Here's a collection of ideas designed to pump up paint shop productivity. Some of these concepts are new and found in only a few top shops. Others have been talked about for some time, but still have been implemented by a surprisingly low number of shops.
Increasingly, however, it will be the shops who implement techniques such as these that prevail in what is only likely to become a tougher market.
Make sure your staffing is adequate
Mark Main, a regional training instructor for BASF, said many paint shops appear either over or understaffed for maximum productivity. Here's his formula (see chart) for determining adequate staffing:
Start with your maximum total monthly paint labor sales dollars (or calculate it as 20 percent of your total monthly sales dollars). Divide this number by your paint labor hourly door rate to determine your monthly paint labor hour capacity, and divide that number by four to determine your weekly paint labor hour capacity.
Next, determine your paint personnel's productivity (total monthly paint labor hours flagged divided by total actual clock hours worked). The industry benchmark, Main said, is 180 percent.
Multiply your weekly paint labor hour capacity by your productivity. This is the total number of actual clock hours per week your paint team should be working. Divide the number by 40 to determine how many full-time employees your paint shop should have.
Main said it is important not only to have the right number of people but the right people using the right skills. The best spray technician, for example, should be in the booth spraying, not tinting paint, removing trim or masking or prepping cars; let lesser-skilled technicians focus on - and become efficient in - those steps. Always have two or three cars at various stages in the prep process so that as soon as a sprayed vehicle moves out of the booth, the next one is ready to go in.
Determine your "booth cycle time" by dividing the total number of hours the booth operates in a month (8 hours x 21 working days = 168) by the number of ROs processed. For example, 105 ROs in a 168-hour month is a booth cycle time of 1.6 hours per RO, a benchmark that Main said shops should be meeting or beating.
If your booth cycle time is higher than 1.6, Main says you'll likely find that a car isn't being sprayed in the first and last hours of each day, or that the color matching process is taking place in the booth.
"It's a paint booth, not a color match booth," Main said. "That technician should only be painting in the booth. Color matching is an offline process, done before that car rolls into the booth."
How many employees should your paint shop have?
Avoid common mixing mistakes
Paint company trainers say one common mistake they see when painters are mixing product is that they mix using weight rather than volume. If a recommended mixing ratio is 4:1:1, that typically means four parts of base product, one part of thinner and one part of hardener.
But some technicians using a digital scale will assume that means they can use 400 grams of base product and 100 grams each of reducer and hardener. But 100 grams of one product might not be equal in volume to 100 grams of another. So mixing should be done by using either weight measurements provided by the manufacturer, or volume ratios, but not a combination of the two.
And mix once, not twice. Paint company trainers say they still see paint shop personnel mixing paint to cut in parts - but not enough for the whole job, meaning the color must be mixed again when it comes time to spray the car.
Extend your hours
"As an industry, our shops are closed more than they're open," said Tony Passwater, president of AEII, an industry training and consulting firm. If you find on average that each vehicle is in your shop's paint booth for two hours, and you're only open eight hours a day, it's clear you're never going to be able to produce more than four cars a day.
There are two ways to address that, Passwater said. First, there's technology - infrared drying systems, roll-on primers, faster curing products - that could cut the booth time needed per vehicle. Cut it down from 2 hours to 1.6, and you can process one more vehicle in every 8-hour day.
But extending the number of hours per day that booth is operating - and making you money rather than sitting idle - could be another good option. Not ready to add a complete second shift? Passwater suggests at least having one or more paint preppers come in early enough to have a vehicle in the booth ready to be sprayed right away when the painter arrives.
"You also want a car sprayed the last thing in the evening, too," Passwater said, so that at least some of the overnight "downtime" is used curing a vehicle until an automated timer shuts the booth down.
Eliminate the "walk-arounds"
How much time do your paint preppers spend walking around to get the masking, sanding or other supplies they need? Make sure each one has a cart, which they stock each morning (or assign one tech to stock all carts first thing) with everything they should need for the day.
Consider how you paint parts
A growing number of shops are painting more and more parts off the vehicle. It's not something metal technicians are wild about - it means they may have to pre-fit parts and then install them painted - but it can be a tremendous boost to the paint shop's productivity and the shop's overall profitability.
Look for time-saving products
Showcase Collision Repair in Kirkland, Washington, for example, uses an automated mixing system for clearcoat.
"You just pull the trigger on the gun and it mixes it and sprays right out," Ricky Johnson, general manager of the shop, said. "So you don't have to mix it in the mixing room. We've used it quite a bit and it's worked out pretty well. There's no waste because it's mixing in the line as you pull the trigger."
Computerized paint mixing systems can reduce mixing and tinting times, disposable cup liners can reduce spray-gun clean-up times, and infrared drying units can reduce cure times. There are also a wide variety of racks, stands and hangers that make it easier to paint and even rotate parts in the booth.
Consider tinting undercoats
More transparent colors can mean added coats, especially when trying to cover dark gray primer. Some paint shops track which colors are more transparent and in those cases use a tintable sealer or cover primer with a lighter color before applying color coats, saving time and materials.
Boost productivity through sales
Not every action needed to improve paint shop profitability can take place in the paint shop itself. It's also up to your front office to maximize paint labor hour sales. BASF's Main said there are often P-page procedures being done in the paint shop that are not charged for, but even just one more paint labor hour per estimate can have a huge impact on paint shop productivity and profitability. He points to blending and color sand and buff as two operations shops have always done but not always billed for. He cited an example of a shop that was able to add one paint labor hour per each of its 120 monthly ROs (at a $38-per-hour door rate) resulting in a net increase in $83,000 in gross sales per year.
John Yoswick is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon, who has been writing about the automotive industry since 1988.