Leaner, Faster, Smarter: “It Can’t Be Lean if it’s Not Clean”

Leaner, Faster, Smarter: “It Can’t Be Lean if it’s Not Clean”

Much of what gets written and talked about regarding “lean” in collision shops focuses on recommended changes in the office and body department. But streamlining in those areas will only lead to backlogs if some lean-thinking isn’t done in the paint shop as well.

“If an organization is truly going to be lean, the whole organization has to be lean-focused,” Amjad Farah, manager of business development for BASF Automotive Refinish and a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, said. “There can’t be one part that’s not.”

Farah and other experts on lean processes within the collision-repair industry weighed in recently on what’s different within the paint departments of shops implementing lean-focused problem solving to improve productivity. Here are some of their key suggestions. Standardize the processes.

Farah said one signal a shop is thinking lean is when he sees a clear chart on the wall of the paint shop showing, for example, exactly what products and exact ratios the shop is using for its clearcoat.

“There’s no ambiguity and it’s very specific to that shop: Here’s how we do it here,” Farah said.

Part of reducing waste is standardizing the best practices, he said, clearly defining—even using photos when appropriate—products and processes to be used, and what quality standards must be met. This reduces time-wasting conflicts about, for example, what grits are used to finish body work or primer.

It also can eliminate the need to stock multiple brands and variations of different products “preferred” by different employees. Should such standardization of materials come from the top of the organization down, or be left to employees to develop? A little of both, Farah said.

“Management needs to get employees together and talking about it, so the employees can determine what’s best overall once they understand the goal,” he said. “Lean is about continuous improvement. That won’t happen if you’re not empowering employees to find better ways to do things, or if you haven’t shown them you’re going to listen.” Don’t wait to match.

Eighty percent of the time wasted in the paint shop involves color matching, Steve Feltovich, manager of collision business consulting for Sherwin-Williams Automotive Finishes, said.

“So you start to minimize the waste on color issues by getting ahead of it rather than letting it get ahead of you,” he said.

One key to this, he said, is ensuring the paint shop has—and is using—all the color tools available through the paint manufacturer. But just as lean-thinking shops try to eliminate delays in the process through “blueprinting”— a complete disassembly of the vehicle up-front to identify at the start all needed parts and processes—Feltovich said color matching should start before the vehicle reaches the paint shop.

“Get color identification done during pre-planning and blueprinting process[es] so it’s proved out well before the car arrives in the paint department,” Feltovich said. Involve your paint supplier.

Another source of potential waste in the paint shop: excess inventory of paint and materials. Feltovich said Sherwin-Williams’ branches can work with shop customers on what is sometimes called a “kanban” inventory management system.

“Kanban is a Japanese word that really only means signal,” Feltovich said. “The goal is to have just the products and amount of products on hand that you need, to have minimums and maximums established, and a signal system in place that indicates when you’ve used something and when it will need to be replenished. It’s about just-in-time stock and inventory management.”

Such a system could be electronic, using a barcode system and computerized inventory, or as simple as a tagging system on paint and materials cabinets in the shop. The system is less important, Feltovich said, than keeping the goal in mind: having just what you need when you need it.

“When you reduce inventory and over-stocking, your people also become more conscious of what they use,” he said. “It changes their behavior. They tend to become more conservative, more conscious of waste and in doing things right the first time because they don’t have excess material to throw at their mistakes.” Get organized.

Once you’ve eliminated unneeded or overlapping products and materials from your paint inventory, put what your techs need at their fingertips, suggested David Knapp, senior manager of business solutions for PPG Industries. Knapp said it may be helpful to have a paint prepper, for example, keep a list of every tool and product he uses for a week. Then go through the list and identify the items that he uses every day. Those are the items that should be included on a “point-of-use” cart, always within easy reach.

Knapp said Mission Viejo Auto Collision in Mission Viejo, CA, took the idea one step further.

“Using the list of what they used every day, they cut the shapes of those items out of a piece of foam they bought at an upholstery shop, and put the foam on the top of the cart,” Knapp said. “They dropped those items into the foam, and now there’s not room for anything else, so it avoids the cluttered mess I see on prep carts in many shops.” Provide information visually.

Knapp said even in shops where language barriers aren’t an issue, providing information to employees in ways other than just writing can help reduce wasteful mistakes and oversights. PPG’s “lean” training, he said, includes “visual mapping,” using symbols and markings on the actual vehicle to indicate, for example, what panels are to be blended, what should be done with pre-existing rock chips on a hood, etc.

