Pre-Repair Management Is Key to Reduced Cycle TimePosted 10/15/2004
By Hank Nunn
Make a list of everything that stops the repair process in your shop: parts problems, missed items or operations, employee issues, equipment shortages, scheduling issues and reinspection delays - to name a few. The items on your list can cause serious delays in your collision repair facility on a regular basis.
Your vehicles come in and the repair process starts, only to stop as a result of one of the issues on your list. Once your tech gets going, other problems may arise, and the vehicle repair process stops again. Starting and stopping work on a car slows down the process.
Studies have shown that the primary impediment to efficient production in any work process is stopping and starting. It really does not matter if we are repairing collision-damaged vehicles, building boats or repairing shoes. Each time we stop and start, we incur added cost, damaged cycle time and loss of profit. Stopping and starting creates waste in the production process. The elimination of this waste is the key to reduced cycle time.
Spend some time watching a technician in your shop. It won't take more than an hour or two to discover that the time actually spent repairing vehicles occupies only a fraction of the time the technician is on the shop floor. The rest of the time, that technician is walking around getting something, talking with someone, looking for someone or chasing down a parts problem. Some have estimated that technicians in collision repair shops spend 25 percent of their time walking around looking for someone or something.
The good thing is, we can repair vehicles more efficiently and profitably in our existing shops with our existing crew. We just have to quit stopping and starting the process. We need to create systems that enable technicians to spend more time working on vehicles and less time doing unproductive or wasteful tasks.
Imagine the ideal collision shop situation: The customer drops off the vehicle and signs a repair order. You have a skilled technician tear the vehicle down to the point that all damage is revealed and then your damage evaluator (estimator) and the technician work together to build a complete and accurate evaluation of all damages. All parts are ordered, including the clips, nuts and bolts needed to repair the vehicle. Next, all of the parts arrive correctly and on time. The technician repairs the vehicle. When it's done, you simply bill the insurance carrier (one time with no supplement) and deliver the vehicle to a happy customer in record time.
In this imaginary collision world, the vehicles would fly through the shop. But the problems on our list hold up production and extend our shop's cycle time. The timing of the problems that cause those expensive delays is a major factor in high shop cycle times.
Many shop owners and managers have instituted processes designed to uncover some of the problems that stop repairs early - before repair has begun. In our industry, the process goes by several names. It may be called triage, staging, pre-management or preproduction management. In DuPont's SMART Cycle Time Seminar, we call it "pre-repair management." By any name, shop owners and managers have found that aggressively searching out hidden problems, and making sure everything is ready before jobs are assigned to technicians for repair, is the key to greatly improved production efficiency and reduced cycle time.
There are two components to shop cycle time. The first is "pre-repair." That's the time from the close of the sale to the assignment of the repair to the technician. The second is the actual repair time. Shops with low cycle time are using the "pre-repair" component to aggressively search and resolve problems before the vehicle is assigned to the technician for repair, thereby eliminating many reasons for stopping and starting the repair. They "pre-manage" the repair.
These shops have standard operating procedures saying: "Any vehicle that has potential hidden damage must go through a pre-repair management function prior to being assigned to a technician for repair."
How do you do it? Each collision repair shop is unique so the answer is going to be different for every shop. However, the basic concept is consistent among those who have implemented aggressive pre-repair management processes. Be sure to set aside an area or workspace for teardown, diagnosis and evaluations. The workspace should have a lift and some method to make access pulls and perform structural diagnosis. Anything from a tape and tram with frame specs to a computerized measuring system may be used. Some call this area their preproduction stall.
The idea is to have a dedicated area to perform teardown and diagnosis instead of having dismantled vehicles all over the shop. Many shops have several vehicles stored in productive workspaces, torn down waiting for parts, insurance approvals and re-inspections. All of this is wasteful so eliminate it. Tear the vehicle down to the point that a qualified technician can see all damage and can diagnose all structural damage accurately.
Create a complete and accurate damage evaluation that includes all necessary operations and parts to restore the vehicle to pre-loss condition. Many today call this process "blueprinting," where everything is listed. Those items or operations that will not be paid for should still be listed; simply price them as "no charge."
A team should create the blueprint. The team consists of the service writer (estimator, repair consultant) and the technician who disassembled the vehicle for diagnosis. The parts manager and production manager may also have input.
Once the blueprint is created, insurance negotiations can be conducted and concluded. With insurance approvals in hand, the parts order can be made. Repairs are started when all parts are received, checked in and correct. The technician begins the repair, and the repairs do not stop until the repairs are completed.
Pre-repair management is a proven winner. Blueprinting the repair can increase a shop's sales by 6 percent with no increase in the number of vehicles repaired. It's simply about writing a better, more complete damage report. Pre-repair management has reduced cycle time by 30 percent in many cases. That translates into increased production efficiency, increased sales and increased profitability.
While pre-repair management can result in reduced cycle time and increased profitability, it does not solve the problems on the list you created at the beginning of this article. It simply manages the problems when they occur, placing them before the repair process rather than during.
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