Increasing Efficiency in the Paint Department
A third-generation owner, Schoonover Bodyworks was started by Schoonover’s grandfather, Red, in 1938 on a borrowed $50. Schoonover’s father, Dick, eventually took over in the 1960s, and Schoonover started working for his father in 1985 before purchasing the business in 2001. At one point, the business operated two locations before selling the second to ABRA in 2012 and moving all business back to its Shoreview location, which, until the paint department revamp, had yet to be expanded or remodeled since it was built in 1973.
When it came time to upgrade the old paint booths, Schoonover decided to switch the shop to waterborne paint, too. The results of switching to waterborne have been hugely favorable, he says, with productivity up 25 percent and a reduction in hazardous waste. And the paint booth itself has been a great investment, too, he says. During that transition, Schoonover was advised by his contractor to set up his shop so that the entire space would act as a prep station with ventilation in the ceiling. The advantages would be numerous, the contractor told him: You could prime anywhere, you would be compliant; filter containment units would simply have to be set throughout locations in the shop with air supply in the ceiling. “At the time, we didn’t know what to expect with water,” Schoonover says. “I was led to believe that we wouldn’t have to worry about all these different things and so I said yes.”
Schoonover says that, at first, the new prep station concept worked fine. But after the second location was sold and all business that had been previously load leveled was moved back to Shoreview, that location started to exceed previous sales records and ramped up in work volume.
That’s when Schoonover realized just how inefficient the paint prep concept was. They weren’t able to get vehicles through the paint booth quickly and it was causing a bottleneck. Painting was not possible or productive without quality issues, priming with heat lamps was slow and painting small jobs would take more time. Schoonover says the shop was always trying to cram as many cars as it could in the paint shop, but in doing so, was slowing the whole department down. Not only that but it also wasn’t compliant with fire codes: The staff was spraying out in the shop, so health and safety were still an issue.
“Every time I walked through the paint shop and saw my guy working or prepping out in the middle of the paint shop, I just didn’t feel comfortable with it,” he says. “It’s a common practice in the industry, but it didn’t work for us.”
The other problem was that by that time, the contractor he initially worked with had filed for bankruptcy and left a long trail of other unsatisfied customers who had lost significant amounts of money. That meant tweaking the original concept was out of the question.
Schoonover also tried roll-on primer as a means to fix the issue, but found it troublesome and inefficient to keep moving heat lamps around.
“The technique of rolling it on was kind of challenging,” he says. “That was seven years ago that we tried that stuff so I do know there have been new developments and applications since.”
Schoonover finally decided to bite the bullet and start getting quotes and bids for paint prep stations. He decided to purchase two doublewide prep decks from SprayZone and worked with his Chassis Liner rep to get them installed.
The prep decks are located across from the paint booth and are curtained-off areas that contain fans and HVAC equipment to control overspray and heating. Schoonover says that the shop’s paint processes didn’t change significantly, but are now confined to one space that is specifically designed for paint prep.
The main advantage to the prep stations, Schoonover says, is that they are a dedicated space, which allows paint staff to turn around the work much quicker.
“Ability to paint smaller jobs is what it really comes down to, in my opinion,” says Jim Kasa, the shop’s production manager. “Also, baking primer more efficiently and effectively (than heat lamps) to keep process flow to a level that the entire paint process can occur in hours (not days) if needed, is also a huge improvement.”
The paint staff is able to get four cars in at once, and although larger jobs still go through the paint booth, the smaller ones, in particular, are turned around much quicker.
Although they were initially planning on having the HVAC on top of the prep decks, he realized that the stations were going to be emitting a lot of heat, so the shop was forced to put the equipment on the roof. To do that, some roof and electrical work was completed so the lines would run differently and the roof could sustain the units. Between the decks, the roof, electrical, gas and plumbing work, and installation, the whole project cost him nearly $200,000. He did offset some of that cost, he says, with an OSHA grant that the shop qualified for.
Unlike the previous paint prep method, Schoonover says that they’ve had virtually no problems or breakdowns with the equipment. And while it was a large investment, he says the returns have been numerous:
First, painter efficiency is up. The paint team is working 8-10 hours a day, compared to 15 hours a day it had to work prior.
Second, according to data from their CCC ONE management system, the vehicle readiness accuracy is at 94.4 percent, compared to 89.7 percent a year ago, and promise date accuracy is at 81.9 percent, compared to 68.2 percent last year. Overall, cycle time is down, as well, and the paint department has been getting double the cars through the shop; Schoonover needs to add another technician to keep up with demand.
“Before the prep decks, our body department always out-produced our paint department,” he says. “Now it’s reversed. We would be able to get these vehicles turned out even more efficiently.”
Schoonover says that he could have avoided many headaches, dollars and potential safety concerns had he evaluated the different prep station options during the initial paint department revamp. He says that because he was discouraged by the large cost of installing dedicated prep stations after already investing a significant amount of money in the paint booths, he didn’t seriously evaluate the potential return on investment. Because of that, only a few years later he was forced to spend that money anyway because of the safety concerns. “It became one of those things that we needed,” he says. “We should’ve just put prep decks in at that point.”