Implementing a Linear Repair Process

Aug. 1, 2013
Implementing a linear repair process produces enhanced workflow in the shop.

Frank Rinaudo was sick of the old way of doing things. Like many shops, he operated a traditional production system at his facility: At Frank’s Accurate Auto Body Shop in Slidell, La., technicians owned jobs beginning to end, and performed every necessary repair task on every job—from disassembly to reassembly.

“It was every man for himself,” Rinaudo says.

Although his shop managed to maintain decent cycle time, he says the production method was outdated and broken with inefficiencies in the process. Damages and parts would commonly go unseen upon disassembly, and repair processes were overlooked along the way, causing daily stress, rework, inaccurate repair plans and a 50 percent supplement ratio.

“There were constant stoppages in the repair process due to additional damages found later on,” Rinaudo says. “It was very inefficient.”

Rinaudo knew there had to be a better way, and thought he could boost quality and workflow in the shop by specializing technicians in one specific area of work. So Rinaudo transformed his entire production strategy by implementing a linear repair process. The shop floor is now essentially an assembly line where technicians are dedicated to one specific repair function throughout the day. 

The effort, Rinaudo says, has delivered several operational improvements, including repair accuracy, quality, efficiency, workflow and materials management. Taking a look at Rinaudo’s shop floor demonstrates how the revamped production method has delivered those enhancements.

The Process

Rinaudo set up his shop to resemble a production line as much as possible.

The goal was to have each department manned by one technician and allow jobs to flow smoothly to each successive department with the least amount of interruption. Although Rinaudo didn’t make any changes or additions to the structure of his facility, he did alter the layout of where certain processes were performed to optimize flow between the departments.

One technician is now dedicated to each specific department, and only has access to the tools, supplies and materials needed to perform that part of the repair process.

Once work is completed in each department, Rinaudo’s parts manager is responsible for moving jobs to the next area. He taped boxes throughout the shop that highlight each department so it’s clear where the job should move next.

“Technicians know it’s ready to be worked on when they see the car sitting in their stall,” Rinaudo says, noting that makes work management easier. “Nobody has to physically tell them what the next job is that they need to get started on. It’s very obvious what’s next” and where the priorities are.

Here’s a look at how Rinaudo broke up the shop:


• Number of Technicians: Two.

• Work performed: Full vehicle disassembly, identification of all damage and part replacements, ordering of parts, and development of repair plans.

• Tools and Materials: Rinaudo has two dedicated blueprinting bays. One bay includes a lift so technicians can inspect under-vehicle damage. The other bay includes a small frame machine so technicians can make frame repair assessments.

The department also has mobile estimating carts, clip bins, and hand tools necessary for disassembling vehicles.

Heavy-Body Repair

• Number of Technicians: One.

• Work performed: Repairs to structural, suspension and mechanical-related components.

• Tools and Materials: Rinaudo dedicated two work bays for the heavy-body department. The department is equipped with a two-post lift, welding equipment, spring compressors, suspension equipment, and a wheel bearing press.

Light-Body Repair

• Number of Technicians: One.

• Work performed: Repairs to exterior vehicle components, such as bumper repair, Bondo, dent repair and other light-panel work.

• Tools and materials: The department is equipped with a stud welder, dent puller, Bondo tools, sandpaper, files and sanders.

Paint Prime and Prep

Number of Technicians: One.

Work performed: All necessary refinish prepping tasks, including sanding, masking and priming.

• Tools and materials: Rinaudo installed a closed-top, open-front prep station equipped with sanders, masking equipment and specialty tapes.


• Number of Technicians: One.

• Work performed: Full paint and refinish work for all necessary parts.

• Tools and materials: The paint department is equipped with a paint booth, paint-mixing room, paint-mixing machine and color-matching tools.


• Number of Technicians: One.

• Work performed: Bolt on sheet metal, and re-install exterior components such as headlights and bumpers.

• Tools and materials: The department is equipped with a basic set of hand and power tools necessary to reassemble vehicles.


