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Paint-Shop Smarts

To increase production in the paint shop, you can do one of two things: Buy more equipment – the object here being to do more work in the same time period by mechanizing
the task. Or, you can produce more by better utilizing your present facility and equipment – the old “work smarter not harder”
school of thought.

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The essential thing to remember here is this:
Better organization is the first step to increasing production.
You need to arrange your technicians, equipment and workflow to
your best advantage before you add more equipment or more space.

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Many shop owners, however, fail to do this.

Stop the Insanity

What many shop owners discovered when their
shops first became computerized was that they had to get their
existing paper systems in order before they could feed it all
into the new computer. For example, many shop’s bookkeeping systems
were a hodgepodge of invoices, checkbooks, folders and work orders
that resided in a floating pile on the owner’s desk.

As appetizing as a new super-organized computer
system sounds to this shop owner, he can’t just pick up the amorphous
pile of paper and feed it into the computer. First, he must put
all the bills in one pile, the time cards in another and the tax
estimates in yet another pile – and all this must be done before
the computer will manage the information. As fancy and user friendly
as computers are these days, it’s still "garbage in-garbage
out" as far as results go – and feeding the computer misleading
data results in an inaccurate output.

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The ironic part of getting a new computer
for many shop owners is if they had just put all their existing
paper systems in the correct piles, they would have enjoyed half
the benefit of the new computer without buying one.

Much the same thing is possible for increasing
the production output from the metal and paint shops. Rather than
buying new equipment and dropping it into the existing confusion
in the back room, it might be cheaper to make an effort to end
the confusion first.

I’ve just come back from a trip where I had
the opportunity to visit a whole slew of very productive body
shops. Without exception, these shops had the latest, fastest
equipment in both their metal and paint shops. But I was also
impressed with the clever ways these shops handled things like
parts ordering and delivery, and the speedy way they segregated
the sanding operations.

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In my experience, the shop owners who can
afford the snazzy new equipment earned the money for it by making
the most of what they already had. All the shops I visited on
my trip were in new or vastly remodeled buildings, and they grew
their businesses to the size required to support a productive
new building design by getting the most production from their
original shops.

Blinded by the Trees

One barrier to this rethinking process is
your familiarity with your existing situation. In other words,
it’s hard to see the forest with all those trees in the way. Here’s
another good one: It’s hard to remember that the plan was to drain
the swamp when you’re up to your butt in alligators!

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The best intentions of body shop owners everywhere
are frequently lost in the confusion of running their business
day to day. The plan may be to rearrange the paint shop to move
the sanding further away from the spraybooth, but the reality
is that the Chevrolet van scheduled to leave that afternoon turned
out to have a major electrical short, tying up two techs all morning
– and one of those techs was supposed to be painting two other
cars for reassembly tomorrow. Naturally, the shop’s plan to redesign
the paint shop is the last thing anyone had time to worry about.

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The solution? Set aside time after working
hours to examine the problem.

Rethink, Reorganize, Regroup

Granted, rethinking your present operation
may not be totally free of cost. If your parts ordering, storage
and dispersal methods eat up too much time, a new and better system
may require building a special area or special shelves to house
the parts. But, keep in mind that the cost for building materials
and a contractor will likely be much less than a new prep station
or frame rack – and the money spent on a better parts-handling
system affects every technician, every job, every day.

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If you hit the lottery tomorrow, you could
build a new shop with the slickest parts-storage system on the
planet, but most likely, you’ll soon be fighting the same parts-related
delays you face today. Strive to solve the problems your present
shop has first, and once you’re successful enough, you can design
the shop of your dreams.

To get started, work on solving your biggest
problems first and proceed in small steps. Choose two or three
things that are stumbling blocks every day – even if you identify
15 or 20 things that impede faster production. Remember, you can’t
change 15 things at once – you’ll be lucky to change two.

