Is Your Shop’s Problem The Paint Or The Process?

By John Shoemaker


One of the services I provide as a business development manager for BASF Automotive Refinish is to help with production flow to eliminate choke points or backlogs. The most common call I get is for help in the paint shop. My standard approach to evaluate production flow is to review the processes, watch the paint shop work and look for a trouble spot.

Recently I was asked to help with a paint shop backlog. I arrived at the shop around 10:30 a.m. I saw vehicles in both booths, a car in front of each booth bagged and ready to pull in to the booth and two more in line. I saw a paint technician using the spectrophotometer to validate the color, locate the color code and insert the information into the mixing queue. It seemed like everything was in order.

Then I heard the words “poly fill” and saw a car being pulled into a middle line between the two refinish lines. I walked over to the car to talk with the paint technician and found that a body technician had sprayed polyester spray filler over all his bodywork. The paint technician explained it would take him a couple of hours to smooth out the poly fill and there were only 4.2 hours on the entire job.

Houston, I think we found a problem and I don’t think it has much to do with the paint. Working with shop management, we created a process that required body technicians to finish their work to a 320-grit finish and send it to the paint shop unprimed.

Another shop I visited had a painter who would not mask a vehicle until it was in the paint booth where it could be wiped down in a clean environment. I saw his point, but the only area really needing to be wiped down is the area being painted.

Waiting until a vehicle is in the booth to mask it creates a severe gridlock in production. This practice reduces the number of booth cycles in a day that will snowball as the week progresses. Working with the paint team, we created a process to mask vehicles completely prior to moving into the booth. This process allowed the shop to increase production, solving an issue that, again, had nothing to do with paint.

Other issues I commonly run into are shops not filling the booth, paint booths sitting empty for long periods of time or people just standing around waiting for the booth cycle to complete. None of these really have much to do with the paint in the mixing rack but the habits shops have developed over time. Many of these habits can be corrected through these process improvements:

  • Select a paint team member to be the sheriff over the vehicles coming into the paint shop. If there is a problem, write “stop” in the repair grid with the time the issue was found. The production manager should then take control of the repair and initiate the necessary action to correct the problem.
  • Use a production tracking sheet to identify vehicles requiring refinishing and create a schedule that fills the booth each time. Work your paint schedule so the booth is in a bake cycle during planned breaks and to coincide with lunchtime or end of day.
  • Utilize booth cycle time to prep another vehicle to keep the pipeline full and be prepared to make a quick booth swap. I have seen shops develop habits that allow them to make a booth swap in less than 15 minutes.

My follow-up shop visits have shown improvements in production when changes were made in the processes. The main goal in my visits is to find the problem and develop a process to eliminate the cause. Sometimes it requires asking “why” several times or standing back to watch and identify the issue.

You can probably identify problems in your paint shop by looking at what is moving and what isn’t, then asking “why” until you find the underlying cause. I assure you, it is most often a process, as paint generally minds its own business and goes where it’s told.