Bang for your Buck
The Importance of Maintaining Your Equipment
by Michael Biffl
One of the biggest expenditures a window manufacturer incurs is investment in capital equipment. In order to stay competitive in today’s market, it is critical to get the most out of this investment. The most important way to do so is to make sure equipment is cared for and maintained properly.
People are the Key
The evolution of vinyl processing equipment is a double-edged sword. It has made machines more accurate, more reliable and easier to operate than their predecessors. The flip side is that these same machines have more sophisticated control systems and electronics than ever before. What used to be accomplished using simple, manual machines is now performed with computer-controlled, servo-driven devices that require a much higher skill level to maintain properly. This requires a familiarity with specific machines and systems that was unnecessary in the past.
Now, a good maintenance technician is much more than a mechanic. He must have a solid understanding of electronics, computer software and mechanical repair. He must be a quick learner and able to adapt general knowledge to the specific operating environment of a given piece of machinery or line of equipment. However, being smart and handy are not going to make your maintenance technicians experts in keeping your equipment up and running—training is critical.
Train Your People
Machinery suppliers constantly are looking for an edge over the competition. They offer upgraded software control, machine self-diagnostic features, Internet diagnostic connections and a host of other ways to stand out from the crowd. But they often forget to tell you how to keep this advanced machinery operating smoothly and reliably. No matter how skilled your maintenance department may be, without the right information its members cannot hope to keep your plant running at the level you need to remain competitive.
Every machine you purchase should be provided to you with the necessary documentation to allow your maintenance staff to diagnose and correct everyday problems. When the problem is outside the scope of the documentation, your people need the knowledge to go beyond the maintenance manual. The only way to reach this level is to have training provided to your employees before the machine ever gets to your plant.
Any reputable machinery supplier should offer hands-on and classroom training for its customers. This should include simple reviews of standard set-up procedures and how to find information in the machine documentation. The training should also challenge your staff to diagnose and correct problems that are not spelled out specifically in the manual. Initial training included with the purchase of the equipment should address operational and simple preventative maintenance procedures. Advanced maintenance training, which delves deeper into the operation of the machine and its control system, should be offered. An investment in this type of training always pays off for the customer. Once you have your people trained, it is imperative to put this knowledge to work.
Using Your Knowledge
A trained maintenance staff is beneficial, and one that uses its training effectively is an enormous asset to your operation. It is one thing to be able to fix a problem after it occurs, but the most valuable use of your maintenance crew is in the prevention of problems. This is accomplished through preventative maintenance performed on a regular basis in accordance with
the recommendations of your supplier.
Equipment should be taken down for maintenance on a regular basis. Depending on your operation, how many shifts the equipment is utilized and the number of units produced per shift, maintenance downturns should be scheduled appropriately. The maintenance crew should inspect the equipment visually, perform periodic maintenance tasks outlined in the service manual and document the maintenance performed in a log that is available for review both internally and by the equipment supplier. They should also document any problem areas or concerns detected in the visual inspection and report any problems to the equipment supplier. This course of action will help to minimize downtime during normal operating shifts. Breakdowns are inevitable, but monitoring the condition of the equipment, replacing worn parts, lubricating moving parts and following the recommendations of your supplier will go a long way toward minimizing these breakdowns.
Support your Crew
No matter how much training and support your maintenance department gets from its equipment supplier, a lack of internal support of its efforts to keep your equipment running will offset its ability to succeed. Management must provide time for maintenance shifts. In the busiest part of the year when equipment is utilized most heavily maintenance downtime is often the first thing that gets eliminated. While this may result in a short-term increase in production it will create more problems in the long run. Planned downtime will help prevent work stoppages due to breakdowns during production shifts.
In addition to planning for downtime, it is critical to maintain a spare-parts inventory to support the maintenance department’s efforts. Your equipment supplier should provide a list of recommended spare parts for every machine. The spare-parts list should be sorted into short-term operating spare and long-term spare parts. Consumable items always should be maintained in stock in sufficient quantities as outlined in the spare parts list. Without this, your maintenance department cannot do its job.
Challenge your Suppliers
Prior to placing an order for a machine that you need to rely on to manufacture your product consistently and reliably, your potential suppliers should be able to provide you with a sample listing of spare parts, an example of an operation and maintenance manual and customer references. If your supplier is unable or unwilling to supply any of these items, you need to evaluate their overall willingness and ability to support you and your maintenance crew after the sale.
Window manufacturers spend a great deal of money on capital equipment. In order to get the most out of this investment, you need the proper support. Before you write a check, make sure your supplier will give you the support you need to make that investment pay off.
Michael Biffl is the national sales manager for Sturtz Machinery of Solon, Ohio.
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