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It takes more than a bandage to heal a sick shop layout. To avoid hassles later, consider these four common design dilemmas.
Is your shop’s layout giving you a headache?
Do you have a bottleneck?
Does production move too slowly?
Is there not enough room for technicians to
do what they need to do?
Is your shop disorderly?
If you answered "yes" to any one
of these questions, there’s a good chance a redesign of your shop
is in order.
But, keep in mind, a redesign won’t solve
all your production problems. As Brian Evison – technical director
of Bemack Planning Services, a facility layout and design planning
firm – points out, there are many other variables that directly
affect efficiency and profitability besides shop design. But,
says Evison, a little bit of thought about your layout does go
a long, long way.
"People who just kind of throw a booth
in the corner and don’t give it any thought end up with some problems,"
he says. "But if you give it some thought in the first place
– just think the process through, about what happens and about
the order in which it happens – you’re far better off."
Don’t Cry Later
According to Evison, the most common mistakes
shop owners make when designing their shops (not necessarily in
this order) are:
1. Failing to accommodate the collision
This one seems obvious, but obviously, it’s
Those thinking of layout and design need to
think through all the things that need done to a car – and the
order in which they need done. Only after the process is "listed"
and "mapped out" can you accommodate it in the layout
and design. According to Evison, the most accommodating design
is one that’s circular. "It’s surprising," he says.
"People just miss it."
As a matter of fact, Evison says a very common
mistake is that of starting metal repair at one end of the shop,
then moving the car into the paint department, then to detail
and cleanup and, finally, out the door on the other end. "There’s
a real failure to understand the way the collision repair process
works," says Evison. For example, when you finish the paint
work, you’re not ready to detail it and send the car home – there’s
still some reassembly work to be done. Where’s that reassembly
work going to take place? Probably back with the guy who disassembled
the vehicle in the first place.
For this reason, the car needs to finish pretty
much where it started from, and this is where the collision repair
process becomes somewhat circular. When looking at layout and
design, you need to make sure the car can flow through metal,
flow through paint and end up back at metal (most of the time).
"You’ve got to create a means [for the
vehicle] to flow back to that area," Evison says, "unless
you’re going to stretch [the repair process] out in a long line
and have the technician and his tool box and all the parts move
from one end of the facility to the other." And this is something
Evison doesn’t recommend doing.
2. Not providing for flexibility.
"We always think about flow in body shop
layout and design, but flexibility is every bit as important as
flow," says Evison. "You need to be able to accommodate
a lot of varying situations."
According to Evison, flexibility is making
sure you have good traffic flow and flexible traffic flow inside
the building that enable you to access any part of the production
What you don’t need to do is create a system
or design where a vehicle has to join the end of the line in order
to get processed. Because you may need a vehicle to enter – or
exit – the process at any stage, you need to build flexibility
into your layout. Say, for example, you have a car with a small
scratch that needs to shoot straight into the final stages of
paint/prep because it only needs lightly sanded, masked, put in
the booth and sprayed. How can you accommodate this if your traffic
flow isn’t flexible?
According to Evison, the key thing to accomplish
in layout and design is to accommodate the entire process within
the confines of the building. This way, you only have to worry
about how to get the car in and how to get the car out when repairs
are done; you’re able to complete the entire process inside your
facility, where adverse weather conditions don’t affect repairs.
3. Not allocating the right amount of space
in different departments of the shop.
If you have a bottleneck in either the metal
or paint department, there could be some equipment-related issues,
but chances are, you don’t have the right amount of space allocated
to each department. It’s important, says Evison, to synchronize
space to ensure the capacity of the paint department is matched
with the capacity of the metal department.
In fact, it’s sometimes a good idea to put
a little more capacity in the paint department. In a dealer environment,
for example, warranty work is generally more paint related. As
for independent collision repair shops (performing general collision
repair, not something specialized), if they don’t have about 40
percent of their work stalls allocated to the paint department
and 60 percent to everything else, they probably won’t have properly
synchronized space – and each department is likely going to have
Evison says he often sees shops that have
18 metal stalls with nine metal technicians and only four paint
stalls with two paint technicians. "So," he says, "there’s
no way those two guys can keep up with that metal department."
4. Buying too much equipment.
Another tendency is not calculating equipment
needs accurately and overexpending on equipment. According to
Evison, probably the most guilty of acquiring too much equipment
are dealers. "They just really fail to understand what’s
necessary and what isn’t," he says.
All Laid Out
While layout is only one of many factors that
contributes to shop efficiency, it does play an important role
– and deserves some careful consideration.
After all, if your shop design is doing what
it’s supposed to and is as efficient as it should be, you’ll have
one less thing to worry about – and more time to address all the
other factors that affect your business’ bottom line.
Writer Eileen Benedict is associate editor
of BodyShop Business.