Shop Floor Facelift

April 1, 2010
A conversation with Rick Farnan on simple shop facelifts

In these tough economic times, it’s more important than ever to make your shop floor as efficient as possible, as clean as possible—as economically as possible. It doesn’t take a huge investment to make some small changes that will help your efficiency—and your bottom line.

FenderBender talked to Rick Farnan, facility planning manager for AkzoNobel, about what repairers can do to give their shop floor a simple, inexpensive facelift. Farnan travels all over North America doing layouts and designs for collision centers, and while every shop is different, he’s synthesized his observations into a few considerations that can be implemented anywhere. Here, he offers practical advice for shops that are using this downturn as an opportunity to gain efficiency on the shop floor while preparing for future growth.

Some shop operators are expanding or starting a new location, but for a lot of shops, it’s about rearranging what they have today. They’re thinking, “Okay, I’ve got my shop, we’re moving cars in and out. I’ve learned about lean. How do I find the best flow?” That’s where they call me in.

Typically I’ll ask a shop operator to talk me through his repair process.That may seem a little minute, but you’d be surprised. One car gets shuffled throughout the shop from one end to the other. Back and forth, back and forth. The shop operator may not even realize it, or he knows it and wants to correct it. We map it out, and we call it a spaghetti drawing. They’re going upstream, downstream. It’s all wasted movement.

We try to straighten out that spaghetti drawing. The end result is a straight line, if you can do that. There are so many different designs and sizes and shapes [of shops]. It can be a bit difficult to completely straighten out the spaghetti line so things aren’t getting shuffled all through the shop. You would be surprised how a shop—because of its design, shape and size—can have such confused processes during the normal repair of a vehicle. We try to create an inline process for moving that car.

I also focus on the actual paint booth because that’s where my background is. A poorly run paint booth becomes a hiccup in the system if it’s producing more contamination than it should. Or maybe a painter is not as aware of his surroundings as he should be. The airflow may be wrong because of mishandling the servicing of the booth.

People wonder how their booth can get out of control. And my intent is to bring it back under control by providing them with parts and pieces to help them fix it while still maintaining production. Really, it’s about straightening out the airflow. Unfortunately, over a period of many years, these paint booths lose airflow control. If it’s an automotive booth, and not an open booth, the air has to flow a certain way.

The operators who understand this are straightening out their paint booth issues. This improves the performance of the booth, reduces contamination and improves their baking. When you put all that together again, you end up with less cutting and buffing. That’s an improvement, and a savings in their carbon footprint. They’re not using as much energy on each car.

Once you solve your airflow problems, you’ve typically reduced contamination by 30 or 40 percent. Your cycle times improve because you don’t have to spend as much time cutting and buffing the paint. Once you straighten out the airflow, when you go to bake a car, there are uniform baking temperatures. You don’t have cold at one end and hot at the other, which makes for extended bake time.

Sometimes it’s good to bring in a paint booth company or distributor to put in some inexpensive [upgrades]. To me, $2,000 is expensive. But straightening out the airflow in your booth has terrific payback at the end of the day.

Waterborne is the next big thing and now of course California has switched over. A lot of states know it’s coming and that’s a big part of my consulting. I’ll analyze the booth, making recommendations for different products that are out there to be installed in their booths to make sure waterborne will work for them.

Every booth can be modified to handle waterborne. You just have to analyze each booth. If you don’t have the money right now for a new booth, you can ask yourself, “What will I need to do to my existing paint booth in order to meet the demands of my present product—or improve it? And when I switch to water, what will need to be done to my booth?” That’s a big concern out there, and that’s part of our service, to consult on the equipment, at the least amount of investment.

To get ready for waterborne, you can study up on it. Most people who have paint booths will go to their paint company because it’s their paint they’ll be spraying, and each company has its own [paint booth] parts. If they have a relationship with their paint company, they’ll sit down together and say, okay, what type of equipment do you have and what do you need? It’s usually a free service.

There are enhancements that will allow you to spray water. You’re not going to have to go out and buy a new booth right now, if it’s not the right time for you. Eventually you probably will. But there are devices to help you make that transition now without a big investment.

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