Improving Shop Layouts

Jan. 1, 2012

As the need for efficiency increases and repair methods change, it’s a good idea for shop operators to take a hard look at their shop floor layout to ensure that it’s set up for maximum productivity. Before you consider building a new facility, or adding square footage to your current structure, it’s important to achieve optimal workflow and efficiency out of what already exists.

FenderBender talked to Ann Salazar, president of Santa Clarita, Calif.–based Avant Garde Interiors, about a few considerations shop operators should take into account when assessing and redesigning their shop floor layout.

Laying out shop facilities for optimal workflow is a challenge many shop operators struggle with. They often know there are things that could be improved from a layout perspective, but have a tough time identifying exactly how best to go about it or where to start. If you notice your shop is lacking a smooth flow, it’s important to assess what could be done to make it better.

It’s very difficult to offer blanket suggestions for how shops can improve or alter their layout to maximize workflow and efficiency. That’s because every shop is in a different situation. The buildings are shaped differently, with different dimensions. In addition, every shop has different structural constraints that could hinder workflow or the potential for a remodel. There may be structural walls, pillars or columns in the shop that either are too expensive or can’t be moved and need to be worked around. Therefore, an ideal shop layout can have a different solution for every individual shop.

There are a few key things related to layout that all shops should think about to help reduce bottlenecks. First, consider the amount of space each of your shop departments require. As a rule of thumb, for independent body shops, roughly 40 percent of your production space should be reserved for the paint department, and 60 percent of the production space should be reserved for everything else in the production process.

Consider the flow of vehicles through your shop. If possible, vehicles should flow in one continuous direction. Identify where and how vehicles enter and exit your shop. Then you can figure out where your work bays should be placed in order to have vehicles flow in one direction. Make sure your work bays are placed in a way so that vehicles have plenty of space to move throughout the shop without having to move other vehicles back and forth due to insufficient turning room.

Identify each step of the repair process, and the sequence that vehicles follow throughout the repair process. Each department—and the equipment associated with each department—should be placed in a logical, sequential manner so jobs can easily move through the shop in one direction. This helps you avoid pushing vehicles back and forth through the shop, which causes efficiency to drop. For example, vehicles must be moved to the reassembly area once they’re done in the paint department. Make sure your process or flow pattern is simple yet as flexible as possible to allow for various situations, where vehicles can easily get from A to B without having to move other vehicles out of the way first, or interrupt technicians to stop what they’re doing to clear up a bottleneck.

Create a shop layout that allows for a smooth flow of technicians, too. You want to minimize the amount of walking your technicians have to do back and forth across the facility. Think about the placement of everything your technicians need access to—like tools, parts storage, and computers with Internet access for repair resources. Place everything your technicians need as close as possible to the area where they will be at. If this is not possible, place the most used items in a centralized location, or share a unit for every couple of teams.

Assess the vertical space you have available. Some tools, supplies and shared equipment, for example, can be stored on the wall. Remove anything off the shop floor that doesn’t have to be there. This will free up more space for vehicles and people to flow smoothly through the shop safely, without obstacles.

Consider the amount of space you have to work with prior to purchasing new equipment. Many people want drive-through spray booths to help ensure vehicles move in one continuous direction. But if your shop is smaller than 14,000 square feet, this may not be the best solution; you may not have enough room inside the shop to allow for vehicles to drive out of the booth and make the turn back onto the shop floor for re-assembly. In this kind of situation, a drive-through booth can actually hinder your efficiency.

Avoid littering your shop with too many jobs. A common mistake shop operators make is trying to cram too many vehicles inside the facility at once. That’s especially true of shops in snowy areas, where work volume peaks during the winter months. Cramming vehicles clutters your shop floor, and vehicles constantly have to be moved around to make room for those that are moving to the next step in the repair process. Technicians’ production process is interrupted, there is no simple, smooth flow, and the entire process slows down every time you move cars around unnecessarily just to let another pass.

Analyze your production efficiency to determine whether you’re using the space in your facility effectively. Divide your billed labor hours by your actual labor hours to calculate the production efficiency of your shop. You’ll know there are improvements that could be made if that calculates to less than 100 percent. For existing facility remodels, if done properly, some layout improvements have proven to increase shop gross profits by 5 to 24 percent.

Assess your facility layout regularly. A good time to do that is when you purchase or replace a major piece of equipment. You obviously need to identify the best place to put it so your shop operations not only continue to flow smoothly, but also to ensure it can handle any possible future expansion with minimal downtime.

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