Why is Blueprinting Important?
In the collision repair business, the only time the shop makes money is when the technician is actually working on the car. So for a shop to optimize profitability, systems must be put in-place to ensure that wasteful delays are eliminated.
Some of the more common delays are.
• Techs wandering around looking for parts, fasteners, or information
• Missing, damaged, or incorrect replacement parts
• Waiting for approval and parts on supplemental (missed) damage
A great way to reduce or eliminate such delays is through the process of damage analysis or “blueprinting.” Blueprinting is one of the most important processes a shop can implement to reduce or eliminate delays and can have a dramatic effect on important KPIs such as cycle time, customer satisfaction and profitability.
The Goal of this Article
Blueprinting is not a new concept by any means, but many shops still fail at either successfully implementing it, or if they have implemented it they are not getting the results they expected. My goal is to guide the reader through some reasons why shops fail at Blueprinting and then give some proven simple techniques that are being used by shops that do have successful Blueprinting programs.
Why Shops Commonly Fail at Blueprinting
We Make it Too Difficult for the Real World
When lean concepts including Blueprinting were first introduced to our industry, the initiatives were often led by well-intended paint companies that had over-complicated curriculum. Lean was the “new kid on the block” and came with all the bells and whistles; in many cases, too many bells and whistles. When concepts such as these are taught to us by people from the manufacturing industry from a 30,000 foot level, many of the basics were over-looked or misconstrued. So as the years progressed, most people stopped doing Blueprinting, a lucky few figured out better and simpler ways of performing it. Those that were successful found ways of using lean thinking and applying it to Blueprinting in a “real world” manner, a manner that would work on the shop floor and not from a philosophical 30,000 foot high vantage.
Lack of Visual Mistake Proofing Systems
As someone that has been teaching Blueprinting for many years, I hear excuses all the time why damage was missed during Blueprinting. The one that kills me is “We are only human.” Tell that to a surgeon or a Blue Angels pilot some time. The point is, that yes, we are human, so in order to be successful at Blueprinting, we have to put systems in place that make mistakes VISIBLE so that we can catch them before it’s too late. This is an old trick introduced by Japanese manufacturers. This mistake proofing is a technique called “Poka Yoke.” So if you want to have a successful Blueprinting program, mistake-proof it by using some of the “Poka Yoke” techniques in this article.
No Written Repeatable Process
The lucky few that were able to achieve Blueprinting success at some level often doomed the process from future success by not carefully documenting the Blueprint system they worked so hard on into a Standard Operating Procedure. Because of this lack of standardization, the program was susceptible to failures caused by new employees, lapses of memory, or many other reasons. If a process has simple written instruction, and people are well trained, the likelihood that the vital steps needed to produce a consistently accurate Blueprint is increased immensely.
Technicians are hired to Repair Vehicles, Not Write Supplements
To this day, most shops continue to ask their body technicians to perform a teardown and then write a supplement. This IS NOT Blueprinting! Please keep in mind that the only time a shop is making any money is when the technician’s hands are touching the car. So if we ask them to perform supplement writing for us, not only are we inviting problems with estimate accuracy, we are also not making money! Technicians are a very integral part in the Blueprinting process, and can offer a lot of insight into good damage analysis, but their involvement should be limited to collaboration during the disassembly plan, and damage analysis, then disassembling the vehicle and placing the damaged or R&I parts in their designated areas.
A Common Misconception
Having a dedicated Blueprint Analyst or Department always causes bottleneck delays
The reason that many say that they don’t like having a dedicated Blueprint Department or Analyst is because it often causes a bottleneck and delays. All the repair jobs have to go through one resource, so by definition the Blueprint guy is a bottleneck, but here’s what some people don’t understand. Every system is going to have a bottleneck that dictates the shops throughput ability and that is okay, the problem is that shops continue to bring all their work in on Monday. If smarter scheduling was practiced, the bottleneck will manage to produce the needed amount of work. This misunderstanding of production management is another main reason people abandon their Blueprinting attempts. In the real world, even when using good scheduling habits, bottlenecks do become a problem at times. When Blueprinting starts getting behind schedule, it is extremely important to stick to the program with discipline and not abandon it. Instead additional resources or extended hours may occasionally need to be dedicated.
How to Setup a Blueprinting Area
Blueprint Admin Staffing
Over the years I have tried numerous variations and combinations of people to staff a Blueprinting program. All of them worked better than no Blueprinting program, but some combinations definitely worked better than others. Much of what influences your Blueprint staff is simply the size and volume of your shop. Many of my clients run smaller shops where people wear many hats. In a small shop it is not uncommon for the manager to also be the estimator, the parts guys and the Blueprint guy. It is pretty easy to determine how to staff a really small shop, but what about a shop that is a little bigger? I recently worked with a client that two estimators, one of them liked being in the shop and the second one was better at dealing with customers. So we moved one of them into the shop to be the Blueprint Analyst, and the other efficiently handled the entire volume of customers as the Customer Service Manager. You may need to experiment with different staffing combinations to make it work for your unique needs.
