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  Management Feature

Improving Workshop Efficiency

Posted 6/25/2004
By Steven J. Feltovich

Ten rules of "lean production" can create a workshop environment that is high on quality and more efficient productivity.

What is lean? Lean production is a manufacturing methodology originally developed by Toyota in the 1950s for the manufacturing of automobiles. Engineer Taiichi Ohno is credited with developing the Toyota production system and ultimately, "lean production." He discovered that through enhancing quality, production automatically improved and the waste of materials and resources was reduced, hence creating a lean enterprise. There were two other gentlemen who also helped shape the Toyota production system. They were Shigeo Shingo, a quality consultant hired by Toyota, who assisted in the implementation of quality initiatives; and W. Edwards Deming, who brought statistical process control to Japan. Today, there are many global automotive companies that have adopted "lean" principles to compete with Toyota and other Japanese automobile manufacturers.

In a business or manufacturing setting, the use of the term "lean" specifies a philosophy cited in the book, The People and Ideas That Have Shaped Modern Business. Co-authors Daniel A. Wren and Ronald G. Greenwood say lean "incorporates a collection of tools and techniques into business processes to optimize time, human resources, assets and productivity, while improving the quality level of products and services to their customers." Lean production is all about managing and improving a workshop or business process so that you can deliver what the customer needs - profitably.

In their landmark book, The Machine That Changed the World, James Womack and Daniel Jones, two of the top industrial analysts in the world, explained how companies could dramatically improve their performance through the "lean production" approach pioneered by Toyota. The phenomena of lean production principles are that they will work anywhere and in any type of business - they are universal.

"Lean principles have proven not only to be universal, but to be universally successful at improving results," said Mary Poppendieck, author and educator. One of the major building blocks of the Toyota production system is the continuous improvement process (known in Japanese as "kaizen"). It is through implementation and integration of continuous improvement processes that your collision repair business is able to benefit by reducing costs, improving quality and increasing productivity. It is important for you to realize up front that making your operational processes "lean" is a major learning experience and requires complete commitment from your management team and staff.

Ten rules of lean production, in summary, are as follows:

  • Eliminate all unnecessary waste
  • Minimize excess inventory
  • Maximize production flow
  • Prioritize production from customer order requests
  • Meet customer requirements
  • Always do it right the first time
  • Empower workers to find problems
  • Design for rapid changeover
  • Partner with suppliers
  • Create a system of continuous improvement

How can these lean production principles yield extraordinary benefits to the collision repair industry? Can we really improve our quality, raise production flow and drive down our operating costs as a result of implementing lean principles?

"The reason for the broad industry acceptance of lean thinking is that the principles are well thought out, proven, and can lead to dramatic results," said Jon Strande in a recent article titled "A Guide to Streamlined Procurement." The main principles are teamwork, communication, efficient use of resources, and elimination of waste and continuous improvement. All of these are key business drivers that can help any business become more efficient and effective at what they do, whether it is a service provider or a manufacturing company.

The first step in applying this revolutionary approach to business processes is learning to identify waste. If you become extremely aware of waste, you will be able to recognize it and eliminate the root cause of it immediately. The collision repair industry provides us with many opportunities to eliminate excess waste. A few of the most common wastes have to do with inventory, time and material, extra steps/ procedures, and excessive facility capacity and equipment. To eliminate waste, it will be necessary to empower your technicians to systematically trace every error or mistake back to its root cause, and then devise a solution so that it never occurs again. This does not imply that you should punish your staff for waste, but, conversely, you must challenge them to identify waste when they see or experience it. You will need to enlist their help in driving out waste in all of its forms. Therefore, it is absolutely essential to get their open and honest feedback, which requires a fear-free environment.

Consider this. What amount of time and money are spent when we are inspecting the vehicle's repair quality at the end of the line? How much does it cost to fix problems and defects at this point? In many situations, the customers have taken on the role of the quality control inspector to ensure that their expectations have been met. This scenario creates a dissatisfied customer, and it always costs the collision repair shop more than the direct costs of correcting the quality-related issues. Indirect costs stemming from this practice are enormous and often overlooked; e.g., lost opportunities, insurance company relationships, employee morale and turnover, and the company's image in the marketplace.

Quality has to be built into the product during the entire repair process - quality cannot be inspected into the finished product. If quality inspectors are evaluating vehicles that are ready for delivery, it's too late and too costly to make the right quality adjustments at that stage. To achieve the goals of "lean production," you must eliminate all of the production process defects and errors. Then - and only then - will you have a higher quality product, which actually costs your organization less money to produce. The final result of "lean" is a higher quality product (adding nothing but value), produced faster, and at a lower cost than your competitor - this demonstrates the power of a lean production process.

After reading the book, The Machine That Changed the World, I designed and developed a flow chart model to illustrate the lean production process as it applies to the collision repair environment. I recall how excited I was to share it with someone in the collision repair industry so I sought out a good friend of mine who owns a collision shop. I was anticipating him to be ecstatic when I opened my briefcase and out popped my laminated "lean production" flow chart. He studied it for a few minutes with this morose look on his face. I began badgering him to tell me what he thought, expecting nothing but the highest praise and accolades. He finally looked me in the eye and said, "This will never work, and it just won't work in a body shop environment."

Several years have gone by since then, and things have certainly changed. That same person has become a major proponent of "lean." He has been at work for the last three years building a lean culture and work environment at his shop, which has already proven to deliver the phenomenal results that we had discussed some five years earlier.

The Sherwin-Williams' Collision Services Group has the consultants, experience and knowledge base to provide your organization with the tools, training, ongoing support and necessary resources to get your organization thinking and implementing "lean." Our consulting services are available to all dealerships and independents regardless of their current paint vendor/supplier relationship.

Editor's note: This article is one of several management articles that will be contributed to AutoInc. this year by Automotive Management Institute (AMI) instructors. To learn more about AMI, its courses and instructors, visit

For more information, contact Steven J. Feltovich, AAM, manager of collision business consulting, Sherwin-Williams Automotive Finishes Corporation. You can reach him by phone at (412) 916-9235 or by e-mail at

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