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13 Tips for Smoother Production

If you use the following 13 steps as a checkdown for each vehicle in your shop, cars will move much more efficiently through it.

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Angelo DiTullio started in the collision business in his father's shop at seven years old. He has been both a shop manager and regional manager for the past 20 years. He has worked for the insurance industry, family-owned body shops, regional MSOs and national body shops. He's currently a district manager for Abra. He can be reached at [email protected]

The other day, I was trying to show one of my managers how, in a few short minutes, him and I could know everything we needed about all the vehicles on the property and make accurate decisions.

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For most my career, I’ve been a regional manager and had to quickly learn the positions of vehicles in multiple shops without the benefit of having had my hands on them. I’ve overseen three, five and eight shops at a time, and since you can’t be in more than one shop at a time, you need a quick way to be able to jump in and learn the pulse of the shop. This is also important for any manager running a shop. At any time, there may be 20 to 50 vehicles on site that you need to keep moving through the process.

The following 13 tasks are things I’ve done each and every time I ran a shop or inspected an operation. If you know the answers to the questions these tasks elicit, you’ll be able to keep vehicles moving through the process. If you don’t, you’ll be reacting to problems and putting out fires instead of acting and making things happen in the shop. These 13 items are framed around the person responsible for running production, whether they’re a production manager or general manager.

