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Essentials of an Effective Blueprinting Department

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According to the latest Mitchell Industry Trend Reports, of the top 25 replaced parts in collision repair, 10.6 are missed by appraisers during the original estimate. The report also found that supplements add an average of 1.5 days to repair cycle time.

Blueprinting is an essential step for lean workflow in a collision repair facility. Although there are many variations to setup and procedures depending on the shop, there are certain essentials needed by every shop to carry out the process effectively.

Paul Sgro, owner of Lee’s Garage Inc. in West Long Branch, N.J., implemented a blueprinting department when he converted his shop to working on a team-based production system. Sgro outlines the easy-to-emulate basics of his blueprinting department, which today is looked at by other industry pros as a model in the collision repair industry.

The goal of repair planning is to reduce the amount of time the vehicle is sitting idle without someone working on it. Just think of how many vehicles are repaired in a month. If you could reduce 1.5 days on each of those, how many more vehicles could you fit through the facility and out the door? That’s the goal of repair planning.

An effective blueprinting department starts with an effective setup. To do that, you need to think about the technicians, the space, and the equipment or tools. The goal is to have the technicians trained and fully aware of the expectations, then provide them with the tools and equipment they need to complete the process.

We started by creating a list or spreadsheet detailing everything needed to complete the tasks during the blueprinting stage. The goal is to minimize movement by the technician, so it defeats the purpose of having a blueprinting department if they are still running all over the shop to get the necessary tools. Take your standard operating procedure and go over every step, recording what the technician will need to complete it in the most efficient way possible, even down to the most basic tools.

First, you need to have a space dedicated to this. It needs to be 5S, clean, and have adequate lighting so you can see the vehicle and match the paint. After looking at our vehicle mix, we decided to segment our shop into express/light, medium and heavy repairs. Each of those has its own lane in the blueprinting department, which takes up about 3.5 bays. Our shop floor is 11,000 square feet and blueprinting is 1,500 square feet of that. The lanes are lined up side by side and are staffed accordingly.

Also think about where the vehicle is going to be staged and where the parts carts are going to be stored in relation to the blueprinting department.

One aspect that is really important for us is timing. Every car is scheduled to be at a department by a certain time. We had to think a lot about the shop flow and its organization so we could get the timing right. That schedule is displayed on the window of the vehicle and in our computer.

Everyone in our facility knows what time the vehicle is supposed to be in each department. Likewise, the blueprinting department is set up so that the schedule can be maintained without any holdups.

When it comes to equipment, this space will need a lift, measuring equipment, wheel alignment equipment, dollies to move the vehicle, light pulling equipment, floor jacks and jack stands. Besides tools like hand and maintenance tools, we also have a Matrix Wand digital measurement system and an ASTECH diagnostic system. Both of those tools help us identify damage and prescan vehicles.

Don’t forget about any miscellaneous items, like battery chargers, vacuums, recovery recycler, antifreeze, markers and tape. Does the technician have the supplies to do that right on the cart? If they use bubble wrap to protect parts, is that in reach?

Consider how you want to store those tools. This area needs to be very organized, so it could be on mobile tool carts or tools boards. The goal is that the technician has the necessary tool when they need to perform the function so it eliminates the back and forth.

Finally, you will also need an information access station. Basically, the technician will need access to estimating software, management software, a digital camera and an area connection. They need access to that right at the site so they can access any repair procedure information. We use the manufacturer’s procedures, so we can immediately see what’s needed for the car and print it out, all while we’re right in front of the car. Some shops use a tablet, we have a portable stand with a laptop.

I think the largest challenge in our industry right now is that the vehicles are becoming more technical. We needed to identify all of the components that are damaged at the exact right time to ensure that vehicle is repaired correctly. That’s why we started this blueprinting department and I think it’s something that a lot of shops will need to adopt moving forward. 

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