• Number of Technicians: One.

• Work performed: Clean and prepare vehicles for delivery.

• Tools and materials: Various cleaning supplies.

Change Requires Change

There were several changes that Rinaudo had to make to implement this process at his shop.

1. Technician Pay. Rinaudo used to pay technicians on a commission-based system. That wouldn’t work anymore because technicians no longer own entire jobs and several employees have a hand in completing every repair.

Rinaudo switched to an hourly pay system based on each technician’s job function. A-level technicians with the highest skill, qualification and experience levels are placed in the most difficult positions (heavy- and light-body repair), and compensated the highest hourly wages.

Meanwhile, technicians with the lowest qualifications are placed in the easiest positions (disassembly, reassembly and detail), and paid the lowest hourly wages.

2. Job Scheduling. Rinaudo says developing a meticulous process for scheduling jobs is critical to make this process work. Of course, the whole process revolves around smooth workflow, and the entire process will fall apart if you schedule too many jobs for one department to handle.

“You might get a $300 job and you might get a $10,000 job. Obviously, those jobs vary greatly in repair time required,” Rinaudo says. “It’s very important to have a well-balanced mix of work.”

Rinaudo assessed the types of jobs his shop performed in a day-to-day basis under the traditional system. Then he categorized the jobs into four categories—extra small, small, medium and heavy—and calculated the amount of time cars spent in each stage of repair. He figured out that under the new system, vehicles would have to move between departments on an average of 2.5-hour intervals to maintain the shop’s current cycle time. Now, he attempts to schedule mixes of jobs that allow him to achieve that benchmark.

“We have a goal of job types per day rather than hours per day,” Rinaudo says. “Scheduling the right types of jobs helps you maintain a steady flow of work moving through the process.”

3. Cross-Training. Rinaudo says technicians are assigned to a primary responsibility, but he also gives them a “secondary” responsibility as well.

That’s essential, he says, in case one technician is absent or if one repair department hits a snag and gets backed up. A backlog in the process would bring production to an entire halt, so you need to have a backup plan to keep work flowing.

“We give everyone a primary role and a secondary role so they can fill-in elsewhere,” Rinaudo says. “You need to be cross-trained to some extent so you can properly fill in the blanks when necessary.”

Operational Improvement

Rinaudo says his shop has always maintained acceptable average cycle times, so this new process hasn’t caused major noticeable improvements with that key performance indicator. But he says the process has been huge to help maintain that cycle time number with “much less stress” than before. He says it’s allowed the shop to simply work smarter, and several other improvements have followed.

Honed Skills. Rinaudo says technicians are able to solidly hone their skills when they perform the same task all day, every day. He says technicians in every department have found ways to expedite the process and produce their required function faster with better quality.

For example, Rinaudo says having one person perform disassembly and blueprinting functions has dramatically improved the shop’s repair plan development. His 50 percent supplement ratio dropped to less than 8 percent.

Materials Management. Rinaudo says it’s now easier to manage and oversee materials usage and costs. Since technicians are dedicated to one specific repair function, they only need access to materials used for that particular process.

In the traditional repair system, Rinaudo says each technician would perform the same tasks, and need access to the same supplies at the same time. That meant every technician needed their own work stall and supply cabinet filled with everything they would ever need for both heavy and light repair work.

“They needed a whole slew of stuff in inventory for that to work,” Rinaudo says.

Now, each department is only stocked with the resources needed for that function, which Rinaudo says makes it easier to track usage, identify exactly who is using what if improvement feedback is necessary, and restock properly without having cash flow tied up in extra, unnecessary inventory items.

“This allows us to be more lean with out materials inventory by reducing the amount we need to have in stock at any given time,” Rinaudo says.

Employee Utilization. Rinaudo says this process has allowed for better use of his workforce. He no longer has highly skilled, highly paid technicians disassembling cars. He’s able to keep them working in the area of the shop where they provide the most value to the business. 

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