Monday, 26 June 2017 14:32

Lean Thinking of America’s Greatest Body Shops

Written by Dave Luehr


Luehr lean blueprinting 1

Dave Luehr teaching a lean blueprinting workshop


When mentioning the word lean, most people in the collision repair business conjure up images of large corporate lay-offs attempting do more work with less people. Others think of lean as an attempt to do car repairs faster, also conjuring up false images of people working harder with less resources. To America’s greatest body shops, lean means something entirely different.

The word lean was popularized decades ago in James Womack’s book, The Machine That Changed the World, which described some of the innovative production systems being utilized by Japanese manufacturers. Toyota Motor Company popularized it through their Toyota Production System (TPS) which caught the attention of many as they became leaders of the auto manufacturing business. But to understand the true meaning of lean one must simply understand this...

• Value stream = the process required to get the customer what they want from start to finish
• Value added activity = the activities in the stream that the customer is willing to pay for
• Waste = any activity in the stream that the customer is not willing to pay for

Lean is a way of thinking and the actions taken to remove waste from the value stream. As my good friend Rich Altieri says, “Lean means hands on car!” In other words, a practitioner in the collision repair business, is a person who develops systems or takes some kind of action to keep technicians continuously touching cars!


Hands on car = Lean
Hands off car = Waste

Lean does not necessarily mean a particular vehicle moves faster through your production system. Lean thinking seeks to remove the obstacles and waste from the value stream, so most vehicles do end up getting finished faster and without the chaos usually experienced in traditional body shops. Think of it like a freeway. The purpose of a freeway is not to get you to your destination faster, it is to get everyone to their destination on time. The reason we experience traffic jams is because of “variables” caused by factors such as everyone driving at different speeds. Some people are going 80MPH while others, 45MPH, all sorts of problems occur and soon we have a traffic jam. A lean freeway system would have everyone driving at the same speed and everyone reaching their destination in a predictable manner. On-time, every-time!


Luehr lean shop body shop express 

What a “lean” high volume shop looks like. (Body Shop Express – San Diego, CA)


Sadly, most collision repairers operate like the first freeway system I mentioned, where some vehicles are expedited because they are behind schedule or because an insurance partner requires favoritism. You feel like you are stuck in a traffic jam when you visit most of the body shops in our country!

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