Shop Life FenderBender Awards

The 2018 FenderBender Awards: Craig Dale

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Craig Dale spent hours of his own time talking on the phone to the paint booth manufacturer. The booth at the Hudson, Wis., location of Heppner’s Auto Body, was only reaching a temperature between 60-80 degrees Fahrenheit. It was in the middle of winter and temperatures outside hovered below 20 degrees. To effectively paint cars, the heat needed to reach around 150 degrees. Dale kept calling experts and manufacturers to find a solution to fix the current booth instead of replacing the unit.

Eventually, he reached someone who instructed him to drill out the gas orifices in the burner unit.

That diligence saved the company from spending $30,000 on a new paint booth.

“He’s always looking out for the company’s bottom line and being persistent,” Jesse Jacobson, vice president of Heppner’s Auto Body, says.

Not only does he go beyond his role as the facilities maintenance manager to save money, Jacobson says he is a team player who often helps other staff with home remodels.

For Heppner’s Auto Body, he’s the man behind the smooth workflow. He’s also a man in a position that can be easily overlooked.

“His efforts have greatly improved employee morale and production,” Jacobson wrote in the 2018 FenderBender Award nomination. “He is always willing to come in at night or the weekend to get things fixed so employees can keep working the next day.”

Dale first entered the automotive industry with a background in remodeling, electrical and engineer work. Jacobson says he chose him for his previous experience as an aircraft mechanic, heating and HVAC systems. Dale took that experience into the body shop in order to prevent repair delays.

Stepping into the role as facilities maintenance manager at Heppner’s Auto Body in Minnesota, he has taken over the vital work of keeping the MSO up and running. His role encompasses work at each of the shop’s six locations.

The facilities maintenance manager role was new in the shop and through Dale’s ability to drop what he is doing, be flexible and help do a parts run or help with a safety issue, Jacobson says the position has turned into one that is indispensable. By keeping up with the maintenance, Dale is able to prevent major stops in workflow. Usually if there is a problem, the work will only need to stop for an hour or two, he says.

“That wasn’t his job, but because everyone knew that he was flexible, he would step into the role and mow the lawns and do some landscaping,” Jacobson says.

Dale typically works five days per week but spends up to 15 hours per day in the shop, he says. The schedule is flexible because he is able to manage his own time. And, he rarely needs to see his boss. Dale’s role involves working on the electric, maintenance and remodeling of the shops. He says some of his biggest challenges are fixing electrical issues and air compressors.

“When those went down, everything stopped,” he says. “I had never been in a paint booth or had seen a paint booth before I started the job.”

In just three-and-a-half years, he managed six paint booth conversions to water-based paints, Jacobson says. This project included replacing two booths at one location with only a three-day downtime in the paint department. Three other booths required modifications to the blower systems.

The shop purchases new spot welders for all the locations so Dale made sure the buildings could handle the power requirements. He ran outlets to every technician’s workspace in order to comply with OSHA violations. He also installed Wi-Fi routers inside and outside every building to eliminate dead spots.

He also remodeled three of the shop locations. Due to his fluid role, he was able to come into the shop to remodel at night or on the weekends, which helped prevent production halts.

“Soon after we hired him, we realized the value of the work he was doing as far as keeping everyone happy and improving quality of life,” Jacobson says.

Dale says the best part of the position is the other staff being patient with him in the process, making it easier for him to get the job done.

Overall, he’s the guy everyone can rely on, Jacobson says.

In the summer of 2018, Dale retired from his position at Heppner’s Auto Body to be closer to his family in northern Minnesota. His time at Heppner’s has come to an end but the insight into the value of his work will not be remiss, Jacobson says.



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