Whether building a new shop from the ground-up, or preparing to expand or remodel an existing facility, here are 10 things to consider when mapping out your plans.
1. Think about the customer experience. As early in the process as possible, consider the entire design and layout from the perspective of how a customer will interact with it. Is the building situated on the site to maximize visibility and “curb appeal” from the street? Is it clear where a customer enters the property and where they are to park or leave their vehicle? Can they drop-off or pick-up their vehicle under cover or out of the elements? Is there adequate customer parking close to the office?
The office and customer areas often seem to be an afterthought in many shops where production space is considered paramount. But in addition to staff office space, consider including a quiet area for customers to wait with adequate furniture and amenities like a water cooler, television, customer-only restrooms, children’s play area or work space for those wanting use of a phone, computer or Internet access.
2. Take noise into account. Some shop processes—like grinding—and some equipment—like air compressors—are particularly noisy. Try to situate these processes in a way that isolates the noise from the office and rest of the shop. A compressor room, for example, should be placed at the rear or the building or if possible in an external space. Noise-deadening material should be included in the walls surrounding these types of noisy equipment.
3. Get adequate lighting, air supply and electrical sources. Technicians rarely complain that a shop has too much light.
Consider the use of skylights and high-efficiency lighting that will reduce power consumption and in some cases (if replacing existing light sources) offer opportunity for tax credits that offset part of their cost (check with your utility or state energy department).
Electrical and air supply drops at each stall allow for maximum technician efficiency—and far fewer trip hazards or potential damage to cords and hoses stretched across the shop floor.
In stalls where resistance spot welding will take place, 3-phase power is required.
For the office, dedicated electrical circuits for computer equipment will help protect computers and peripherals from spikes, sags and other power fluctuations. High-end surge protectors are still recommended, with an uninterruptible power supply (UPS)—which serves as a short-term battery back-up, allowing for safe shutdown in the case of a power outage—for key computer servers.
Keep in mind, too, that communication cables for phones or linking computer networks can be subject to electrical interference, so such cables should not be run parallel with electrical wiring or near lighting fixtures.
Choose a compressor and air drying system adequate for your current air supply needs—plus a little more as growth or unexpected needs arise. Discuss with suppliers how it should be set up to ensure that heavy use of air—by a paint booth, for example, doesn’t lead to inadequate air elsewhere in the system.
4. Get the bay size right. Although the natural inclination is to get as many working bays or stalls in a building as possible, those bays need to give technicians adequate space to safely and efficiently move themselves and tools, equipment and parts around the vehicle.
For bays with surface or above-ground lifts, a minimum bay size of 12 feet by 25 feet is generally sufficient, but for work on larger vehicles, a 13-foot width is ideal. In-ground lifts can generally be accommodated in bays that are 11 feet or wider. If your market includes a lot of full-size pick-ups, you may want at least some larger bays, with a 14-foot width and 27-foot length.
Some equipment, like frame racks, generally require longer or wider bays, so get the specifications of the equipment you plan to install and choose locations for this equipment accordingly.
Allow 24 feet wide by 27 feet long for each paint booth.
5. Get the proportions right. One paint company shop layout consultant uses a 10-2-1 ratio: For every 10 body stalls, there should be two paint prep stalls and one booth.
6. Leave room for parts. Shop layout consultants recommend an area equal to about 10 percent of a 15,000-square-foot collision repair center be dedicated for parts. (This percentage could drop for larger shops.)
7. Keep safety in mind. Employee and customer safety must be key considerations in planning any new or expanded facility. Access to the production area by customers should be carefully controlled, and areas where customers can walk be should be clearly delineated.
Adequate ventilation for exhaust and solvent fumes is required.
Many fire extinguishers are rated to handle only two or three of the four types of fires that could occur. Shops should have extinguishers rated for Class A (wood and paper), Class B and C (flammable fluids and electrical) and Class D (special agents, combustible metals). Make sure there’s an extinguisher no more than 50 feet away from any point in the shop, that signage clearly indicates where they are, and that they are easily accessible (mounted between 36 and 60 inches off the floor).
Also plan for smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and one or more eye-wash stations.
8. Consider parking needs. When planning building size, consider how much external parking will be needed for customers, vehicle storage and vendors (for deliveries). If inclement weather or concerns about theft or vandalism are issues at your location, some outdoor parking could be sacrificed in order to have more indoor space for vehicle storage. Or consider whether rooftop parking—or multi-level vehicle storage units—can help increase your capacity without expanding your property’s footprint.
9. Go with the flow. One of the keys to shop efficiency is minimizing the movement of vehicles that is necessary. Time spent moving one car just to get another out of a stall or to another part of the shop is wasted time.
While more overhead doors allow easier vehicle access in and out of the building, they also make it more difficult to maintain a comfortable working temperature in the shop during hot or cold weather. Where adequate aisle space within the building is available, fewer doors are needed.
A building width of at least 70 feet allows the shop to have 23-feet-long stalls on one side, 26-feet-long stalls (to allow for larger equipment, for example) on the opposite side and still an adequate center aisle (21-feet wide) down the middle. A 25-foot wide aisle will even more easily accommodate the turning radius of larger vehicles.
10. Think green. A new shop or expansion offers a great opportunity to incorporate “green building practices” or equipment and systems that will help you tread easier on the environment—while saving money and providing a potential marketing opportunity.
Easy access to overhead door closure switches, for example, can help encourage technicians to reduce heat loss in cold weather. Tax incentives often are available that can help make installation of solar or other alternative energy sources competitive with traditional sources. Waste water collection systems can not only meet local ordinances but also include oil-water separators, or allow reuse of “grey water” for landscaping or other uses. Consider the energy-efficiency of the various brands and models of equipment you are purchasing.
Check the website of the non-profit Coordinating Committee for Automotive Repair (www.ccar-greenlink.org) for more information on building and operating a “green” shop —and an opportunity for earning national recognition for doing so.