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Unlocking the Mystery of Production: Pre-Repair Management

Pre-repair management isn’t a new way to repair cars faster, better, cheaper and easier. But it’s been proven to ease the production management workload – and give you time
to focus on big ideas.

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Hank Nunn is a 35-year collision industry veteran. He is now retired.

Many shop owners and managers are looking for the key to unlocking the mystery of production in a collision repair shop. What’s the secret? How do we repair more vehicles faster, better, cheaper and easier?

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Is the key to be found in Toyota Production Systems (lean production)? SOPs? Six Sigma? Continuous improvement? Maybe the Exploitation of Constraints? Yes. These are all great tools which, if implemented with consistency, will lead to improved workflow and reduced repair cycle time and ultimately increase shop profitability. That’s a good thing.

But many of us are so busy in the day-to-day process of repairing collision-damaged vehicles, dealing with the issues that pop up constantly, putting out miscellaneous management fires and everything else that we don’t have time to even begin to contemplate production management concepts. “I’ve got cars to fix! I don’t have time for all of that high-end management theory!”
The simple concept of “pre-repair management” can provide immediate improvement to collision repair production systems, reduce cycle time, improve profitability and ease the production management workload so that we might have the time to investigate and implement some of those high-level production management concepts.

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Nothing New
Pre-repair Management, as a concept, isn’t new and goes by many names. Some call it triage, others call it pre-management and still others refer to it as staging. Call it what you want, it works.

Basically, pre-repair management means taking the time to find all damage issues before the vehicle enters the repair process. Ideally, pre-repair management should occur during the damage evaluation process.

Let’s look at a “standard” repair process: 

  1. Customer comes in for estimate.
  2. Estimate is written in parking lot.
  3. Customer signs RO, schedules job.
  4. Parts are ordered.
  5. Vehicle is received for repair.
  6. Job is assigned to body repair tech.
  7. Tech pulls parts and begins repair.
  8. Tech finds additional damage. 
  9. Tech stops repair, completes missing parts form. 
  10. Tech walks around looking for someone to solve the problem. 
  11. Job gets put on hold for parts, insurance re-inspect, etc.
  12. Tech begins working on another job.

Well, you get the picture. This happens every
day in shops all over North America. We have
shops full of vehicles sitting and waiting for parts
and re-inspections.

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The largest cost we face in collision repair is stopping and starting the repair process. Each time a technician stops and starts the repair process, we incur wasted time. In a collision repair shop, time is money. Wasted time is wasted money.

Two Basic Components
There are two basic
components of the collision repair process: pre-repair and repair. In the example above, the job stopped because problems with the damage evaluation were discovered during the repair component of the collision repair.

Pre-repair management is a process that helps find problems with parts, additional issues, hidden damage and anything else that may stop the repair once the vehicle enters the repair process. We need to capitalize on the time we have the vehicle in pre-repair. Many have found that focusing on the pre-repair time drastically reduces the repair process time.

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“Hidden” damage? Does damage really hide, waiting until the worst possible moment to jump out and surprise the technician working on the vehicle and stop the repair process? No, that damage is simply not seen until the tech digs into the repair. We need a process to find that damage prior to beginning the repair.

Create a procedure to diagnose all damage, obtain all parts and resolve insurance issues prior to assigning the repair to the technician. Damaged vehicles must be torn down to the point that a qualified technician can look at the repair and say, “Now I can see all of the damage.”
Next, that qualified technician and the service writer (estimator) should team up to make a list of all required parts and operations. This list will be detailed enough to include all R&I items and any miscellaneous materials, clips, etc. The service writer then generates a damage evaluation which will include everything needed.

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Many of us kind of do this. We ask the technician to tear a harder-hit vehicle down so that we can write our estimate. But where’s the technician while we’re writing our estimate? Usually, he’s working on another vehicle. He frequently has no input until repairs have begun. The teaming of the tech and the service writer is a critical step in the pre-repair management process.

The job shouldn’t be assigned for repair until all parts are received and the insurance issues are resolved. This way, once the repairs have begun, nothing pops up to stop the repair and the vehicle proceeds through the repair process without interruption.