  1. Be sure to check the schedule. In order to keep production running optimally, you need to keep some sort of schedule. Whether you use CCC, Outlook or Google calendar, it’s important to schedule a set amount of appointments per day. Setting appointments for various times takes the stress out of your operation’s check-in process and sets the tone for telling the customer what to expect. Imagine if six customers showed up all together at 8 a.m. on a Monday morning and they all needed to be somewhere quickly. You should open up only as many appointments per day as you typically deliver. Determine how many vehicles you delivered in the past two weeks and divide that by 10. Fifty vehicles delivered divided by 10 means you should set your schedule to bring in five vehicles per day. Key takeaway: The person running production should monitor the schedule and know what’s coming in and when. A properly maintained schedule will tell you in advance if your work is drying up or if you’re beginning to schedule out too far.
  2. Check the lot to see if all vehicles are accounted for. In a busy collision center, it’s common for “mystery” vehicles to pop up. Whether dropped off after hours or towed in, many vehicles can appear out of nowhere. It’s also common for these vehicles to appear without authorization, information or paperwork. You must keep an eye on your parking lot and identify any unknown or out-of-place vehicle. I’ve seen mystery vehicles come in and just sit until some unknown owner calls and asks if their vehicle is done. Done? We didn’t even know anything about it or why it was there, yet the customer assumed we knew everything. Key takeaway: know every vehicle on your property. Don’t be caught by surprise by a vehicle that’s sitting right under your nose.
  3. Press the office staff to get vehicles checked in and have the preliminary estimate written quickly and accurately. If you’ve followed rule no. 2, then you’ll know when a new arrival is on the lot. Before a vehicle can be handed out for disassembly, it must first be checked in by the office along with having the initial inspection completed and photos taken. There are occasions when the office gets backed up and precious time is wasted before a vehicle can reach the shop. The person running production is the conductor, and these vehicles need to be urgently put into the production cycle. But before that can happen, the check-in process needs to be adhered to and an accurate initial estimate started. Key takeaway: Once the vehicle is dropped off, the clock is ticking. Don’t let time tick away by having a vehicle sit unnecessarily on your lot.
  4. Ensure the original parts order has been made and get answers as to time of arrival. So many times, people don’t know when their parts are coming. Heck, I’ve seen where they mistakenly were never ordered and everyone thought someone else would order them. It’s not enough to order the parts and hang up. You need to know when they’re arriving and if it’s a complete order. You need to ask questions and demand answers. I’ve seen plans made on assumptions of the parts’ arrival, and then the parts manager is shocked the parts never made it onto the truck. Key takeaway: Parts are the lifeblood of production. They’re the gasoline for your tanks, and without them, nothing can move.
  5. Get the vehicle assigned to techs and torn down 100 percent. Everything I’ve written so far needs to happen quickly. From the moment the customer drives onto your lot, you should have everything done up to this point in less than a two-hour timeframe. Now you need to assign this job for teardown by the most efficient and available technician. The teardown should be worked into current production as quickly as possible, and it should not sit. If you take in teardowns as they come, they won’t build up. And teardowns need to be 100 percent with all possible damage totally uncovered. This also includes breaking down bumpers and blend panels. If you don’t do it this way, you leave a chance for something to be missed or broken later. Do it now; break it now if it’s going to break, while there’s still time to get it ordered. Key takeaway: It is imperative to get the vehicle into production quickly and uncover all damage sooner than later.
  6. Get supplements written and locked quickly. There should be no delays in any part of this process. If any part is delayed, it compounds itself later. You may delay and miss a parts order cutoff, or your techs may be leaving for the day. Take things as they come and get them done as you go, because there will never be a perfect time. As soon as the teardown is complete, get the estimator to photograph and write the supplement so work can continue without delay. Key takeaway: Vehicles sitting and not being worked on don’t help anybody, so make sure paperwork is being quickly completed so the vehicle can progress forward.
  7. Ensure a supplemental parts order has been made and get answers as to time of arrival. Now you have to deal with parts again and make sure everything uncovered in the teardown process has been correctly ordered and know their estimated time of arrival. Parts are now even more important because you have less time. Key takeaway: As we all know, a $20,000 job can be held up by a $2 bracket. Don’t get to the end of the process only to be held up by assuming the bracket or the hardware was ordered.
  8. Ensure the body tech has checked the estimate to make sure there is no work billed not performed (WBNP) and work performed not paid (WPNB), and that the tech has everything needed to reassemble the vehicle. Before the vehicle is moved to paint, the body technician needs to take ownership of and double check his estimate for WBNP and WPNB. The technician should also lay out and double check all parts to ensure everything needed for reassembly is there. If everything is ready, could the vehicle be reassembled now? Key takeaway: Before the vehicle moves to paint, now is the time to do all of this, not in reassembly or Friday afternoon at 5 p.m.
  9. Communicate with the paint department to make sure they have everything needed to complete all paint work on the job. Does the paint department have the tow hooks, moldings and handles needed to complete the job? Don’t assume they know what you know, and make sure every component needing paint is identified and ready to be painted. How many times has the painter been given a loose part after all the other repaint work was done and the vehicle is in reassembly? Key takeaway: Check twice and paint once so that paint doesn’t need to go in reverse and go back to a color that was done already.
  10. Ensure all needed parts have been ordered, received, checked and given to the technician. Your parts pipeline needs to be involved in the production of the shop from start to finish. Nothing should be assumed until it’s verified. If any assumptions are to be made, it should be assumed that the parts are not here. If you ordered a right headlamp, assume a left is here until you’ve verified. Further, you should assume it’s broken until you prove that it’s not. Key takeaway: Assume the worst until you physically verify that the part is here, that it’s the correct one, and that it’s undamaged.
  11. Communicate with the entire team on what’s going on with each vehicle. Ask each team member if they have done their part in order for the vehicle to move forward and leave the shop. Whether you walk around to each vehicle as a group or have a meeting in the office, it’s important that everyone knows what’s going on and what the plan is. Everyone may be individually working, but unless everyone is working toward the same goal, vehicles may not be moving in a concerted effort toward the door. Key takeaway: Have a plan, and don’t keep it a secret from the team. Involve the entire group so that everyone can help and do their part.
  12. Jump the system. There are certain things you can do out of order in the system. An easy example is that you have six cars that you’re trying to deliver today. However, by the time they’re all built, they’re going to hit detail all at once at 3 p.m. Instead of having your detailer do nothing until the cars hit him all at once, have him clean what he can now. Maybe he can tackle some interiors or, if it’s only a bumper or mirror job, he can do the rest of the car now and just go back and wipe off the handprints once the car is assembled. Key takeaway: Lost time is just that – lost. Once a technician’s time is gone, we can’t have it back again, so try to keep all departments flowing evenly.
  13. LEAD! Above all else, you must lead and continually move the operation forward. You can’t have a plan and just slip it under the door. You must bring life and energy to the plan. I will tackle the topic of leadership in another article, but for now, just realize what an integral ingredient it is. It’s the sparkplug of your production machine. Key takeaway: I’ve seen a management change completely turn around a failing operation. That’s it. That one piece makes all the difference in the world.

Summary

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I’m not saying that these are all the steps necessary for smooth production or if you do these things that everything else will be perfect. I’m saying that “process” works, and if you have a process and follow it, you’ll have a better time than those who don’t. If you use these 13 tasks as a check-down for each car in the shop and get answers, cars will move.

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