When Standard Work is not standard

I just had my alternator replaced for $418. I'm told I was lucky. The mechanic gets $48 per hour and spent three hours swapping out the part, replacing the burnt belt and replacing the ball joint. I stood there in the garage as he explained to me the burden of changing an alternator on my Ford Taurus:

"Well, on the smaller engines, you can get at the alternator from the top of the engine. But on these dual overhead cam engines you have to go through the bottom. You see that glint of new metal hiding down through there? That's your new alternator. There's no way I can get that from the top of the engine compartment here. These car companies make these engines bigger and jam them into the same space they had last year. I had to put your car on the lift, disconnect the ball joint and remove the axle to get at that thing. I've already got three hours into this job. Sorry, since I'm not a dealer I don't have the OEM ball joint remover. I just hammered yours off so that had to be replaced too."

I won't comment now on how DFR (Design for Repair) is not a consideration by car designers, but I did comment then that I didn't mind paying him three hours of labor versus laying in my cold Vermont driveway under my car for eight hours.

I had some time to call my father, who is a 25 year auto body repair veteran. He also has the crash books which detail the standard estimates of time units for repair and replacement. My alternator, on the large, six cylinder, DOHC, 3.0L Taurus engine required 1.8 hours to change. The unit for the smaller engine required 0.6 hours. I've change a few alternators in my time, I'm good for about half a day regardless of type. Mostly because beer is involved. My mechanic nearly apologized for having three hours in the job. Again, I'm glad to pay him for his time, yet he only charged me for two hours of labor, which he insisted was a fair deal. I have a good mechanic.

I asked my father how those time standards are determined. He told me that he asked an insurance adjuster years ago the same question after taking a beating on a couple of jobs. He was told that three time trials are studied on new cars. Now, if you have ever worked on a car that has been home to Vermont for over ten years, you know that every single bolt on the underbody is either seized, rusted, or about to move into a permanent phase of petrification. Many bolts and pins must be cutoff, torched, broke, hammered etc. just to get through the next step of the job. I imagine that the time studies used to compile the crash books also have all of the necessary tools laid out before the mechanic, ahead of time. Three trials are conducted and then averaged. This is then published in crash books for mechanics to use in estimating jobs for customers. My father says, "you win some, you lose some."

This experience reinforced in my mind the genba principle that any study or observation should always be done in the actuality, or the reality. A time study that is done for a crash book should be done on a car that has been through rain snow and mud for two years. The same is true when setting standards for the manufacturing plant. Standards cannot be set based on theory, or conditions that do not reflect reality, but by actually observing the current job, capturing the good and the bad. Otherwise the standards we are held to always seem unfair.



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