“One extra piece of visual mapping that affects the paint shop could be ‘loose parts,’” Knapp said. “A body man might remove a bumper cover or mirror or molding that may need to be painted. Make that part of the mapping process. Write down on the drivers’ window of the vehicle how many loose parts there are, so the paint department makes sure they’re in the booth at the same time.” Look for wasteful, non-value-added processes.

Steve Trapp, collision services development manager for DuPont Performance Coatings, said waste in the paint department can be as basic as using 2-inch masking tape when 1.5-inch or narrower will do the job.

“You see people still papering the car instead of just using plastic to mask even through the plastic is now sufficient to keep [overspray] paint from flaking off,” he said. “You can now just tape the plastic right to the blend area, so that whole activity of masking the car with paper is no longer necessary.”

Changes in products and processes, he said, have similarly eliminated the need for wet-sanding. Choosing the right size DA sander can reduce the repair area. Can’t fully mask a car because you still need to be able to drive it through the paint shop?

“What if you used magnets to hold the plastic down so you can still drive it into the booth, then quickly pull the magnet off and reposition the plastic and use strip magnets to hold it down,” Trapp suggested. “That’s a good lean-thinking solution.” Schedule smarter.

Trapp said one key aspect of lean production is “flow,” developing a steady, level stream of work moving throughout the shop each day. If the goal is to process $200,000 in sales in a 20-working-day month, for example, and the average job is $2,000, the goal for the paint shop is to produce five cars per day. In an 8-hour day, that means a car should be moving into the booth ready to spray every 96 minutes.

“So many shops don’t think that through,” Trapp said. “Their paint shop ends up with nine cars on Thursday, so the painter stays late, trying to make flow.”

One way to achieve consistent flow, he said, can be to move resources. If the prep team may not have a vehicle ready to go for the next booth cycle, someone from detail may be pulled to help out. The real key, however, Trapp said, is [to] not look at that 96 minutes as a deadline but as a signal.

“If you’re not achieving that flow, it’s your signal to stop and ask ‘why didn’t we,’ and the answer is the next problem you look to solve,” Trapp said. “You look for ideas to make that happen, to remove the barriers.” Focus on the whole.

Trapp cautions that any single such idea may not be the right answer to immediately implement within a shop.

“You really first have to look at what problems you’re having,” he said. “If a change doesn’t address the particular constraint you’re having, it may be a good idea but not what you should be doing first. For a true lean-thinker, it’s all about solving a problem, not just implementing ideas.”

At the same time, the paint company experts agree, the paint department shouldn’t be ignored during implementation of lean processes elsewhere in the shop.

“For a shop that’s truly working on lean, it has to lean throughout, not just in body, not just in paint, not just in the office,” Farah said. “It’s as if there were a string that ties every part of the shop together. When one part of that string moves, it all needs to move, or the string is going to break. If an organization is truly going to be lean, the whole organization has to be lean-focused.”

It starts with ‘cleaning house’.

Perhaps the first step in getting “lean” in the paint shop is some simple house-keeping, Steve Feltovich, manager of collision business consulting for Sherwin- Williams Automotive Finishes, said.

“It cannot be lean if it’s not clean,” Feltovich said, saying the industry has a mixed record at best in maintaining a clean working environment. “You can’t see all the problems through that dirt. Scales encrusted with months and years of paint ... yet they think that’s going to give an accurate measurement and color match? Or mixing machines so messy and disorganized you can’t quickly make sure every toner is pushed in when that mixing machine is spinning to make sure it’s properly mixed.”

Lean operators, Feltovich said, understand that there are first health safety risks to an unclean paint shop. But they also have processes in place, for example, to prep and clean vehicles thoroughly before they are brought into the booth, rather than just masking over the dirt and bringing it into the booth — and potentially into the paint job.

Booth maintenance—making sure fan blades and lighting fixtures are cleaned, and filters are changed regularly —also is part of lean, Feltovich said, because it drives down energy use.

“It’s got to be bright. It’s got to be clean,” agrees Amjad Farah, manager of business development for BASF Automotive Refinish, when asked about paint shop cleanliness as part of “lean.” “That helps ensure you don’t make mistakes.”

Farah said two of the pioneers in workplace time management were Frank and Lillian Gilbreth, a husband-and-wife team researching in the late 1800s and early 1900s. He said while Frank focused on process, Lillian understood that “the psychology of the worker within that process had a huge impact on output.

“So if you have a really good process but really anxious, frustrated and angry people, it’s just not going to be as effective as one in which people are happy and energetic,” Farah said. “Having a clean, bright area to work in does have an impact on the psychology of your workers.”

John Yoswick

John Yoswick is a freelance writer and Autobody News columnist who has been covering the collision industry since 1988, and the editor of the CRASH Network... Read More

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