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Modernizing Your Shop: Productivity, Space and Technician Considerations

In order to keep up with the evolution of your fleet, it may be time to analyze the layout of your current shop to determine if you need to upgrade the facility or design and build a new facility.

To give you an idea of what happens when an organization doesn’t keep up with the evolution of its fleet, let’s review an example of a facility that operated when horses pulled wagons. The horses lived in barns. When the horseless carriage was introduced and there was no longer a need for the horses, they were sold and the barns were used to store, maintain and repair the horseless carriages. As the horseless carriage became more advanced, more were added to the fleet and the barn was modified to meet the needs of the carriages. The increase in the size of the vehicles forced the carriages to be stored outside so that maintenance, service and repair could take place inside the barn.

Lights and equipment such as jacks, lifts, drill presses, welding tools, gantry cranes, parts and supply areas, tire service areas, pits, wash areas and battery rooms were added. This addition process eventually converted the barn into a garage without physically replacing the barn. While it wasn’t an ideal situation, everyone made do. In this case, the symptom was treated, but the root cause was not addressed.

As the fleet increased in size, more staff members were hired. The space, however, stayed about the same. Two people worked on one vehicle in one bay, which was big enough to hold half the vehicle, but the other half extended outside. An unanticipated factor – weather – thus affected productivity. If it rained, the workers got wet and took significantly more time to perform the task at hand. If the weather turned cold, the door was propped open, the heater kept running and the heat escaped the building.

Built for Productivity
In contrast, let’s look at an example of a medical surgery facility that was designed and built for its specific purpose – efficiency and medical excellence. There is one operating room and multiple patients who are waiting to get procedures.

In this scenario, if a patient needs hip surgery, the surgeon speaks with the patient, diagnoses the problem at the office, determines the time it will take to complete the procedure and secures an operating room for a fixed period of time. Using a 10-hour time frame as an example, the surgeon, knowing a hip replacement takes approximately two hours, will schedule five patients for that period of time. Some patients will take 1.5 hours and some will take 2.5 hours.

After 10 hours and five procedures, with backup staff in the operating room to cover breaks and emergencies, this becomes a very efficient process. The operating room has all the tools, space and supplies for all staff members to be productive because it was designed this way before it was built.

In the case of the barn, servicing vehicles is less efficient in that space because – while there is the potential for numerous vehicles to be in the facility at the same time – it was originally built to house horses, not vehicles.

What Impacts Productivity?
With proper space allocation, a garage can offer both the potential of a reduced carbon footprint and the opportunity for increased productivity. Creating the garage is a once-in-a-lifetime event that demands experienced planning. Because almost every act is sequenced for efficiency and productivity, a fleet business requires order and discipline. Tools, supplies, equipment, fluids, monitors and support services must be laid out to efficiently maintain the fleet.

Due to funding limitations and other priorities, organizations often make do with existing facilities, outdated equipment and inefficient worker footprints, which can negatively affect productivity and result in energy loss. Space limitations and unscheduled work, in particular, can impact productivity.

Scheduled work, on the other hand, is easier to manage. When a vehicle is brought into a shop for a preventive maintenance inspection, the technician knows how much time the process will take – it has been performed many times and is sequenced with the technician’s activity. Mechanics are trained in this process, and since all the necessary resources are available, all inspections can be assigned to a bay for scheduled work in a predictable time frame.

When you consider the job requirements of a staff of technicians, there are more than 500 types of tasks they may be responsible for. Some of these tasks are done repetitively, including work on brakes, radiators and water pumps, wheel removal and replacement, and air/oil filter changes. These tasks, however, make up only 30 percent of total maintenance work, meaning just 30 percent of work hours can predictably be assigned to work bays. That means 70 percent of the remaining work is unpredictable and requires more space per job.

What is the impact of unscheduled work? Let’s say a technician brings a vehicle into the shop that has been identified by a driver as having noise in the engine and a lack of power. If the technician diagnoses the number five cylinder as the problem, removes the piston and finds the wrist pin is also defective, a delay occurs. Since the shop does not stock wrist pins or fit pistons, the work on this part will have to be sent out. This causes the bay to be tied up until the parts come in and the technician installs them. What do the technicians assigned to this bay do while waiting for the part? They should be put to work in another bay. Theoretically, each unscheduled technician needs one-and-a-half bays assigned to him or her to be productive. Doubling up people in a bay can lead to delays and is unproductive.

Calculating Space and Technician Needs
How, then, are space needs calculated? Since space is a capital issue, having too little space can be just as bad as having too much space. This expense has to be prioritized and a three- to five-year return on investment – or more – has to be justified.