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Different shops pre-manage repairs in different ways. A large shop may have a full-time technician who performs the teardown and diagnosis function. A smaller shop may have the regular body technicians perform the task. A mid-sized facility may use a working foreman to perform the pre-management process. But any shop can improve workflow through pre-repair management. It’s simply up
to you.

Designated Workspace
Pre-repair management should be performed in one dedicated workspace that has a lift and an anchoring/pulling system. Many vehicles require “access pulls” so that the full amount of damage may be seen. The lift is required so that a complete structural diagnosis can be completed. The pre-repair management stall may have everything from a drive-on bench with computerized measurement and an estimating terminal or it can be as simple as a space with a jack, floor pots and post with a tape and tram to document damages.

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Use one dedicated workspace rather than having techs pull vehicles into their stalls for this process. It’s better to move vehicles in and out of one pre-repair management stall than to hold dismantled vehicles in workspaces within
the shop.

The equipment used is not as important as the implementation of the pre-repair management process. It starts with a written commitment:


“At ABC Autobody, all vehicles that may have supplemental damage go through our Pre-Repair Management process prior to assignment to a repair technician. We use this process to speed the repair and increase quality for
our customer.”

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Next, decide how to make it work in your shop. Write out the steps. Create a checklist to be used to make sure vehicles don’t go into process until all parts are in, structural diagnosis is complete and insurance issues are resolved.
Involve your technicians in developing the process. Once the process is agreed upon, write it as a standard operating procedure. Review the process with all involved, then monitor to assure that it’s followed.

Seminar Smoke?
I’ve presented this concept many times in the DuPont SMART Cycle Time seminar. The first time I did the seminar, there was one attendee who didn’t feel that pre-repair management would work in his shop. This shop owner had an insurance DRP that required an initial estimate that was to include only visible damage. He had technicians who would never work on a vehicle that someone else tore down. His customers wanted repairs started immediately, and they wouldn’t like having the job sit while waiting for additional parts.

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There are answers for each of his concerns. Go ahead and give the insurance company the initial estimate they require. Then, move the vehicle into pre-repair management and find the rest of the damage prior to assigning the job for repair. Let the individual technicians perform the teardown and diagnosis function and review with the service writer. Explain to the customer that pre- repair management focuses on finding problems before repairs begin so that the overall repair process is reduced. It’s better to have a job sit for a day prior to the repair than to sit during the repair.

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He didn’t buy it. The man was adamant that this was just “seminar smoke” that would never work in the real world. We chatted about the issue after the program, and then I went home and he went back to
his shop.

The following Friday, he called me at my office. He told me that he still thought that the whole thing was seminar smoke, but he was quite happy to report that he had tried
the concept with success on a late-model Acura.

He explained that the customer had come in Monday morning with a $3,500 estimate from the drive-in adjuster. Instead of just handing the job off to a tech, he had his lead metal tech tear the job down until he could see all of the damage.

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Next, the shop owner and the lead tech worked together to create a list of everything required to restore the vehicle to pre-loss condition. Then a complete damage evaluation was com-
pleted ($4,700) and a full parts order
was made.

The shop owner contacted the drive-in appraiser, faxed the revised estimate and sent digital photos. The repair cost was negotiated and the final figure of $4,400 was agreed upon.
The complete parts order was received on Tuesday. Repairs began immediately, the Acura went to paint on Wednesday afternoon and was painted on Thursday.

The shop owner called to tell me that he had turned a $4,400 job in one week. That “seminar smoke” worked!

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In our industry, we frequently place vehicles into production with incomplete parts orders, poor estimates and incomplete insurance approvals. It should come as no surprise that we suffer from high repair cycle times and poor profitability.

Pre-repair management should be viewed as a first step in correcting some of these problems. While the process helps with the problems, it doesn’t make them go away. This process changes the schedule by which problems occur, finding them in the pre-repair stage rather than during the repair itself.

To get rid of the problems, we need to look into some of those higher
level production concepts listed in the
alphabet soup at the beginning of
this article.

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Hank Nunn is the president of H W Nunn & Associates based in Portland, Ore. Hank is sales and marketing manager and facilitator for DuPont Performance Coatings SMART Shop Management Seminars. Hank is a former shop owner, technician, jobber store owner and frequent speaker at NACE and other trade association events. Hank may be reached at [email protected].

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