Blueprint Technician Staffing
The best Blueprint team I have ever put together had an older and very knowledgeable technician working alongside an apprentice disassembly technician. This was a high volume shop and the team worked in a dedicated Blueprint workspace with a Blueprint analyst that never left his station. Many advanced shops have taken advantage of the benefits that creating a team system brings. It is still possible to use a dedicated Blueprint area with individual flat rate techs that are not paid as a team, but there is a lot of movement of tools and people. Some shops using rolling computer carts are finding some success performing the Blueprinting in the technician’s stalls. It works, but I still prefer a dedicated area. Again, there are many ways to create a Blueprint staff and each shop is going to be a little different than the next based on skill level, shop size, personalities etc.
Don’t fall in the trap of believing that your shop may be too small to be successful with Blueprinting. I have analyzed damage in space from 2,000sf to over 60,000sf and the practical application is still the same. 1. Disassemble and analyze the damage. 2. Move the car out of the way until enough parts arrive to continuously work on it. (Notice I said continuously) Get enough of the parts on hand to get the car fixed and through paint. 3. Move the car in and fix it. The key here (and a subject for an entirely different article) is to only allow vehicles in the shop’s repair floor once they are ready to be worked on continuously. If you follow this discipline, you will find shop space you knew you never had!
Some setups used by successful shops:
• One or two dedicated Blueprint stalls inside the shop
• Laptop or dedicated computer in the Blueprint area
• If possible, keep the area accessible for tow trucks
• Keep fasteners and fluids in the Blueprint area
In additional to the usual hand tools, the following items are needed to complete the inspection procedure:
OEM Repair Methods
Tread depth gauge
Flash light/drop light
Mobile Estimating system
Collision estimating system
Access to OEM parts schematics
Better Blueprinting Techniques
Step 1. Vehicle Check-in
Even though the process of performing a “check-in” with the customer during vehicle drop-off may not be considered a part of the Blueprint process, it is worth mentioning that the information obtained during the check-in is absolutely vital to the Blueprint. For those not completely familiar with the process of checking in a vehicle using a check-in form, I will try to enlighten you. With the customer present, during the vehicle drop-off at the shop, this process involves walking around the vehicle and communicating and documenting the following:
• What damage is a result of the accident?
• Unrelated prior damage?
• Upsell opportunities?
• MILs such as check engine warning lamps on dash – prior or related?
• Anything unusual about the vehicle’s performance mechanically?
• Touch-up paint and other “freebie” promises
Because this is an article on Blueprinting, I didn’t go into much detail on vehicle check-in, but I would highly encourage you to consider adding this process at your shops. As you can see from the list above, having this information on hand during the Blueprint process is quite important. It is a great way of communicating the customer’s concerns indirectly to the Blueprint Analyst to ensure things don’t get missed!
Step 2. Identify Mechanical Issues
Identifying mechanical issues prior to disassembling and disabling a damaged vehicle is always preferable. (But not always possible) Everyone can relate to the delays that are caused when these problems are discovered on the day the car was supposedly going to be ready! In a collision, mechanical issues could involve many things, however the most common are suspension, air conditioning /cooling system, wiring, supplemental restraint systems. I recommend that first you address these items by:
• Review the customer concerns on the check-in sheet
• Test driving
• Performing suspension alignment prior to disassembly (if possible)
• Using a scan tool to help diagnose trouble codes (check engine lights etc.)
• Always ask the customer how many passengers where in the car, especially if restraints systems were deployed. Check those seatbelts!
• Check interior electronics, heat/air etc.
• Check fluid levels
Step 3. Communication between Estimator and Technician
How many times have you seen a technician take the front bumper off of a car that was in the shop to get the rear bumper fixed? Too many times? This is not a complicated step, but one that is often skipped with costly results. Shops need to include this step as a standard procedure and hold people accountable because the technician must be properly informed prior to touching a single wrench to the vehicle! Make it part of your program to have the estimator or Blueprint Analyst go over the check-in sheet with the technician and also review the estimate if one had been previously prepared. Use the next step (visual mapping) to help with this communication as it will clearly indicate what parts need to be removed in order to properly analyze the damage.
Step 4. Visual Mapping
A great form of communication between the Blueprint Analyst and the disassembly tech is the use of a colored water marker to write on the vehicle or “visual mapping.” In a real world body shop, it can sometimes be difficult to pull the technician aside for an extended period of time to discuss the details of a particular vehicle’s disassembly requirements. This technique can help by writing the instructions on the car in advance. This technique can also be used by the customer service rep that is identifying damage during with the customer during vehicle check-in and is particularly handy when there are multiple dents or scratches on a single panel, some which are supposed to be repaired, and some that are not. When doing visual mapping, you can use any color you wish, however I prefer to use traffic light colors, red, yellow, and green.
• Red = Don’t fix
• Yellow = Caution, Don’t know if fixing yet?
