Scheduled Downtime

Preventative maintenance makes (dollars and) sense
Mike Biffl
August 7, 2018
COLUMN : In the Trenches | Operations

One of the most glaring issues I see among manufacturers in our industry is the lack of consistent, thorough preventative maintenance programs. We’ve all heard some variation of the phrase, “I can’t let maintenance have the machine; we have windows to make!” This view that maintenance gets in the way of production is more common than most of us would like to admit. But the reality is that proper maintenance and scheduled downtime is the best way to ensure consistent production. 

Capital equipment is a significant investment for any manufacturer. Unfortunately, once equipment is on the floor, the care and maintenance of that equipment is often neglected in favor of short-term production numbers. It may seem like the priority of shipping an extra truckload of windows this week is worth the risk, but long-run production will suffer.

While manufacturers want to talk about quality initiatives and reducing remakes, giving appropriate time and attention to the care of the equipment will help achieve positive results. This is most important when the machinery is being run the hardest.

An ounce of prevention

Preventative maintenance is just that, preventative. It should be prioritized to prevent a significant downtime event when it is least expected and can be least afforded. However, many manufacturers tell us they will catch up on preventative maintenance when production slows down. Doing so puts the company at risk of an unforeseen break in production due to a failure. 

Regularly scheduled maintenance shifts help keep machinery running the way it was intended to run, and results in consistent production with fewer variations in the finished product. Simple daily housekeeping by the operators, weekly inspections by maintenance and regular lubrication per the manufacturer’s recommendations go a long way toward avoiding a serious breakdown—and all of these tasks can be scheduled into a normal work week without having a detrimental impact on production.

One of the easiest ways to incorporate scheduled maintenance is to charge machine operators with daily tasks at the beginning and/or end of a shift. Blowing off a machine, sweeping the work area and quickly wiping down the equipment affords the operator a chance to do a cursory inspection on a daily basis. They not only take on a different level of ownership of the machine, but also get to know when something doesn’t look or sound quite right and when they need to bring maintenance in to take a look. Combining weekly maintenance inspections with daily operator involvement brings another layer of prevention.

Penny wise and pound foolish

Another critical piece to avoiding unexpected downtime is to keep spare parts in stock. Considering that a machine can be an integral part of a system that may produce a couple hundred windows or more per shift, the cost of being down for 24 hours waiting for a part far exceeds the cost of a basic inventory of spare parts. Keeping a complete set of consumable items (knives, cutter bits, etc.) and having strategic short-term operating spares on the shelf is a small investment that can provide insurance against a very expensive breakdown. 

This also helps ensure the equipment is producing a consistent product. Dull knives or blades can tear laminate or burn vinyl. Ripped or dirty Teflon paper can discolor a weld seam. If these items are not inspected and changed, the appearance of the finished product may not meet the customers’ expectations.

Make it last

Of course, none of this can guarantee a machine will never go down, but it can help keep production running smoothly over the course of the years. A good machine can last upward of 15 years with proper care and maintenance. As the equipment ages, it will need a little more attention here and there. And though it will eventually need to be rebuilt or replaced, the low cost of proper care and maintenance is worth every minute it takes. By keeping to a consistent schedule of preventative maintenance, most of the bigger, long-term maintenance can be scheduled during the slowest times of the year. 

In the end, it shouldn’t be about whether production can spare a machine for “two hours this week.” It needs to be about how to keep that machine running and producing high-quality products on a consistent basis for as long as possible. This maximizes the return on your equipment investment. 

Mike Biffl is the Eastern sales manager for Stürtz Machinery Inc., a Twinsburg, Ohio-based supplier of standalone and automated equipment and systems for the production of vinyl windows and doors. Biffl joined Stürtz in January of 2000.