One could easily debate that an auto body shop is an unlikely place to see an assembly line, especially when you try to visualize “assembly line” in the traditional sense. However, there are many more similarities between collision repair and the assembly line than you may realize.

When Henry Ford introduced the assembly line concept, he revolutionized the world as we know it. Charles Sorenson wrote in 1956 about Ford:

“What was worked out at Ford was the practice of moving the work from one worker to another until it became a complete unit, then arranging the flow of these units at the right time and the right place to a moving final assembly line from which came a finished product. Regardless of earlier uses of some of these principles, the direct line of succession of mass production and its intensification into automation stems directly from what we worked out at Ford Motor Company between 1908 and 1913. Henry Ford is generally regarded as the father of mass production. He was not. He was the sponsor of it.

As a result of these developments in method, Ford’s cars came off the line in three-minute intervals. This was much faster than previous methods, increasing production by eight to one (requiring 12.5 man-hours before, 1 hour 33 minutes after), while using less manpower. It was so successful, paint became a bottleneck. Only Japan Black would dry fast enough, forcing the company to drop the variety of colors available before 1914, until fast-drying Duco lacquer was developed in 1926. In 1914, an assembly line worker could buy a Model T with four months’ pay.”

Use of the assembly line is bigger and better now than ever before. Modern lean concepts combine assembly line processes with “just-in-time” principles to supply customer demand without increasing costs by adding extra inventory. The assembly line has proven itself repeatedly as the best method to produce almost anything in the manufacturing world, including the flow of information and even components of service businesses. For the assembly line concept to work it is critical that quality standards be consistently met at each stage of the value stream or pure chaos will ensue.

Assembly-Line Thinking in a Collision Business

At your collision repair businesses, whether you realize it or not, you have systems in place that are very similar to an assembly line. In our world, the assembly line (or value stream) all begins with the arrival of a customer that has wrecked his or her automobile. Information begins to flow down our assembly line followed by communication to vendors, insurance companies, fellow employees, etc. This is our product beginning to take form and if anyone along this assembly line makes a mistake or fails to do their job, defects begin to invade our in-process product and costly delays or re-dos begin to manifest.

These quality defects delay not only the product in process, but also all the other products upstream and downstream! Notice I used the word ‘quality’ and I was not specific about the actual work being done to the car. I could have also been referring to the quality of the information passed along, the repair estimate, or the quality of the information obtained during Vehicle Check-In.

I am sure many of you will agree that process defects often remain hidden until the assembly phase. Do you keep track of how many problems and what kinds of problems occur in your assembly process every day? A proper system will expose problems long before a vehicle hits the late assembly stage. Can you imagine the negative effects to the auto manufacturer’s assembly line if someone showed up with the wrong fender or the wrong colored seat belt? We let this stuff happen every day in collision repair business and it is mostly avoidable!

In recent years, the Toyota Motor Company has dominated the automotive world by not only using the assembly line, but by also using it to help identify problems in order to solve the problems thereby eliminating waste from the value stream. If a problem is found on the assembly line at Toyota, they stop the whole dang line to fix the problem! It is this dedication to the elimination of defects (waste) that has allowed them to dominate. It is this same dedication that is required to become the greatest collision repair business.

BREAKING IT DOWN

If you were to dissect the typical Collision Repair Process into repair stages or work cells, it would look something like this…

  1. Sales & Service
  2. Blueprint
  3. Admin
  4. Parts
  5. Frame/Body/Mechanical
  6. Paint
  7. Final Assembly
  8. Detail
  9. Sales & Delivery

According to research, experience and common sense, I have compiled some of the leading defects that occur in each repair stage that will create headaches and delays downstream. This list will get us started, but it’s not exhaustive!

If these things commonly occur, your shop will never become stable enough to succeed at the highest levels of quality, customer satisfaction and cycle time consistency.

