Running a Shop Operations Cycle Time Management

Common Cycle Time Missteps

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The concept behind the Theory of Constraints is pretty simple: In any operational system, there will be a set number of constraints that prevent the system from achieving its ultimate goals.

To remain competitive in the collision repair industry, maintaining a low cycle time is key. Shops need to provide quality repairs in the most efficient way possible, but there are many constraints that they need to overcome.

FenderBender spoke with three shop operators, whose businesses are models in efficiency, to diagnose and offer solutions to the bottlenecks, breakdowns and blunders that kill cycle time.

Deadly Sin No. 1

Unwritten Paperwork

It’s one of the least favorite aspects of the repair process for most shop staff—the piles of paperwork that come with each job. Joe Schiro, owner of the two-location Schiro’s Collision Repairs near Los Angeles, says that paperwork is also one of the simplest constraints that cause shops to get behind before repairs begin.

“You might have a day that 20 cars come in,” he says, “and digesting all those vehicles and getting all the paperwork done is really tough. It can kill cycle time before it even really starts.”

The Solution: Get it done beforehand; it’s as simple as that, says Schiro. When appointments are made and customers call the shop, Schiro says to begin the process of getting all the documents in order. Have as much as possible ready by the time the customer hands you the keys. Schiro often does pre-estimates on vehicles by discussing issues with customers over the phone or having them swing the car by for a preliminary check.

Deadly Sin No. 2

Problematic Parts

Many shops have different requirements for the parts they use, and most direct repair programs (DRPs) have their own sets of rules. Acquiring the right parts—and getting them quickly enough—is critical to producing efficient repairs, says Joe McKenna, owner of Golden West Collision Center in Sunnyvale, Calif. And having the wrong parts, or the right parts at the wrong time, can significantly slow down your repair process.

“You don’t want to wait around at the end for someone else to get something done. You need to get it back and in your control as soon as possible.”
—Joe McKenna, owner, Golden West Collision Center

The Solution: McKenna used to have issues with alternative parts required by his DRPs: “We’d always be waiting for these parts we ordered, and this and that,” he says. “And it was frustrating, too, because we were often tracking down parts that weren’t quite up to our standards.” So, McKenna started looking to local vendors and dealerships to price-match the items the insurance companies wanted. Most are willing to do this, McKenna says, and programs like Auto PartsBridge and OEConnection help. It “dropped our cycle time dramatically,” McKenna says. Golden West averages a remarkable 2.5 days key-to-key. [See sidebar, “Part of the Solution,” for more tips on parts ordering.]

Deadly Sin No. 3

Tricky Transitions

All departments of a repair shop are dependent on another to produce efficient repairs. A mistake or bottleneck in one will slow down all the others, says Darrell Amberson, vice president of operations at LaMettry’s Premier Collision Centers, a seven-location chain of shops in Minnesota. Too often, mistakes can slip through one department. The vehicle then gets shoved back through the process, disrupting not just that job but all others in the shop as well.

The Solution: McKenna says this can be solved with two words—checks and balances. His shop has checklists for each portion of the repair. And, in between departments, the vehicle goes through a quick quality checkpoint before entering the next stage with multiple employees checking the work. “When a vehicle goes from body to paint,” McKenna explains, “it gets pulled into the paint booth and the body man, painter and detailer go over the work done already. It’s another step in the process, but it’s just a quick check and it eliminates the mistakes. You’re saving time by not being stuck redoing those mistakes.”

Deadly Sin No. 4

Outsourcing Issues

The majority of collision facilities don’t perform their own mechanical work. Golden West doesn’t do alignments themselves, yet they have many vehicles that come into the shop that require them. “It’s easy to get stuck around waiting for those cars to come back to you,” McKenna says.

The Solution: If you’re doing your homework ahead of time, McKenna says, referring to the solution for Deadly Sin No. 1, you should have a pretty good idea of which vehicles will need mechanical work before they come into the shop. When he does, McKenna schedules out the work beforehand, so that the vehicle can get the work done as soon as possible. “Never wait until later to do it,” he says. “You don’t want to wait around at the end for someone else to get something done. You need to get it back and in your control as soon as you can.”

Deadly Sin No. 5

Logjams in the Paint Booth

It’s no secret: Between prepping, spraying and the time it takes to dry, the paint booth is a source of bottlenecks in many shops, says Amberson. McKenna, for years, watched his shop’s paint booth get backed up. With the rest of his shop moving jobs along, it became a major holdup in production.

The Solution: The fact is, McKenna explains, there’s a maximum amount of paint cycles in every workday. The key, for his shop, was to get more vehicles done in each of those cycles. That’s what led McKenna to have all vehicles assembled after paint work was done. It eliminates time spent trimming and cutting, and it also allows for multiple vehicles to be painted in each cycle.

Deadly Sin No. 6

Overloaded Inventory

The goal in any shop, Amberson says, is to drive higher sales and car count. “But, in too many cases, we just become storage facilities for damaged cars,” he says. Only so many vehicles can get through the shop each day. And the clock is always running on the ones sitting in the parking lot.

The Solution: Inventory control is a constant focus at LaMettry’s, Amberson says. It’s about finding “your sweet spot” for the amount of work you can handle at a time and sticking to that. Obviously, no one wants to turn away work, so effective scheduling should become a higher priority. Amberson says to ignore the old “drop your car off on Monday, pick it up on Friday” philosophy. Schedule work throughout the week with various pickup days. Also, focus heavily on touch time: The more hours you work on each vehicle each day, the quicker you can turn them around to customers, he says. LaMettry’s has shops that have a touch time of 4.5 hours per day, and the company has a long-term goal of averaging 5.5 hours.

Deadly Sin No. 7

All the Loose Ends

From his time in 20 Groups and working with other shop owners, Schiro hears constant complaints about the logjam of extra legwork to finish a vehicle’s processing before delivery. The paperwork piles up throughout the repair, he says, and it’s too often holding up delivery after the vehicle is through the shop.

The Solution: Everything is about communication—from manager to staff, from staff to staff, from staff to customer. Schiro wants everyone in the shop communicating throughout the repair, so that the proper paperwork (and phone calls to the customer and insurers) can be completed during the repair. “We always want it done early,” he says. “Then when the car is done, we can give the customer a call, and hopefully have them pick it up sooner than they expected.”

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