Return On Investment
The goal is to make things easier, simpler, says Doug Martin, manager of Martin’s Auto Body Inc. in New Salisbury, Ind. “That should be the goal with any new tool you put in the shop.”
As many shop owners know, though, that isn’t always the case.
The latest and greatest tools and technologies too often wind up being a lot more of the former than the latter. The difficulty, Martin says, is identifying which new products will actually help your shop, creating efficiencies and eliminating any bottlenecks.
“You’re looking for opportunities to set your shop apart,” Martin says, “but at the same time, you can’t just throw money at every new thing that comes out. You need to know what you’re getting into.”
And one of the best ways to do that is to hear from people who’ve used it. FenderBender spoke with three shop operators who shared their thoughts on three recent industry innovations and how they’ve played a role in their shops.
The Matrix Wand
From Matrix Electronic Measuring, thematrixwand.com
What it is: A handheld electronic measuring device for estimating structural collision damage.
How it works: The device takes 3-D images of structural damage, which can then be downloaded to your computer and analyzed through the company’s software. The goal is to create more accurate measurements of damaged portions of the vehicle, increasing accuracy in the repair and parts selection, and eliminating supplements.
Training needed: One hour
Doug Martin, Martin’s Auto Body, New Salisbury, Ind.
Although he grew up around his father’s shop (and eventually took over as manager in 2007), Martin has never actually worked on the shop floor. He’s “a guy with a business degree,” he says, certainly not a technician, bodyman or painter.
“And I can tell you that, after an hour [of training], I could pick the thing up and use it accurately,” he says of the Matrix Wand. “Any kid off the street could be taught to use it. It’s pretty simple.”
Martin’s staff at the 19,000-square-foot shop have used the device since the beginning of 2013 on “anything that’s been hit on the front end,” he says, as well as other sections as needed. His area of Indiana gets a lot of run-ins with deer—damage that can look cosmetic at first glance but has lurking structural issues that can’t be seen.
“The Matrix Wand is made for that hidden damage,” he says. “Instead of trying to throw numbers at it off a tram gauge or measure by hand, you actually have concrete evidence for what it is. It can tell you exactly what the numbers are and how far things are off.”
The one hang-up, Martin says, is that he wishes the software would provide a base measurement for vehicles, rather than having to compare against the nondamaged sections, or other vehicles.
Martin compares the return on investment (ROI) to buying a $40,000 alignment machine: “It’s something you need to get the job done, but how many alignments are you doing before you pay back that $40,000?”
Martin says the shop has seen a quick rise in efficiency, though. His staff (including older, more experienced technicians) has embraced it, even using it to recheck completed work. And it has almost entirely wiped out the need for supplements.
“We’re finding everything the first time, and making sure we get paid for it by the insurance companies,” he says.
USC Nitrogen Welding System
From Urethane Supply Company (USC), urethanesupply.com
What it is: The 65-pound nitrogen system is designed for making plastic welds. It comes with USC’s airless plastic welder, hot-air welder, and a nitrogen-control box. The system sits on a fully assembled, wheeled cart with a nitrogen tank and a supply of welding rods.
How it works: It can be used on any plastic part, including bumpers, mounting tabs, grille bars and fender liners. The welds work at a speed of 4–6 inches per minute, and have no cure time—just cool with water, sand, prime and paint.
Training needed: Two days
Sean Rollins, RCI Collision, Warner Robins, Ga.
Staying ahead of the competition is the key to today’s industry, Rollins says, not only for your business to gain market share, but also to attract insurers and DRPs.
“They want to see that you’re a progressive shop and you’re moving forward in the industry,” he says. “Doing things that other shops can’t do puts you in that position.”
And a new focus on plastic welding has helped his shop do just that, he says. Rollins first purchased a nitrogen welding system from USC four years ago—and he’s purchased three additional units since then.
The system isn’t difficult for a qualified technician to master, Rollins says. Although, he does strongly suggest taking USC’s two- or three-day training course to learn proper welding techniques and information about the composition of various plastics.
He has also purchased USC’s nitrogen generator (roughly the same price as a welding system) to eliminate the need for purchasing replacement containers of nitrogen.
The main benefit to the system, as Rollins sees it, is a new focus on repairing rather than replacing. With being able to weld plastic, his shop now repairs just over 60 percent of all bumpers that come in, compared to roughly 25 percent before making the switch. And the lack of wait time for additional parts has played a role in the shop’s overall cycle time dropping by roughly two days.
Rollins estimates that the return on each unit has been about 90 days.
The Goliath G1A Powered Mobile Work Station
From Goliath Carts, goliathcarts.com
What it is: Pegged as a “desk on wheels,” it is a cart with its own power supply (one charge lasts roughly four days), allowing for use of a computer, printer and other electronic features anywhere in the shop.
How it works: The cart, which is only inches wider than a standard computer printer, contains an upper locking compartment that can hold a laptop and monitor with space left over for a mouse. It also has a lower portion, where a printer can be stored, as well as space for paper trays on its main surface. It even has a cup holder.
Cost: $2,500 ($4,000 with computer system)
Training needed: None
Tim Steiner, Riverside Auto Body, Yankton, S.D.
An accurate and thorough estimate is critical to improving cycle time, cutting down on supplements and ensuring that your shop provides efficient, quality repairs for customers, says Steiner.
And this is the reason he places so much value on his Goliath G1A cart. Steiner still performs a majority of his shop’s estimates himself, and before purchasing the mobile workstation, it meant a lot of back-and-forth across his 15,000-square-foot shop.
Now, Steiner simply wheels the cart to where he needs it and performs estimates in a fraction of the time.
“I can’t even begin to describe the amount of time it saves,” he says. “And because I don’t have to run back and forth and can simply concentrate on what I’m doing, estimates are very, very accurate.”
Steiner bought the fully loaded G1A a couple years ago, including the dual monitor computer system (one from the laptop, and the other from the additional screen underneath the carts lid). With a wireless Internet connection that extends into the parking lot, he can access his estimating system from anywhere on his property. And he can print it where he’s working.
“I’ll pull it into the parking lot sometimes to help customers, and print off the estimate right there for them,” he says.
The improved accuracy of repairs, Steiner says, and the time saved on each estimate, has made the return on the cart “feel immediate.” Still, he says, a very conservative estimate for ROI was about six months.
Since using the carts throughout the shop, Steiner says the shop is saving money on parts inventory and has cut back on supplements.