  1. Sales & Service
    1. Over-scheduling/too much work-in-process
    2. Incomplete or inaccurate Vehicle Check-In
      • Prior damage miscommunications
      • What will or will not be fixed miscommunications
    3. Unrealistic promise dates
    4. Expediting
    5. Incorrect vehicle information & options
    6. Missing photos
    7. Unclear communication to Blueprint regarding customer needs/expectations
    8. Authorization is not signed
    9. Poor notes/file documentation in management system
    10. Blueprint workflow is not prioritized
  1. Blueprint
    1. Lack of or quality supplement photos
    2. Poor parts cart management
    3. Non-compliant repair plans with insurance partners
    4. Timely notification of Blueprint completion with Sales Office
    5. Blueprint inaccuracies
      • Missed parts
      • Wrong parts figured
      • Missed labor
      • Misdiagnosis of suspension and mechanical damage
      • Failure to perform diagnostic scan
      • Failure to incorporate OEM repair methods
      • Blend panel allowance and blend panel R&I
    1. Failure to gain advice from technicians on difficult decisions
    2. Failure to properly communicate repair plan to Sales & Service
  1. Admin (Sales & Service)
    1. Parts agreed with customer/insurance partner are not readily available
    2. Changes to repair plan involving used parts or other extreme repair plan changes in general are not discussed with the Blueprint Department
    3. Parts code table items are not added up front
    4. Customer/Insurance company authorization has not been given prior to parts being ordered
    5. Customer has not been given a post-Blueprint expected delivery date or given updated repair plan information
  1. Parts
    1. Parts ordered without a line in the management system
    2. Parts ordered by phone (miscommunication with parts vendor)
    3. Faxed/electronic orders not followed up on
    4. Accepting incomplete parts orders from vendors
    5. Supplying parts vendors with incomplete or incorrect vehicle information
    6. Mirror matching mistakes
    7. Not checking condition of replacement parts as they arrive
    8. Mistakes made in management system regarding whether a part has been ordered or not
    9. Poor parts cart management
    10. Not making sure all parts will be received prior to the vehicle entering assembly
  1. Body/Mechanical/Frame
    1. Any defect that would cause delays in the Paint Department to correct
    2. DTCs are still present
    3. Calibrations not performed or known about
    4. Suspension that has not been properly aligned prior to going to paint
    5. Sheet metal that is not properly aligned
    6. Aftermarket components that have not been pre-fit prior to being painted
    7. Assemblies such as doors are not pre-built as much as possible prior to paint
  1. Paint
    1. Nib & polish is not done prior to vehicle going to assembly
    2. Any paint defect that would cause a delay in the assembly process
    3. Any paint defect that would cause the vehicle to come back to the Paint Department after assembly
  1. Final Assembly
    1. Any component that is not properly aligned to standards
    2. Proper care is not taken to protect freshly painted panels from damage
    3. Parts cart is not completely cleared of parts
    4. Old parts have not been disposed of and may have been left on cart or in vehicle
  1. Detail
    1. Vehicle has not been cleaned up to better than pre-accident condition
    2. Production manager has not been notified of detail completion
  1. Sales & Delivery
    1. Customer has not been communicated with regularly
    2. Customer has not been notified of vehicle completion in a timely fashion
    3. Customer/Insurance company has not been properly communicated regarding money owed
    4. Supplements have not been approved/reconciled with insurance companies
    5. File management, parts, labor and profit centers have not been maintained throughout repair process
    6. Final customer paperwork was prepared prior to pre-closing the file

In the spirit of the internal and external customer, please be sure to always do what is right to best serve the next customer in line. If you are able to consistently perform tasks so that the defect causing items on this list are eliminated, and occasionally ask your internal and external customers what their needs are, we will experience an amazing transformation.

And, yeah, even after reading this, some of you may still argue that an assembly line has no home in an auto body shop, but I encourage you to step outside of the typical and try to adopt the concept as much as possible. I realize that we are fixing cars, not making widgets, so there are a ton more variables and challenges. The success secret is for us to remove as many of these variables in the beginning stages through good communication with our customer, effective blueprinting and excellent parts management. One-piece flow on a conveyor belt may never be possible in our industry; however, every step we can make toward that concept brings us one step closer to becoming the greatest collision repair business!