As an owner or manager of a collision repair shop, profitability and cycle times are always front of mind. One of the biggest things you can do to improve shop efficiency is to fully map out the structural repair process. But repairers commonly overlook this phase, called blueprinting. It’s a critical step that helps ensure quality repairs, and it’s worth exploring.

So What Exactly is Blueprinting?
“Blueprinting” is a buzzword in the collision repair industry. Basically, it means taking the time upfront to do a complete evaluation of the damage to the vehicle. That evaluation is then used to write a thorough repair plan. It’s designed to eliminate inefficiencies and create a continuous workflow in the body shop. Streamlining the repair process improves productivity and gets the vehicle turned around more quickly. As a result, collision repair shops that use blueprinting can more accurately schedule their workflow, leading to greater productivity, profitability and customer satisfaction.

There are four main steps to the structural repair blueprinting process:
1.    Use collision dynamics to evaluate damage during a visual inspection.
2.    Tear down and measure the vehicle to reveal hidden and frame damage.
3.    List all parts, materials and operations required to repair the vehicle.
4.    Write a repair plan.

Collision Dynamics
In order to develop a thorough repair blueprint, it’s first necessary to understand collision dynamics. Collision dynamics explains the relationship of the forces involved in a collision to the damage that’s created by those forces. Understanding that relationship gives you insight into where to look for damage beyond the obvious areas of the vehicle. For instance, during collisions, there can be indirect damage caused by lateral and vertical deflections.

Many collision repair centers team up an estimator and a technician to perform the initial visual inspection together. They start by identifying the point of impact and using collision theory to categorize the type of collision. They then systematically identify and document the resulting misalignments. With the visual inspection complete, the technician takes over for the crucial next step.

Tear It Down
Some damage is easy to identify through a visual inspection. It’s hard to miss a broken windshield, scratched paint or crumpled fender. Structural damage is less obvious. With today’s vehicles, it’s impossible to identify all structural misalignments from a visual inspection alone. The next step in developing an accurate blueprint is to tear down the vehicle enough to see what damage may be lurking underneath the surface. You can then measure the vehicle to identify any other frame and structural damage.

For maximum accuracy, the technician uses a computerized measuring system to measure the vehicle. Using his professional knowledge, the technician can then identify and analyze the damage. For example, is it a collapsed or short rail situation? Is diamond or twist damage present? Is there vertical or lateral misalignment? What is the cause of that misalignment?

The computerized measuring system provides a printed damage report that’s used to develop the repair blueprint. As an added benefit, this report illustrates to the customer and insurance company exactly what damage exists, making it easier to justify the related blueprint/repair plan.

Make a List
Now that the full scope of the damage is understood, the technician and estimator can work together to come up with a complete list of what’s needed to repair the vehicle. After consulting OEM repair data for guidelines, the team can list all parts needed, as well as materials. They can also list every operation that will be required to repair the vehicle. By including even the smallest detail, the repair blueprint captures more costs and is more profitable than a standard estimate.

Plan the Work
In this part of the process, the estimator takes the lists of parts, materials and operations needed and creates the blueprint. This plan identifies all steps in the repair process, including ordering parts and scheduling the vehicle for repair. For vehicles with structural damage, the schedule will indicate if the vehicle needs to go on the main frame machine or if it can be processed quickly using a light-hit frame machine in a technician’s bay. The more detailed the plan, the more accurately the vehicle can be scheduled into the shop’s workflow.

The estimator provides the finished plan to the customer in place of a traditional estimate and waits for authorization to proceed. In many operations, work will not begin on a vehicle until all parts and materials have been received, in order to ensure optimal cycle time for that vehicle.

Work the Plan
Blueprinting doesn’t require a major facility investment. Spend a little money upfront on training and a couple pieces of equipment dedicated to the blueprinting/estimating team and you’ll recognize major returns in the form of more profitable jobs, continuous workflow and happier customers.