The Incredibly Important Install Bay
Tips on how to make an efficient install area.
In Arizona, our shop is fortunate enough to have pretty nice weather all year long – but even with our near-perfect climate, we can't install outdoors. So we were forced to build a functioning install bay to provide the space, the tools, and the environment that suits the needs of our craft.
Over the years, we have definitely learned quite a great deal about the details that make for an efficient install area. By no means do we have it perfect, and we still have quite a few items on our wish list – but by taking the time to think through some layout options (and by making a few mistakes in the process), we’ve seen our install bays improve dramatically and produce favorable results.
Starting from the outside and working our way in, let’s take a quick review of some key areas to keep in mind when laying out a new install bay or upgrading the one you have.
Approach and enter
You might think a good install bay starts with a big rollup door, but I can tell you it actually begins a few hundred feet farther back than the door: the approach area.
If your shop has the ability to design and produce graphics for larger vehicles like buses, motor coaches, race haulers, RVs, tractor trailers, and boats, you must think about the approach and turning radius of these longer vehicles when deciding on a building or roll-door location. After all, if the driver can’t make a tight turn, has to accommodate a steep hill, or deal with some other obstacle, it doesn’t matter if the door is big enough or not.
In many cases you’ll be working with professional drivers, and they’ll expect a little bit of professional thinking to have occurred before you tell them to head on over. If the approach to your install bay is easy to maneuver, you’ll gain favor from these types of clients all the while making for a safer entrance and exit for their vehicles.
Which brings us to the actual entrance. At our shop, we have a good approach and a massive rollup door. But since our building has loading docks, our floor is approximately 4 feet higher than ground level. That means we have a ramp. This ramp measures almost 60-feet long and 30-feet wide, and at first glance it appears to be more than adequate for even the largest trucks.
So, you might ask: When our first NHRA race hauler pulled in, why did we have six bluemedia staffers (including one on a lift), positioned at every angle over the race hauler? Why were they watching the rolldoor clearance, the lower clearance at the building’s entrance, and the front bumper of the tractor at ground level?
Because it was a scary close fit. The ramp designers knew what they were doing, but the angle of the ramp brings the top of the trailer within 1 inch of the roll door and the bottom of the trailer within 1 inch of the floor. If these types of race haulers did not have the ability to raise and lower the trailer, we simply would not be able to get them into our building. We took specific measurements of that first hauler so we could compare future vehicles to ensure we could clear everything. We measured the wheelbase, the distance from the rear axle to the rear bumper, the overall trailer height, and the overall length with tractor attached. After a few close calls, we learned to trust that we were fortunate enough to have a ramp-and-rolldoor combination that will indeed fit everything we want to bring indoors, including semi trucks with flatbed trailers hauling huge new machines. I cannot stress enough how vital this ability is – so make sure you keep in mind the angle of any ramps on the approach to your install bay.
Good rollup doors, by the way, are not cheap. For a door to allow the correct access heights it must be big, and that typically means expensive – and heavy. Because they’re heavy, all of the mechanisms must integrate powerful motors and these must always be in good working order. Make sure they’re maintained by a professional service. Also, be aware that due to their weight, the doors should be operated with caution; be sure to educate your staff on safety concerns and open-and-shut procedures, and it can’t hurt to install a few signs that clearly state the height clearance.
Now that we’ve successfully made it into the bay, let’s take a look at the floor. The install-bay floor will need to withstand an environment comprising heavy vehicles, scaffolding, ladders, expired vinyl messes, and some spills consisting of oil and adhesive removers, to name just a few. We’ve found that polished concrete is a great way to go. It’s easy to clean and it’s as tough as can be. To keep this floor performing efficiently, we sweep daily, mop weekly, and utilize a rolling magnetic sweeper that picks up razor blades after every vehicle exits. A clean floor is safer and, importantly, it shows your customers how well you run your entire operation.
On our shiny floor, you will see a long row of wheeled locking tool boxes, each with an installer’s name on them. These serve as tool carts, which can be wheeled into position to keep tools handy during an install and then wheeled back in a row at the close of the work day.
The bay also features a computer and mounted monitor that can be accessed by installers while standing. This workstation integrates our job-flow system, so installers can quickly access the schedule and find many other helpful pieces of information. And the system allows the installer to pull up color proofs and print new copies, or zoom in to see any other detail such as the approved alignment of a particular element or to compare something spotted in the print to the approved proof.
In addition, a sound system in the bay plays music of the installer's choice to help generate a productive high-energy vibe. The installers respect that future clients might be taking a tour of the plant and they keep the volume under control. While some might question the professionalism of this type of sound system, I’ve always sided with the installers here. There’s nothing wrong with some good tunes combined with hard work.
Improving on perfection
Finally, consider these notes on some of our install-bay specifics:
• Since the temperature reaches well over 110 degrees for days in a row in the Phoenix deserts, our bays are air-conditioned, allowing us to avoid direct sunlight, wind, dirt, and the occasional rain drop. It also keeps our installers from over heating or getting crisp sunburns, and makes for a better vinyl install. (For you northerners, I’m sure a heated bay comes in handy for many of the same reasons.)
• We have well defined bay “lanes” that allow flexibility for vehicles to come and go without interfering with other vehicles. These defined lanes help establish the typical position of vehicles without too much thinking or asking of opinions during the workday. Establishing where longer vehicles go, where quick turn jobs should take place, and where removals should happen can all add some efficiencies to getting more done in one day.
• We have created an area where we store many types of ladders, rolling scaffolding, and other equipment like steamers and weed burners to bring up the temperature of the vinyl. But having a separate area for this equipment allows us to keep it out of the way when it’s not in use.
• Like many of you, we have a wish list of tools and equipment we’d like to bring in-house as budget permits. One particular piece of equipment we’ve had our eyes on: a lift, because this seems like it would aid the installers when working on bumpers and other times that require work done by lying down (and punishing knees).
It’s fair to say that by no means do we have a “perfect” install bay – I’m sure there will always be room to make it even better. (In fact, please e-mail me any suggestions you might have, to email@example.com.) But you’re well on your way if you treat your installers and your install bay with much respect; provide what’s needed to produce good wrap work and you’ll be rewarded.