• Green = Fix it!
You can come up with your own system of words, abbreviations, or symbols to mark the vehicle with, but here is a couple of the most common ones.
• X = Replace
• R = Repair
• RI = Remove and Install
Step 5. Meticulous Disassembly in Sequence (if Possible)
In this step it is time to start disassembling the damaged vehicle. If you are lucky enough to have a dedicated Blueprint Analyst that will be keying-in the estimate as the technician removes the parts, it will be much easier to remove the parts in approximately the same group sequence as your estimating system parts groups i.e. bumper, grille, lamps etc. This method is not always possible depending on the unique circumstances that vehicle damage presents, but when it is possible, you will find that removing damaged parts, and entering damage into the estimating system with both people following the same group sequence (explained later in Step 10) will make your life easier.
You have probably heard the term meticulous disassembly or 100% Teardown? This refers to the practice of taking off EVERY damaged component that is bolted or otherwise fastened to the vehicle. This practice should not only include damaged parts but also parts that are being removed for blend panels or that need to be removed for access. Damaged assemblies such as bumpers should not only be removed as an assembly, but should also have all the grilles, lamps, moldings, fasteners etc. also removed. There are three main reasons that 100% Teardown is recommended.
1. To reveal all hidden damage
2. Ensure fasteners will be able to be reused
3. Facilitate ease in mirror matching the replacement parts
Step 6. Divide Parts by Good and Bad (R&R and R&I)
As the technician is disassembling the vehicle as described in the previous step, the parts being removed should be separated and placed in two visually separate spaces. One space for damaged parts (Bad) and another for parts that are just being removed and later re-installed (Good.) I prefer to use a table to lay the parts out on, but you could also use the floor or a combination of the floor, plus a table.
Step 7. Using a Clip Sheet
Clips and fasteners tend to be an often overlooked part of the damage analysis process and with costly consequences. Some shops actually consider clips and fasteners an expense. When damaged or missing fasteners are captured and billed out on the initial Blueprint, they then become a profit center! I have seen several cool ways to do capture and record these, but my favorite technique it to use a clip sheet. By the tech taping a sample of the damaged clip to a clip sheet and writing out the quantity needed, the person entering the information into the estimating system will have the information he needs. There are two additional benefits to using this system. 1. You can take a photo of the clip sheet to send to the parts vendor. 2. The clips are there where you can easily mirror match to hen the new clips arrive. If your company stocks the needed clips, you should put the new replacement clips in a marked zip lock baggie along with the old re-usable clips so later on, when it comes time to reassemble the vehicle, everything the tech needs will be there for them. It’s a term called “kitting” because you are actually building a kit with everything needed to assemble the car on a parts cart.
Step 8. Re-backing Moldings and Trim
As mentioned in the previous step, we are trying to build a “kit” for the technician during reassembly so cleaning the adhesive and applying new adhesive backing on moldings and emblems should be done immediately after removing them. There are several advantages to re-backing the trim now.
• If molding is painted, lessens chance of damaging paint later on
• If they are going to break, it is better to know now so it can be added to repair plan
• Is ready to go back on during assembly (part of the “kit”)
Step 9. Sequenced Analysis of Damage Using Arrow-Down Method
There are several schools of thought out there about what sequence to put damage entries onto the estimate. Years ago most of us were taught to start with the point of impact and then work outwards. I don’t agree with this method because it opens up too much room for error. Nearly ten years ago, a good friend suggested that if I wanted to quit missing damage that I should use the information in the estimating system and take it to the damaged car, instead of the other way around. In other words he wanted me to start with the first group in the estimating system and use a sequenced method of asking the question, “is there a damaged part or an R&I operation that needs to take place in the front bumper group?” “Yes or no?” If yes, then open the front bumper group and go to the first part on the list, for example, the bumper cover, then ask the yes or no question again, and so-on. By keying down through every part in each group, you will now catch parts that may have been completely destroyed or torn off during the accident. In addition to this method, I also highly recommend using actual OEM diagrams.
Step 10. Photo Documentation
In addition to your company’s photo standards, I suggest getting photos of the parts as they are being laid out on the table or floor. Your local insurance adjuster will love you for it.
Step 11. Blueprint Verification Process, Loading Parts Cart
I hate it when people say stuff like, “this is the most important step.” But this…..IS the most important step! Print the estimate out. With a pen, check-off each damage entry on your estimate as the corresponding part is loaded onto the cart. If you have everything checked-off your estimate and there are still damaged parts on the table or floor, you may have missed something. Simple, but very powerful technique.
Finally, be sure to place the parts in the same manner as discussed in Step 6. When you orderly divide the good and the bad parts on the cart, it makes checking the replacement parts for correctness (mirror matching) a lot easier to do. My philosophy is that if a task is critical to your success, you must make it easy to do. Very few parts guys are willing to search to the bottom of a messy pile of parts to perform mirror matching. If it is easy to find, it will more than likely get done!