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Once you’ve identified your two biggest production
bottlenecks, you can make small changes toward correcting them.
How will you identify the two immediate problems? Ask your techs.
No one knows the problems like the people on the front line. It
may seem to the office folks that the big problem is moving cars
around inside the shop. But, if you ask the painters, you may
find their biggest problem is poor lighting in the spraybooth.

Perfecting Procedures

Rather than thinking only in terms of buying
something, like more lights or wheeled dollies for the cars, think
in terms of making small changes in procedures. Often, it’s possible
to make the work flow faster just by making paper changes. Do
you provide your techs with a copy of the estimate, the work order
and the purchase order for each job? It doesn’t cost much. A photocopy
is less than a dime.

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With the paperwork in-hand – and in the work
stall – the metal man can see the handwritten note on the estimate
promising to fix the ding in an adjacent panel for no charge (better
to find out now – before the collision damage is repaired and
painted). And with a copy of the purchase order for replacement
parts in the stall, the tech may catch that you received two left-side
parts rather than one left and one right – before he starts reassembling
the car.

You can also increase workflow by priming
everything requiring 2K primer-surfacer late in the afternoon.
This way, the spray gun is only loaded and cleaned once, and all
primed parts are ready to sand the next morning. Note: If you
don’t make the effort to speed production by changing the order
in which your shop does things, you aren’t getting the most from
what you have.

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Thoughtful methods to find the color match
for each vehicle early in the repair process are also the mark
of a well-run paint shop. Techs who are mixing small test batches
of color and spraying test panels long before the car hits the
booth are getting more work out the door than techs who don’t.

Color match is a huge problem for painters,
so look for small procedural changes that will make this difficult
job easier. Painter training on color tinting is available from
every paint manufacturer – take advantage of it. The mismatch
problem won’t go away, but well-trained painters will be able
to achieve a blendable match in less time. Remember: Production
improvements that utilize equipment are only as effective as the
technicians operating the equipment.

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To be realistic, not every change you make
will be helpful. And the nay sayers in your workforce will point
to that one failure as good reason to not change anything else.
People resist change in all walks of life. "Hey, it works
OK now. Why change?" The answer is: to try to get more work
done in the same amount of time. Better production means more
money for the techs and future success for the shop.

The best way to get your employees on board
for any changes is to include them in your plans. By asking the
people involved what they need to do their jobs better or faster,
you’ll ensure their participation in your plans.

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Must-Have Equipment

Metal men only have to beat the book time
for a given operation to make money. Painters, too, are allowed
the book time, but they also must contend with dry times between
products and coats that are measured on the real clock.

Painting is the bottleneck for every body
shop. For this reason, once you’ve streamlined your paper trail
and production procedures and are getting the most work out with
the least effort, future growth is probably dependent on equipment
– in this case, must-have equipment to speed up the paint shop:

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  • Sanders: Since so much of what body and paint techs
    do involves sanding, having the right sander for every situation
    will make the work move faster. For example, three distinct types
    of random-orbit air sanders are available these days; depending
    on the application, your techs may need all three. It’s possible
    to do the sanding with no power sanders at all – but it takes
    too long.

  • Gun washers: Gun washers that clean all or part of
    the spray gun while the painter does something else save labor
    time.
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  • Mixing system: An in-shop mixing system not only saves
    money on the material bill, but also saves time. The painter doesn’t
    have to wait while the jobber delivers the color, and when the
    color needs to be tinted, the formula and all the tints are close
    at hand.

  • Heat: Freshly painted cars that tie up booth or stall
    space while they dry are an impediment to production – so speeding
    the paint dry by heating the surface is a sure road to more production.
    External heat drives the solvent into the air and promotes the
    cross-link of the catalyst. Once the solvent is gone, the parts
    can be reassembled without finger prints; once the catalyst is
    cross-linked, the finish is moisture tight and can be parked outside.
    Whether the heat comes from a forced-air furnace attached to the
    booth or from a portable, electric heat light, the results are
    faster paint production.

