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Sunday, 26 October 2008 17:00

HEY TOBY 8 —Simplify to get Efficient

Written by Toby Chess

Hey Toby—I vaguely remember you writing something about lean production and I keep reading in the trade magazines about, but I am really trying to understand it. After reading your article on advanced steels, do you think it would be possible to write a simplified version on lean production that I can understand and I don’t have to translate (I don’t understand Chinese). Thanks —Dave from North Hollywood.

Hi Dave—First and foremost, the words are not Chinese, they’re Japanese. Lean production was developed by Toyota in the early 50’s and it is part of the Toyota Production System. To get a better understanding on TPS, you should read The Toyota Way, by Jeffrey K. Liker. It looks at elements of TPS and helps to develop a different philosophy of manufacturing. If you’re interested in lean, try a  simplified version of lean. There are people in the collision industry who have embraced lean’s philosophy and they are extremely successful at it (DCR Systems President and CEO Michael Giarrizo Jr. for one). In my simplified system, these are ideas that can make your company more efficient. If you can implement these ideas, and you see that the results are making a difference, then the next step would be to hire a consultant or join one of the paint companies that have a resident instructor on lean or Sensei (Japanese for teacher). A word of caution—don’t expect this to work overnight—or you are doomed to failure. This is going to take some time and a lot of patience, but if you preserver, the rewards will be great. Here is a second Japanese word—Kaizen.

Kaizen is broken into 2 parts; kai meaning to take apart and zen to make good. Kaizen is synonymous with ‘continuous improvement.’ To quote from The Toyota Way on Kaizen, it “is the process of making incremental improvements, no matter how small, and achieving the lean goal of eliminating all waste that adds cost without adding value”.
    Our goal is to look at our processes in the body shop and see if we can eliminate waste. The final outcome will be dependent on you and your team (remember team). To get started, I have one question for you. What do you do in a body shop?
    The answer I get most often is: “I fix or repair damaged vehicles.” You now have a new definition—you remanufacture vehicles. Don’t you repair damaged vehicles to have the same specifications after repairs and before the accident, behave structurally in the same manner after repairs and before the accident, have the same paint warranties as the OEMs, and same corrosion protection as applied by the factory? Repairing a vehicle means changing oil, spark plugs and worn out struts. Remanufacturing is not the same as repairs. If you understand and embrace this, fine. If you don’t agree with this, then lean will probably not work for you. With this new idea on what we do in our shops, we can now use manufacturing ideas to help us get cars through the shop faster and more efficiently. In other words—Kaizen.
    Two major items of tremendous waste are comebacks and supplements. The Business Management Committee of CIC estimated the cost of both to a body shop to be nearly $300 to administer a comeback and process each supplement (you can go the and click on committees, click on Business Management in 2008, click supplemental reduction and scroll down to slide 10 for a cost break down). Let’s look at supplements (comebacks later).


