Segment Your Shop by Repair Type
Auto Center Auto Body (ACAB), a conglomerate of six Fix Auto Collision locations in Southern California, started its lean journey in 2007. “Quicker, better, cheaper” became the mantra that drives the shop’s growth.
The six shops overhauled the role of the estimator, built repair-planning stations on the shop floor, and introduced full disassemblies into the estimating process to improve efficiency. Repair supplements then dropped by 50 percent, but the shops were still having problems with cycle time and productivity.
So ACAB took a more drastic measure: body technicians formed a two-tiered repair system—Level 1 handles small repairs; the big jobs go to Level 2.
The split-level approach worked. Chris Kimball, general manager of Fix Auto Irvine in Irvine, Calif. says the two-tiered system improved cycle time 25 to 50 percent, and small jobs are now rarely in the shop more than three to five days. And last May, Kimball’s shop made two $10,000 repairs—normally four-week jobs—in just four days apiece.
We just need more jobs coming through the door.”
— Chris Kimball, general manager, Fix Auto Irvine
“We realized if we had teams of people working on each job, we could get repairs done faster,” says Rusty Rauls, general manager of Fix Auto Ontario in Ontario, Calif., noting that each team works on one job at a time from beginning to end. “It’s like having a heavy hit center within your own facility.”
Rauls says the change has made a world of difference on the shop floor. Splitting the shop into levels makes life easier for the managers, and the team concept improves cycle time, touch time and repair accuracy.
Splitting It Up
This one strategic shift made ACAB more efficient, helped save money, and gave employees the potential to earn a bigger paycheck. That might sound like a repairer’s fantasy, but the two-level shop system can deliver that reality.
Kimball says his shop routinely had issues getting large repairs done quickly. Big jobs are always a daunting task to take on, he says, and technicians would typically rather do a bunch of small jobs first.
But that’s a problem because the small jobs never stop coming, he says. Before you know it, the big jobs have been sitting far too long with no progress.
Now, jobs are tagged as Level 1 or Level 2 based on the work required for the repair. Level 1 jobs, small repairs, don’t need frame pulls, have fewer than four panels that need repair and paint, and don’t require cutting or rewelding. Those jobs make up about 70 percent of the shop’s work. They tend to take two to five days to complete, require less than 30 hours of labor and cost less than $4,500.
All jobs bigger than that are Level 2 repairs.
The benefits of splitting the shop into levels are two-fold.
First, the technicians are much more productive, Rauls says. Because technicians are tied to a team and a level of repair, they work one job at a time, which creates less movement on the shop floor. Technicians stay with one car at one bay. They don’t bounce around the shop multitasking, and that has led to the 25 to 50 percent cycle time improvement.
this strategy allows you to only have to keep watch over
a couple teams. It greatly reduces the oversight needed
from shop operators, and makes their job much easier.”
— John Beckworth,
PCE strategic consultant for AkzoNobel Car Refinishes
With cycle time down, ACAB is moving cars out the door faster than they’re coming in. The shops have fewer inventories of cars on the premises, freeing up space for more work. And that’s exactly what the technicians at ACAB want to see. Their pay remains commission-based and is divided among team members for each job.
Technicians are happy because they have the ability to earn more money now that they’re working on a greater number of repairs. And as the improved cycle time creates room for more work, it creates potential for technicians to earn still more money.
“I’ve created a huge capacity for myself to take on more work,” Kimball says. “We just need more jobs coming through the door.”
The second key financial benefit of the two-level system is that the shops have been able to cut expenses on materials.
Instead of having a stash of supplies for each technician, the shops now need only one set of supplies for each team, which Kimball says is much easier to monitor and replenish. ACAB has saved nearly $20,000 in material costs between the six shops since it implemented the two-level system.
Rauls says his technicians were skeptical that the new system would improve efficiency in the repair process. But they agreed to test it, and it was just a matter of time before the new system grew on them. Within 30 days, the technicians could see how the strategy streamlined their processes, Rauls says. They found value in the system “when they saw improvements in speed, accuracy and control.”
And the painters love it, he says. They know exactly when a repair will be ready for paint, they’re prepared for it, and the job gets done immediately.
Conventional wisdom in collision repair is to get touch-time on as many cars as possible simultaneously. But ACAB found that the counterintuitive approach of an extra set of hands—and eyes—on each job did more for repair productivity and accuracy.
Each team includes two technicians and a repair planner who work together from beginning to end for each repair.
“The whole process seems to go smoother in a team,” Kimball says, noting it does take a little work for shop operators to create solid teams. A team can have a leader, someone with more advanced technical and communication skills, and another less skilled or apprentice-type technician.
Kimball was careful to pair technicians with complementary personalities to create the right fit for each team.
“It can be tough to build a team. They have to be able to work together as a cohesive unit,” Kimball says. That teamwork is what ensures a good repair, he says. It provides multiple sets of eyes to check for accuracy and multiple viewpoints on the best method of repair. “You have an automatic, built-in checks-and-balances system.”
John Beckworth, PCE strategic consultant for AkzoNobel Car Refinishes, says the more people you have look at a car from the start, the more thorough your repair plan will be, and the fewer supplements you’ll have.
That’s a fact for ACAB. The repair plan is written while the technicians take the car apart. And with multiple people helping out, ACAB is able to double- and triple-check for accuracy.
They still haven’t achieved 100 percent, but they have reduced supplements on each repair 66 percent, from six to two.
Along with accuracy, ACAB’s teamwork has been a factor in reducing cycle time. In the past, technicians were given a job to own from cradle to grave.
Rauls says a $10,000 job took a single technician a long time to complete. A bigger problem: If that technician was out, that job sat, unattended and without progress, until the technician returned.
Teamwork makes that problem disappear. With multiple people on each job, there’s always another set of hands to keep the repair going, Rauls says.
The continual progress on every job has more than doubled the shop’s productivity. Touch time has improved to 3.5 hours per day, up from 1.6 hours per day.
Insurance partners have given ACAB the thumbs-up for their new approach. “They like to see that we’re moving cars through faster,” Rauls says, noting that an insurer recently told him they like to see shops doing things differently and searching for ways to fix cars faster.
Ease of Oversight
In traditional body shops, technicians typically need three or more repair jobs to stay busy because of inevitable hold-ups in the repair process, Beckworth says. Waiting for supplement approval, additional parts and the right equipment can bring a job to a halt.
ACAB’s system relieves that scheduling nightmare, and allows managers to focus on fewer jobs at any given time.
“Rather than managing a bunch of other technicians, this strategy allows you to only have to keep watch over a couple teams,” Beckworth says. “It greatly reduces the oversight needed from shop operators, and makes their job much easier.”
As the team approach decreases the number of supplements, there’s nearly no downtime on each job, Rauls says. The teams can focus on one car at a time, get it done, and move on to the next one.
“It’s made the management process and oversight much easier,” Kimball says. “The headache of monitoring the workload and the progress of individual technicians is gone.”
Rauls says the system is nearly self-managed, and the toughest part of making this work is getting employees on board and willing to make the change. (See "Envision Your Success, Then Plan on It" for strategies on winning employee support for your business vision.)
Clearly, in order for a new team-tiered approach to work, shop operators have to be willing to change the culture of their facility. “Everybody in the shop has to be all in,” Rauls says.