Let’s assume that a fleet workload was 20,000 hours in the last 12 months. As the fleet gets older or grows, the work increases 10 percent per year with a limited replacement program. Of the 20,000 hours, 2,000 were completed outside the shop while responding to road calls, breakdowns and tire changes, leaving 18,000 hours for shop work. Based on that information, how much space is needed? If the shop is open eight hours per day, five days per week, 52 weeks per year on one shift, that is 2,080 hours per year, per bay available on one shift. The 18,000 hours divided by 2,080 hours in bay availability equals 8.65 bays on one shift, which means that nine bays are needed at a bare minimum for vehicle service. For 20,000 hours with one shift, 9.62 or 10 bays are needed at a minimum. If you have multiple shifts, this requirement could be broken down to five bays on two shifts or four bays on three shifts.

How many technicians are needed? If one technician works five days a week, eight hours per day for 52 weeks, that would equal 2,080 payroll hours. In addition, technicians are also paid for 280 hours when they are not at work, as follows:
• Three weeks for vacation (120 hours).
• Two weeks for holidays (80 hours).
• One week for training (40 hours).
• One week for illness (40 hours).

This brings the total working hours down to 1,800. If you factor in time for washing up and coffee breaks, this adds up to 225 hours. If another 275 hours are added for diagnostic, cleaning, parts retrieval and toolbox time, working hours now total a net of 1,300 hours per available technician.

If you divide the 20,000 hours (the 12-month workload) by 1,300 (the hours per technician), this equals 15.38 technicians. Let’s presume the .38 is used in overtime or vendor work and that 15 technicians are needed for the 12-month period. If you factor in 10 percent inflation for the aging of the vehicles, that equals 22,000 hours. Divide that by 1,300 for a total of 16.92, or 17 technicians that will be needed for the next year.

If the average of scheduled work is 30 percent and the unscheduled work average is 70 percent, the number of bays needed is calculated below:
• 17 technicians x 30% = 5 technicians who need 1 bay each for a total of 5 bays.
• 17 technicians x 70% = 12 technicians who need 1.5 bays each for a total of 18 bays.

This shows that 23 bays are needed for one shift, 12 bays are needed for a two-shift operation and eight bays are needed for a three-shift operation.

If this is a nine-bay shop and there is only one shift working, 14 bays need to be added. If it is a two-shift schedule, three more bays need to be added, the work needs to be sent to vendors or the staff needs to be reduced to fit the nine bays. Three shifts would work. In most cases, until space is expanded, productivity is being choked.

Keep in mind that there are reasonable solutions to these problems, but they first need to be identified. A logical process must be followed when determining whether to expand or reduce the size of the present shop, relocate to another facility or build a new shop.

Consider Your Options
What are the costs of upgrading an existing building compared to building a new facility? Which is more cost-effective?

Consider the impact of a no-build or existing building upgrade option at $125 per square foot. In addition to the square-foot cost, facility and shop equipment costs will add an estimated 30 percent to the total no-build estimated cost. These total costs for upgrading should be compared to the total costs to build a new replacement facility.

Next, consider designing and building a new garage with the proper number of work bays – which are typically 20 feet wide and 50 feet long – and a parts support area that is 20 percent of the total work space for a light-duty fleet, with 33 percent of the total work space allotted for a heavy-duty fleet, including offices, locker rooms, showers, toilets, a lunch area and other support services. The square-foot cost of a new facility is estimated to be $200 per square foot plus the cost of equipment such as lifts, lathes, benches, cranes, storage shelves and optional equipment. These costs will add an estimated 30 percent to the total new-build estimated cost. Note that some items can be disassembled from the old building and reassembled in the new facility depending on their age, condition and project life cycle.

A service provider may want to consider the option of building a shared facility that is equally accessible to other fleet maintenance providers. This option can significantly reduce funding requirements.

Environmental upgrades add cost to the new building option, and you will also need to consider the layout of the new site in terms of parking, traffic flow, and bay and support area configurations.

In addition, organizations need to determine if they can work in the present facility while upgrading or if they will need to relocate to a temporary facility. This is determined by the present operation and the type of equipment being used. Shuttle time from domicile to route assignments should be considered as well.

With the construction cost calculated and its features and benefits evaluated, a comparison of the new alternative can be made to the no-build alternative, and a choice can be made: rebuild the present facility, replace it with a new facility, partially rebuild the present facility or do nothing. With the do-nothing approach, the present facility is used as is, work not handled cost-effectively can be outsourced, and/or part of the workload can be relocated to another smaller facility closer to the domiciled vehicle location.

Unless you choose the do-nothing approach, the next step is implementing the chosen solution. Be sure to pick up the next issue of Utility Fleet Professional for an in-depth look at the implementation process.

About the Author: John Dolce is a fleet facility and maintenance specialist employed by Wendel Companies, an architectural and engineering firm. He is an active consultant, instructor and fleet manager with more than 40 years of experience in the public and private sector. Dolce has written three fleet-related textbooks and teaches fleet management courses at the University of Wisconsin’s Milwaukee and Madison campuses.

Management, Fleet Maintenance

John Dolce

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