Typically, an estimator will look at the damage and write a preliminary estimate, put the car into production and write one, two, or more estimates while the car is being repaired. Furthermore, numerous parts invoices will be created for these supplements. And the inefficiencies will go on and on and on.
    In a manufacturing operation, you start with a set of complete blueprints for the product to be made. You will asses your equipment needs, order raw materials and components, have a sufficient labor force and the manufacturing process will begin. I don’t think that Toyota designs the outside of the car, produces the car, and then designs the interior of car. Yet every day, we in the body industry work using this method. How many times has a car left your facility missing a part because you could not get it at the last minute (due to the fact that it was not on the estimate)? You give your customer the excuse that the part was still on back order and you will call them when it comes in. That mistake alone will cost you $300 because you need to treat it as a comeback.
    How do we end this crazy cycle? We need to create a detailed blue print (remember you are remanufacturer now) prior to the beginning the remanufacturing process. In other words, a complete estimate needs to be written. Doesn’t a complete estimate detail the equipment needed, raw materials, outside labor, parts and labor necessary to perform the task of restoring the vehicle to preloss conditions? The answer is yes. Where do we start to create a detailed estimate and eliminate waste? The most logical place in my book is the front office. So let’s see if there are some things we can change to reduce waste. My starting point is when a potential customer walks through the door.
    I recently visited my good friend, Al Estorga at his shop. When I walked up to the counter, the young lady behind the desk was on the phone and for 3 minutes, did not recognize my presence. You may ask how her actions are a waste? Some customers would perceive her non-responsiveness as rude and now any front end person will have to work harder to overcome the negative attitude the customer has formed. I know that you are probably thinking rights now that I am a little off my rocker. How does this example save my shop money?
    Well, this is how you make Kaizen work. Part of front end protocol is to give a customer an information sheet to fill out. How many times do you go looking for a pen for the customer? A better idea would be to go down to your local office supply and purchase a gross of cheap pens and leave them on front desk or counter. No lost time looking for a writing instrument. Do you have an information sheet on a clip board and ready to go at all times? If you answer no, make that a rule to have one prepared and if you are a busy shop, you will want to have two or three ready to go. Let’s talk about the information sheet.
    How many times does your estimator walk out to look at a car with a blank sheet of paper to make notes? I guess that is the rule instead of the exception. The new rule for you every time he/she goes to estimate a car, a completed information sheet is used. Here is what is need on the sheet: The customer’s name, address, contact phone number, insurance company, claimant or insured, claim number and adjuster name and phone (if possible), vehicle year, manufacturer, model, miles, production date and vehicle identification number (VIN). I was talking with Jeff Larson from Marina Autobody about VINs and he said his staff gets it right most of the time. But ‘most of the time’ does not work. Let’s say that your estimator writes down the wrong VIN, parts could be ordered wrong and or the estimator has to get up from his desk and recheck the VIN (lost time once more). I looked at his information sheet and saw the problem. He had 17 little boxes for the VIN, which was difficult to write the numbers and letters. I suggested to him the next time redoes his form, that he make the boxes 3/8” square (will take up little over 6 inches on a line). The same needs to apply to the production date.
    Something else that you may wish to note is the fuel level. Think about the time lost when a customer returns to pick up their car and tells you that he or she had a full tank of gas when they dropped off the car for repairs and now it’s on a quarter of a tank. You can add pre-existing damage to the list including scratches and dents that are not related to the loss. Where is the camera and measuring device?
    How many times a day does your staff look for the camera? How many times do you run out of batteries? How many times do your people look for the measuring tape? Every time this searching goes on, time is wasted and money lost due to efficiencies. Here are a couple more new words (in English) to add to the lean vocabulary: task and process.
    A process is a sequence of tasks or activities to deliver a product to its completion and a task is a single occurrence with the process. So a task for the front end staff is put the camera(s) and tape measures in a designated spot and every time those items are used, they must be returned to that location. You also should have extra batteries and memory cards available so when those items run out or are used up, no time is lost trying to get new ones. In other words, there is no interruption in the photography task.
    Moreover, someone needs to be designated as the person to replenish any items from inventory. Finally, you should create a set of written procedures on how to take pictures. I realize that each insurance company has their own set of rules for pictures, but if your staff takes pictures that encompass everyone’s rules, it is much easier to delete the unwanted pictures than trying to memorize everyone’s different rules.  We need to standardize the marking of the vehicles.
    I as travel in California, Arizona and Nevada, I see many different ways that cars are marked. Some shops use a printed sheet from the computer and tape it to inside of the windshield. Others use a repair order tag hanging from the rear view mirror, others write on the windshield and many have no information at all. I love the ones coming from the computer because they are all the same (remember you are a remanufacturing facility and all tasks have to be the same). If you want to mark your windshields, every one has to be the same. Get what I am saying every car entering production has to have same information at same place on the vehicle—period.
    I have included a sample of how I have marked my cars. Again, I want to repeat myself. You need to mark every car the same—no exceptions.

“U” Wreck Um/We Fix Um Autobody
All vehicles that are to be repaired have to be marked on the front windshield as follows:
● Repair Order Number
● Customer’s Last Name
● Insurance Company or COD
● Date of Arrival at the center
● Target Date
● Estimator
● Technician
● Any Sublets that need to be performed
● The letter P in a circle to confirm that Pictures have been taken.
    Another task for the front end is to insure that a complete blue print (estimate) is created before the repairs begin, but that’s a subject for my next article. There is one thing I would like to add. Kent Automotive has a program (hardware and software) that is free that identifies many of the items needed in the repair process, but is usually omitted from the estimate. These items are specified at the time of writing the estimate.
    For further information, contact Craig Oliveira at 916-803-5476.

    Editor’s note: I’d like to hear back from anyone who has additional suggestions on lean practices. Those shops who can innovate to become more efficient in the long run will be the ones who survive into the next decade. Email any ideas and reaction to these ones to We’ll feature the best one in upcoming articles and issues.

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