customer steps into your shop and is informed that repairs on the family car will cost more than $2,000, professionalism is an important intangible.

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Measuring the Difference
Once you’ve changed your work areas to be more efficient, cleaner and more ergonomic, how do you know it’s working? First, look for greater efficiency in time sheets. Are technicians able to work on more projects today vs. six weeks or six months ago?

What about feedback from technicians? It’s their work area — how do they like it? Does it help them work more efficiently, or do even more changes need to be made? If the new layout doesn’t fit technician needs, experiment. Just because you’ve changed the work area around once doesn’t mean it can’t be done a second or third time. Look for things that do work and incorporate those elements into your second- or third-generation designs.

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Finally, look for feedback from customers. Do they notice your attention to detail in work areas? Ask them to assess your shop’s aesthetics and overall service. You may even want to talk to long-time customers individually about their impression of any substantial changes you’ve made in your shop.

A Place for Everything
A good shop layout pays dividends in terms of increased productivity, a pleasing work environment, greater efficiency and improved customer perception of your business. And organization contributes heavily to a good shop layout. Why? Because no matter how spectacular your shop is designed, it’s the little things — such as organized work stations and storage areas — that separate the average shops from the exceptional.

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Writer Bob Velicek is product manager, Tool Storage, for Snap-on Tools Company in Kenosha, Wis.

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