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  Mechanical Feature

Parts Ordering Without the Headache

Posted 3/08/2005
By Kevin R. Weidinger

The parts ordering of yesterday is stifled with red tape. The parts ordering of the 21st century allows a seamless and effective process to shine through, thanks to parts ordering technology.

It's true - parts ordering can give anyone a headache. The process typically starts with an accident. The vehicle owner contacts his insurer and provides the necessary information on the incident. Then it's time for the repair.

At the shop, an estimate to repair the damaged vehicle is created that includes the needed parts, materials and labor to bring the vehicle back to pre-accident condition.

After the estimate is created and approvals have been received, the parts ordering process begins. Three faxes are sent - one to the dealership for original equipment manufacturer (OEM) parts; one to the aftermarket warehouse for aftermarket parts; and the final goes to the recycler. The fax dance has begun.

After the repairer hits the fax "send" button, he may wonder if the fax actually reached its intended recipient. As a repairer, you need to know. You are responsible for scheduling labor, moving vehicles through the production process and keeping customers informed about when they're going to get their vehicles back. So after the fax is sent, repairers may feel the need to pick up the phone and call each of the three parts suppliers to see if they received the fax. This can be time consuming - especially if you're calling three different suppliers.

After locating the fax, the parts supplier counterperson checks each part for accuracy on an electronic parts catalog system. The reason for this parts validation step is that estimating systems have been found to have inaccurate parts information up to 30 percent of the time; sometimes the collision estimating system doesn't even offer a part number. This of course, is not the estimating system's fault, as these systems are designed to provide an "estimate" for parts, labor and materials, not a guarantee that the part will fit the exact vehicle application.

Back to the parts counter. Suppliers correct all the inaccurate parts, check inventory for parts availability, order any parts not on hand, and then produce an invoice through their management system. The invoice is used to "pick the parts" from inventory and then stage the parts for delivery back to the repairer (usually the next day). If a part is on backorder, the supplier telephones the repairer and provides an update on availability. The repairer then decides if he should start the repair without a few needed parts or delay the project until the parts can be located.

Another area of the parts process that results in delays is returns. Once you receive your parts, your technician starts to repair the vehicle. Suppose the technician notices the part doesn't fit just right. This is a scenario where the technician either has to spend considerable time massaging the part to fit (could jeopardize the quality of the ultimate repair) or return the defective part for another. Returned parts kill cycle time.

These are just a few of the challenges of the parts ordering process that can certainly give anyone a headache. The current process can be time consuming with the faxing and phone calls and potential downtime. You may be saying, "We have been doing it this way for many years and that's just how it is." But that's not true anymore. With advances in technology, the collision repairer now has other options for sending a parts order to suppliers. Internet parts-ordering capabilities now exist and participating collision repairers can now send all makes and models of vehicle orders with a simple click of the mouse. It's even possible for repairers to receive instant status messaging back from the supplier indicating receipt and ordering handling status. Some ordering software is so seamless that it works in conjunction with your business management system or collision estimating system to auto-detect the complete order and pass it automatically into the ordering software.

Some parts-ordering software is packaged with other value-added features like vehicle identification number (VIN)/option information, including paint code, trim level, special options, and even axle information for verification of your parts order to improve accuracy and eliminate costly delays that impact your customer's satisfaction. Another convenience is that your suppliers don't change. Moving from fax-ordering technology to Internet parts ordering can be faster and more efficient.

And if the parts supplier has similar technology that complements the collision repair facilities' ordering software, the shop may be able to receive delivery notification via e-mail or text message that lets it know that an order needs its attention. No more waiting for the fax machine or phone to ring. Some parts supplier even "scrubs" the repairer parts list for accuracy, eliminating the need for the parts counter person to check all the parts on the electronic catalog system, thereby greatly speeding the process. This new technology has been found to help improve order accuracy, accommodates up-to-the-minute order status and organizes all parts order information on a single electronic page.

I'm sure you're thinking this kind of technology is going to be expensive to implement in your shop. But collision repair facilities can often get this convenience at no charge!

You may be thinking you are not on the cutting edge of technology, and it's going to be difficult to get your shop using new software. If you can use electronic estimating, using this new ordering software will be a snap. Most of the software mentioned has dedicated customer care and training teams available to get you started using the products.

The collision repair world is getting more complex every day, and the need to stay competitive is vital to survival. Don't let the bottleneck of parts ordering stifle your productivity. Take a moment and look at some of the exciting new parts ordering technology available to repairers today and further cement the existing relationships you have with your suppliers.

Kevin Weidinger is vice president of OEConnection LLC. He moderated a panel discussion two years ago at the International Autobody Congress and Exposition (NACE) titled "Parts Smarts - Streamline Your Parts Process."

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