How They Work: Prep Stations
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How They Work: Prep Stations

Prep stations, their intended functionality and what items to consider when investing in your shop’s future.

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Karl Kirschenman is the president for K2 Consulting Group and holds a Bachelor of Science degree in communication, with over 10 years of experience in the collision industry. He has previously worked as the collision program manager for ALLDATA and the director of technology for I-CAR.

HOW-THEY-WORKWe’re headed straight into May with a thunder this year.

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Right about now, we’re just about to start pulling out our “garage cars,” motorcycles, ATVs and jet skis, and readying our RVs for another great summer. Just the mere thought of firing up our summertime toys brings smiles to lots of faces. Many of you have spent the last several months, tweaking, tuning and polishing your beloved horsepower monsters to get ready for the unofficial start of summer: Memorial Day weekend. We are so close to that three-day weekend of vacation glory that I can almost smell high-octane fuel, vehicle exhaust and burning rubber right now.

Shop Efficiency » Before you go running off with the family this summer and forgetting all of the shop challenges you had last winter, we need to talk about your shop’s efficiency.

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As business owners, production managers or body shop managers, are you continually asking yourselves, “How do I make my shop more efficient?” Remember, becoming a lean operation is not a one-time event. You should be constantly evaluating how to be more efficient in your shop, with the goal of reducing your cycle times and increasing your hours per day.

Which leads us into this month’s topic: prep stations. We rely upon this equipment heavily to make our shops more productive on a daily basis.

Many of us have prep stations in one form or another. However, the term gets thrown around a lot and can mean many different things. So, I would like to shed some light on prep stations, their intended functionality and what items to consider when investing in your shop’s future.

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Types and Functionality » I spoke with several industry experts to help me define the various levels of prep stations and their intended purposes. As you can imagine, I received a lot of great information and a lot of different terminology, depending who I was speaking with. As we all know, this is nothing new in the collision industry. However, it’s confusing for someone who may be thinking about purchasing a prep station.

Therefore, we’re going to group equipment into three categories. By no means do these categories encompass all of the possible equipment configurations available.

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Purpose of the Purchase » With so many definitions of a prep station, it’s easy to get confused trying to figure out what’s going to work best in your shop. So before you go calling around to get prices, I recommend a thorough evaluation of your shop’s production processes and needs to determine “The Purpose of the Purchase.”

First and foremost, a basic prep station is not a substitute for a spraybooth. In order to meet EPA and OSHA regulations, a simple exhaust system is not going to cut it if you intend on spraying paint. However, if you’re just going to be sanding and you need to control particulate contamination within your shop, a dust extraction unit just may work for you.

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Ask yourself these questions:

Equipment considerations:

  • What is my budget?
  • What are the types of work I envision will take place within this area of the shop?
  • Will I have the ability to spray paint and primers, and to what capacity?
  • Should I consider having heat in the area?
  • Does the equipment recirculate the air, and do I need to have it now?
  • Can I add heat, air intake and/or recirculation in the future?
  • Does the equipment include Variable Frequency Drive (VFD) fans?
  • What width and ceiling height do I need to service my jobs?
  • What types of lighting does the equipment contain?
  • Can this equipment be expanded to accommodate future needs?
  • Can and should I incorporate a vehicle lift into the prep station?
  • Is this going to be a dedicated work area for performing aluminum repairs?

Shop considerations:

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  • Where do I plan to place the prep station?
  • Does the area need to be portable or can it be stationary?
  • How much ceiling height do I have available?
  • How wide should the area be?
  • Will the equipment require a pit or an above-ground basement? If it’s an above-ground basement, does it require ramps or have the ability to be equipped with a tilting floor?
  • Will this equipment require modifying the existing building?
  • Will I need to add additional lighting to this area?
  • Will the equipment and the equipment location in your shop pass an audit by local, municipal, county, state/provincial and federal organizations given the type of work you’re planning to perform in this area?

Production considerations:

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  • How many repair orders (ROs) do I intend on putting through this equipment?
  • Can I accommodate more work if I make this purchase?
  • Can I turn jobs at a faster rate?
  • How much air volume do I need to generate?
  • Am I considering this equipment for a “Quick Lane” rapid repair area?
  • Is this equipment going to be a dedicated work area for performing aluminum repairs?

Leveraging Your Prep Station » Having the most beautiful prep station in the world doesn’t mean anything if your staff isn’t using it on a consistent basis. If your prep station is sitting idle most of the time, you need to reevaluate your production processes to determine the cause. There may be a number of factors that are negatively influencing your techs and negatively impacting your return on investment (ROI) for this equipment. Examine the space your prep station will occupy in your shop. Is the location going to provide an efficient workflow? Will the prep station pay for itself every day? Could you get more value from this shop floor real estate?

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If you put the prep station in 20 years ago when you were focused on custom motorcycle work and now your business is primarily doing large trucks, you should look into updating the area based on your current needs. Whatever the case is, if your prep station area is being underutilized, dig in and determine if the area still continues to meet and support your production processes. Look at your shop’s vehicle flow, and evaluate technicians’ work habits and the work you’re doing inside and outside your spraybooth. Determine where your production bottlenecks develop and if a prep station is the best way to tackle them.

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Maintenance » A well-kept prep station can be used as a sales tool, marketing focus and a customer closing tool. As you walk your customers through the repair processes, point out that you take great pride in keeping your shop environment clean. Let your customers know that cleanliness leads to quality repairs. Make sure to point out how clean your shop floors and walls are. Show your customers how organized your shop is at the same time. You’ll be surprised how fast customers will begin to believe that you’ll repair their car properly.

If you’re uncomfortable pointing these items out to your customers, I suggest getting the team together and doing some spring cleaning.

In my article on spraybooths published in BodyShop Business’ April 2015 issue, I wrote about maintaining this equipment. Many of the same considerations hold true for maintaining your prep stations as well. Although prep stations are dirtier working environments than spraybooths, you still need to maintain a high level of cleanliness in them. Change your filters as often as required to ensure maximum airflow, remove debris and contaminant build-up from the floor area, and make sure to clean the walls, ceilings and floors on a continual basis. Build a scheduled maintenance program for your prep station into your shop’s standard operating procedures.

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Contributors to this article include Richard Post, The Janitor and Joe Simon, service coordinator – Altra Products; Guido Pippa, director, North American Sales and Distribution – Accudraft; Tim Morgan, managing director and Tom McGee, business development manager – Spanesi Americas; Brandon Lowder, vice president of refinish, Global Finishing Solutions; and Johan Huwaert, general manager, Garmat USA.

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