    Work Smart

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    You can improve your shop’s production by getting organized and
    by learning to do each job with the fewest movements. You can
    also improve production by communicating clearly and often with
    the technicians who do the work.

    Once these things are implemented, you can then further improve
    production by purchasing equipment that will save labor time by
    making the task easier to perform or by reducing the time required
    to complete the task.

    Substantial production increases are possible in most shops by
    re-examining the way work is presently being done and by utilizing
    everything – and everyone – to your best advantage. You can purchase
    the best equipment in the world, but if you’re not getting the
    most out of what you’ve already got, you won’t get the most out
    what you just bought.

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    Mark Clark, owner of Clark Supply Corporation in Waterloo,
    Iowa, is a contributing editor toBodyShop Business.

    Maximizing Paint-Shop Productivity

    A body shop is essentially a manufacturing plant – a plant that
    manufactures labor. To manufacture labor, you need parts, materials,
    etc. To be successful at it, you need to produce a profit on the
    labor you sell.

    How do you produce a profit? By maximizing the use of available
    labor hours.

    The collision-repair industry truly is unique – you get one shot
    every day to sell and produce your labor. Even the produce manager
    at the local supermarket gets three to four days to sell his inventory.
    But your unsold inventory spoils every day.

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    Look at it this way: What if you were the produce manager at your
    local supermarket, and the scales weren’t giving weight to weighed
    produce? Or what if your customers were eating small amounts of
    bananas and apples before they got to the checkout and weren’t
    paying for them?

    Every day, you may be losing small chunks of available hours of
    inventory that you could sell – and, in many cases, you and your
    employees don’t even realize it.

    Usually this occurs through lost efficiency and lost productivity.
    More specifically, efficiency is a measure of your employees understanding
    of how to best perform the tasks assigned, including their knowledge
    of the procedures for preparing vehicles and mixing and applying
    paint. Productivity is a measure of how many hours your employees
    actually spend producing income for the shop versus how many hours
    were available to produce.

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    The key to paint-shop efficiency is to make sure your painters
    understand the products they’re working with. Many times, painters
    have airflow and booth temperatures more than 30 percent off from
    the manufacturer’s requirements. Also, dirty filters, improperly
    adjusted spray guns and the wrong accelerators/hardeners contribute
    to poor quality and lost hours sold.

    The efficiency of your painters is directly proportional to their
    knowledge of the process, so it’s to your advantage to make sure
    they know and understand everything they need to about applying
    the paints you use. It’s also to your advantage to make sure they
    use what they know.

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    Getting productivity to 100 percent is an even more difficult
    task than getting employees trained. Remember, productivity is
    a measure of the amount of hours actually spent working while
    an employee is available to work. For example, an employee who
    works eight hours in an eight-hour day would be 100 percent productive.

    Two things contribute the most to lost productivity: poor scheduling
    by management and excessive breaks by employees. Because excessive
    breaks can be easily remedied, let’s consider the scheduling problem.

    For starters, it helps a great

    deal to utilize a production scheduling log that preschedules
    and preplans every approved job. Two items are essential to getting
    a job completed when promised:

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    1. Having the right parts in the right place at the right time.
    2. Making sure the paint shop knows when to expect the vehicle
      and when it’s due to detail and cleanup.

    In addition to the production scheduling log, you also might want
    to consider utilizing a paint-shop production scheduling log to
    keep your paint shop abreast of jobs promised. This log could
    be posted on the paint door and updated daily.

    Once you’ve scrutinized the productivity of your labor hours –
    and made more efficient use them – you can then move on to the
    final step for your paint shop: Scheduling a full day’s worth
    of work every day.

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    Writer Larry Edwards is a certified management consultant who
    specializes in body shop management. He’s president of the Charlotte-N.C.-based
    Edwards & Associates Consulting, Inc., which works with manufacturers,
    dealerships, independent body shops and state, national and international
    autobody associations to improve shop management practices, and
    is also the exclusive consulting and training provider for the
    ICI Autocolor Partnership Plus Body Shop Management Training Program.

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