Running a Shop Lean in the Shop Shop Floor Tools

Don’t Fall Behind on Upgrades

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Remember that old tune “All or Nothing at All,” first recorded by Frank Sinatra? It aptly describes many shop owners’ approaches to making changes or improvements. And it came to mind after talking with a close friend who sells and services spray booths, frame machines, welders and other key collision shop equipment. She says that in this tough economy many shop owners are choosing to upgrade their existing equipment rather than buy new. She also says she is appalled by the sorry state of much of the equipment she is asked to rehab.

Taken one at a time, these neglected areas may seem trivial, but together they add up to a significant sum.

On frame machines, chains are frequently broken, hydraulic pumps are leaking, and hydraulic rams don’t operate properly. The holding clamps are often in poor working order. Most of these components must be serviced once a year. If they had been, the cost of upgrading and repairing them would be a fraction of the bill for servicing these neglected components.

Frequently, the computerized measuring equipment has been neglected so long that it stands unused in a corner while technicians use old tram gauges to make less accurate measurements. When asked why these components have been allowed to fall into this sad state, the shop owner replies he was intending to replace them with new equipment, but just hasn’t gotten around to it. “All or nothing at all.”

Paint it Red

Frame machine neglect is nothing, however, compared to paint booth neglect. Regular booth exhaust ducts should be cleaned every six months, but they’ve often been ignored for a year or more. Booth ceiling filters should be changed every six months and floor filters or exhaust wall filters should be replaced about every two weeks. My friend says the state of some of the filters she has seen are so bad they must be seriously affecting the quality of the paint jobs coming out of the booth.

Burners and mechanical units need to be serviced every six months, but aren’t. Paint cabinets contain ancient materials that should have been disposed of months ago. Much of this is neglect to the point that it could become hazardous. Once again, incremental timely replacement and maintenance could have cut the cost of upgrading in half, rather than nearly painting the balance sheet red.

My friend sees all kinds of neglect in paint booths. Air line filter elements should be changed every three to six months, but often aren’t. (Air compressor filter elements like desiccant beads need that kind of attention too.) Air compressors and dryers have not been maintained properly by changing oil and filters on compressors and adding Freon to the air dryer every six months. Air lines and air receivers no longer work properly when they’ve not been drained in the morning and in the evening. All of this adds up to greater replacement costs.

Air line hoses and quick couplers develop leaks. This is one of the most costly areas to a body shop. One leaky air hose can cost a shop up to $250 in one month. Clarifiers that should have been cleaned out once a year appear to have been untouched for several. At this point some are beyond repair and must be replaced at significantly more cost than simple maintenance.

Even the cords to the polishers and vacuum cleaners are frayed and in poor working order, sometimes with exposed wires. Again, much of this neglect is actually hazardous. Taken one at a time, these neglected areas may seem trivial, but together they add up to a significant sum.

Lean Maintenance

With many shops considering something like the 5S approach to lean production, the “scrub” phase—cleaning, repairing or replacing equipment that is not functioning properly—risks being a major task. The all-or-nothing-at-all song-and-dance that left so much neglect becomes a very costly “all.”

If the lean Japanese concept kaisen, which calls for incremental changes in a shop’s appearance, equipment or personnel training, had been applied all along, the shop’s cost would have been lean as well.

I recently had an occasion to make a number of visits to a loved one in a convalescent hospital. Every time I visited, I noticed something was being painted—upgraded. A convalescent hospital can’t shut down to be painted, so they paint a bit every day, even if it’s only a door a day. It’s a lesson that’s relatable for collision repair today, since business is still not booming in most areas: Technicians should have at least a little time every day to attend to some kind of maintenance. A kaisen-like incremental approach to keeping a shop in top operating condition might well be the best lean approach—and far less costly than “all or nothing at all.”

Tom Franklin, author of Strategies for Greater Body Shop Growth, has been a sales and marketing consultant for more than 40 years.

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