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10 Solutions for Paint Department Bottlenecks

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At a shop this large, every decision, every movement, every action counts.

“We’ve got 15 body men and five painters, and we’re pushing over 20 cars through the paint line every day,” says Patrick Novak, painter for Crown Collision Center in St. Petersburg, Fla. “One slipup can create a massive bottleneck and slow everything down, and then you’re scrambling to get cars out on time.” The good news: Novak can see those bottlenecks coming from a mile away. His 30 years of experience in the collision repair industry have prepared him for the worst-case scenarios, and he has plenty of solutions ready to combat them.

Novak and two other painters—Mason Boardman of VanPool’s Paint & Body LLC in Sikeston, Mo., and past FenderBender Award winner Tony Durham of Hanagan’s Auto Body in Silver Spring, Md.—use their combined 86 years of experience to offer solutions to the most pressing bottlenecks plaguing paint departments across the industry.

1. Evaluate the Day.

Durham says to evaluate the day’s workload first thing each morning to get an idea of your schedule.

“Every morning when I get in, I think, what is the biggest job that has to be reassembled?” he says. “I’ll paint that one first. It may take longer—bumper is after that—but with cars nowadays, it takes five minutes to throw a bumper cover on, so I wait on those jobs.”

2. Ensure Every Vehicle is 100 Percent Ready for Paint.

A thorough inspection during the teardown process—especially one that involves a technician, a production manager and at least one painter—will catch any and all issues that would otherwise hold up the paint department later in the collision repair process. Durham says to get multiple eyes on a vehicle and reduce the chances of missing something later.

“My recommendation would be standard operating procedures before any body tech takes a car and puts it in a paint line, especially in a building with a dedicated line,” he says. “Use a checklist. Make sure everything has been inspected. Everything should be done on the first initial teardown.”

At many shops, Boardman says it’s common for vehicles to reach the department and have missing parts or unfinished repairs.

“If there’s a dent in the quarter, and we’re waiting on the glass company to R&I, but it’s already in the paint line, why did we push it through?” he says. “Because then we just have to wait and it’s taking up space.”

Make sure jobs are completely ready for the paint booth, because sending cars through twice would create even further delays.

“That booth needs to be running at all times with someone painting.” —Mason Boardman, Painter, VanPool’s Paint & Body

3. Properly Document Repair Orders.

Boardman likes to be properly informed by the time a vehicle reaches him. If he has any questions that aren’t answered by the repair order, then he has to spend time away from the booth finding answers.

“What color is the car? What’s the license plate number? The customer’s name? The estimator assigned to the car? What parts were repaired? When is the vehicle expected out of the shop? All things that answer the questions I would have,” he says.

4. Stagger Small Jobs.

Novak says his department works best when bumper jobs are scheduled for Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

“If you schedule everything for Monday, then the painters are standing around on Monday morning thinking, ‘What do we do?’” he says. “All we can do is clean the shop a little bit. And then on Tuesday afternoon, you would get slammed with every car they scheduled in. And then they’re all late. Instead, you can stagger them out.”

On Mondays, Novak suggests bringing in smaller jobs that weren’t taken apart during the estimate the week prior. Then after they’re torn down and parts are ordered, start on repairs, and then do the smaller jobs on Tuesday.

“Then on Wednesday, when parts start coming in, they can work on those and then throw bumpers on and send the other cars into paint,” he says.

5. Color Match Early.

If possible, get color matching done before it gets to the booth. Boardman uses downtime to evaluate vehicles with repair orders and get a jump start on color matching jobs.

“If you know you’re going to have a hard time with it, give yourself some breathing room,” he says. “I’ll be matching colors in between paint jobs.”

6. Organize Parts Carts.

Everything Novak needs is on his cart, he says: masking paper, scuff pads, sandpaper, wax and grease removers, razor blades, and even a garbage can.

“I have a tray on the bottom that has all my buffing stuff. If I need to buff a car, I can just grab that tray and go knock a nib out of a car,” he says. “That helps tremendously. Because all your supplies in one spot means you’re not walking around. As soon as you walk, someone starts talking to you. The less walking, the less talking. You don’t get sidetracked.”

7. Designate Equipment Areas.

If some material or a piece of equipment isn’t directly within your department, Novak says it’s important to have a designated, organized, labeled area where you can retrieve supplies.

“Even small things go a long way,” he says. “If the body man is inspecting the side of a car and they have the doors open, it could get to the paint line and the battery is dead,” he says. “Where’s the jumper box? If you spend 20 minutes finding it, that’s time lost.”

8. Don’t Mask in the Booth.

If you’re masking in the booth, it’s taking up space from other jobs. If Boardman has a big vehicle to mask, he’ll pull four bumpers in the booth and start painting those. And in between painting and drying, he’ll mask cars in front of it.

“That booth needs to be running at all times with somebody painting,” he says.

9. Implement Booth Maintenance Schedules.

Have a dedicated booth maintenance schedule in place, and address any mechanical faults immediately.

“If you blow a belt in the middle of a paint cycle, it’s probably going to throw a lot of dirt in your paint job, which will also slow you down,” Durham says.

10. Hire Helpers.

In a shop the size of Novak’s, extra buffs and clean-up jobs on 20 cars per day slowly eat away at his team’s time.

“It does help tremendously when we get cars out of the booth to have an assigned person to nib and buff the cars,” he says. “Sometimes we miss some dirt, the writer comes back, and I’m in the middle of painting four bumpers. I can’t stop.

“It’s worth it to pay a guy $10 an hour, to take it out of the painter’s salary—whatever it takes. It’s better than stopping your main painters. You have to spend money to make money.”

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