Digitize Your Parts Process
In last month’s column, we introduced a concept that your blueprinters and repair planners can use during the damage assessment process. In this, and in future columns, I want to share some additional systems and processes that you will find valuable for your damage analysis process. No matter where you are on the blueprint implementation continuum, you will probably want to include these suggestions into your own customized process.
This first standard operating procedure was put into our system because of the consistent lack of information provided by the information providers relative to parts required to complete repairs and the pricing for those parts. What we found is that 15–20 percent of all the parts that were listed in the OEM parts diagrams were nowhere to be found in the information provider databases. This was most prevalent in the case of European vehicles, but even domestic and Asian manufacturers had high percentages of parts missing, and we spent a lot of time and energy trying to create repair plans with these pretty significant limitations in play. Remember, one of the primary objectives of blueprinting is to eliminate preventable supplements.
As we struggled to find solutions, we did some root cause analysis. Some of our initial observations and actions included contacting the information providers to find out why complete parts data wasn’t provided to the body shops. In the days before real-time updates on pricing from certain manufacturers, we learned that the OEs sent part numbers and pricing information to the IPs once per month and did so on a bulk basis utilizing reel-to-reel computer tapes or floppy disks that held the data. The teams at the information providers extracted the data and converted it into the format that they could use to populate the databases that ultimately appeared inside of the estimating systems. When we spoke to the editors at the information providers, it became clear that they would not be changing their approach by any measurable degree. So, no viable solution to the problem from the IPs.
Next, we looked at solutions and stop-gaps that were already in place to see if we could optimize them. To the credit of our industry and because our people are very resourceful, we always managed to get all the parts we needed for each repair, but the delays and waste were excruciating sometimes. We wondered where these extra parts came from. Were we over-ordering on some jobs in order to create an inventory of last-minute parts? Were these parts supposed to go on other jobs? All good questions that still pointed us back to the lack of parts information being available at the beginning of the repair planning/blueprinting process.
We also noticed that our writers spent a lot of time on the phone with the wholesale parts representatives at the dealerships. They took pictures of parts and emailed them back and forth to the parts guys (if they had email). Sometimes our writers “photocopied” a small part, then took the print-out and faxed the image over to the parts department. Again, totally inefficient and wasteful for everyone involved.
It was the OEMs that did the most to solve the problem. We knew that the dealerships had access to the full database of parts and very extensive and comprehensive exploded diagrams of components and assemblies. We wondered how we could get access to these catalogues of parts and so we asked some of our dealerships about it. A few of them said we could have their old microfilm slides after the monthly updates came in. This was a stop gap solution for a couple of makes but still not very efficient.
Then, a few OEs over in Europe had the bright idea to digitize their parts catalogues and make them available to their certified collision repair shops. Lucky for us, we had a few certifications and now these electronic parts catalogues (EPCs) were the solution to our problem, at least for a few makes.
Our blueprinting SOP was improved to include accessing the EPCs, along with the estimating system database. Whenever there were parts needed that weren’t in the IP database, we could easily add them to our blueprint with the correct part number and pricing. We could also verify the pricing of parts that were in the estimating database and modify them as needed to avoid the dreaded PPI supplements.
Over time, other OEMs made their EPCs available online. Some were free and others required a subscription. Since we had our SOP in place to utilize the EPCs, each time an OE made theirs available, we just added it to the list of makes that we would access during the blueprint process.
Then, a wave of EPCs became available for nearly every make of vehicle sold in the United States. Toyota made its EPC available for free (and included Lexus) and you can find it at parts.toyota.com or parts.lexus.com. A few other OEMs have followed suit and made their EPCs available, but the dealer networks are what really opened all the EPCs to anyone that wants access.
All you have to do is Google it. It will take a little time to learn how to navigate through the various EPCs but, trust me, the time invested will reap dividends when it comes to the efficiency and accuracy of your blueprints.