Even with loads of lean information being thrust at us for over two decades, our collision repair industry’s average cycle time is still hovering at just over ten days. This is just the average; some shops are running at close to fifteen days or more while a small handful of innovative thinkers are able to produce repairs in only 4 days on average. Surprisingly, the fast and the slow shops are often very similar in many respects and with many of the same challenges, so why the huge difference in performance?
There are no unfair advantages, just different thinking. In my consulting business, I am proud to say I get to work with some of the fastest shops in the world and I promise you these guys are not necessarily smarter, or have bigger buildings, or even better technicians. And if you think they are performing this well by performing poor quality repairs, you would be deceiving yourself, they have just been able to overcome bad thinking.
There are three primary differences I notice between good shops that are fast and good shops that are slow and here they are 1. Damage Appraisal 2. Scheduling 3. Continuous workflow.
Blueprinting is critical to ensure an efficient repair process and most fast shops are excellent at the blueprinting process of meticulous disassembly and damage analysis, but there is also a new animal that is quickly gaining popularity and may have even greater benefits than blueprinting in some cases. Vehicle Damage Appraisal or “VDA” as it is called in the U.K. has become a necessary way of life in other parts of the world and a handful of shops in the U.S. are adopting these methods to gain a competitive advantage and also reduce vehicle inventory around their shops. While there is a lot to know about performing a proper damage appraisal using this method, VDA essentially can be done on drivable cars where the customer is scheduled for an appraisal appointment that lasts approximately 45 minutes. The process begins by understanding the proper repair methods and utilizing OEM information to do so. Cars are scanned for diagnostic trouble codes and minor disassembly is performed (with the customer in the waiting room) then safely reassembled. Assuming there are no safety concerns, the customer is put back in the car until all parts have arrived and they can schedule a date to immediately start the repairs.
People first hearing of VDA are quick to discount its effectiveness, citing the many reasons it won’t work, instead of trying it first. Blueprinting is still the popular choice and understandably so for many fast shops, but nothing I have seen will reduce vehicle inventory and allow smaller jobs to fly through the shop as compared to what I have seen with VDA.
The single biggest influence on a shop’s cycle time performance is quite simply inventory. Or in other words, how many cars you have sitting around the shop that are not being worked on. Little’s Law states that cycle time performance is calculated by dividing the number of cars on your property by your average daily throughput.
The fastest shops in the world are very familiar with this law and use scheduling practices that ensure that cars show up as they need them instead of sitting around collecting additional cycle time days and racking up the additional expense of managing these vehicles. Say you have no control over when people wreck their cars? Good point. It is nearly impossible to know exactly when tow-ins and non-drives come in. You can predict to some extent, but yes it is impossible to know exactly. It is however quite possible to schedule most drivable cars which are typically a majority of your total work load. The fastest shops in the world take full advantage of bringing in the damaged vehicles and their pre-ordered parts right before they need them.
All of the world’s fastest shops place a tremendous emphasis on achieving what is called continuous workflow. The goal here is that once a damaged vehicle is placed into production flow, it can be worked on continuously. No supplements, no missed or wrong parts, no stoppages! Sound like fantasy land? Ask the fastest shops in the world if it’s possible and see what they tell you. Clearly continuous workflow is achieved by placing extreme emphasis on the previous two principals. You can’t continuously flow a vehicle that hasn’t been properly appraised and you can’t flow a car when you have too much inventory causing it to sit there for several days waiting to be worked on.
For many of the very fastest of the fast shops, technology has found its way into the shop. Proponents of this technology will tell you that continuous work flow is impossible if you can’t get fillers, primers, and paint to dry instantly. New gas catalytic drying robots are now being used to achieve this very thing in a minute or less making continuous workflow possible. Some of America’s most respected shops are now using this technology with amazing results.
Cycle time improvement is not a fad; it is serious business. Improvements with cycle time can also mean improvements with customer loyalty, insurance relations, stress reduction, and profitability. No offense to the fastest shops in the world, like I said earlier, these guys are not necessarily smarter or more talented, but they do have the ability to continually challenge their beliefs and the many beliefs that are cast upon us by people in the industry that are more interested in maintaining the status quo than improving. I challenge you to move out of your comfort zone, challenge your beliefs and try some things that could improve your business today! As always, I am here to help.
Dave can be reached at email@example.com