8 Elements of Preventive Maintenance

Sept. 28, 2010

As important as they are, there is more to preventive maintenance than grease jobs, oil drains and filter changes. In fact, there are eight distinct elements that play important roles in the overall preventive maintenance program of any fleet.

Those elements are actually activities that surround the machine from the moment it is purchased to the day its usefulness comes to an end. They are purchasing, operator training, technician training, scheduled maintenance, repairs, consumables, fleet sizing and machine disposal.

Bundle them all together and you have a total package that will increase the machine's life cycle and, at the same time, maximize the unit's economical value. Although the combined cost of such activities might make the company's accountant sit back with eyebrows raised, even he will realize the dollars and cents of it all when he compares them to the cost of helter-skelter maintenance and the potential risks of production-draining downtime or profit-stealing catastrophic failure.

1. Purchasing. Ron Hutchinson, CEM, Midwest-South construction equipment manager for Barrett Paving Materials, asks three to five different vendors for quotes. "I have a spread sheet that contains things I'm looking for in a machine: buckets, horsepower, fuel consumption, warranty, extended warranties and their price," he says. "I put all that down on the spread sheet, along with other pertinent information, and compare one machine with another. Based on my experience, I look at the reliability of the brand of machine and, again based on past experience, the reliability of the service department."

He also considers geography. "You don't want a dealer who is 100 miles away," Hutchinson says. "Just because he is the cheapest, you might not want to go with him if the cost of operation is higher. Also, with the cost of today's fuel, you have to take a good, hard look at the fuel consumption. Ten gallons a day over 10 years is a large chunk of money for the operating cost over the life of the machine."

Technical research and analysis of competing brands play a major part in purchasing at Parsons Construction, according to Robert Andrade, CEM, vice president, equipment asset management; and Theresa F. Anderson, CEM, corporate equipment manager. Factors include service intervals, lowest estimated cost, lowest estimated operating cost per mile per vehicle, parts availability, productivity, and technician training.

The operator's manual for a new machine may not include any rapidly advancing technological upgrades. Hutchinson says OEMs or dealers should be able to give you a website where you can check the updates 24 hours a day. "And a lot of times," he says, "if you twist their arm a little bit, you can get the latest CD on the machine."

Anderson says this ability plays into purchasing decisions. "That's really what would steer us toward one manufacturer rather than another," she says. "The frequent updates on a website would be part of the purchasing requirement."

Parsons also usually goes with a three-year extended warranty. "You're trying to go to your lowest operating cost," Andrade says, "and you focus on which machine is going to be the easiest in terms of maintenance and which machine is going to be more productive.

"That's a perfect-world scenario," he says. "The problem is there are some machines that are more productive than others. Sometimes you have to go for a more productive machine with less service packages. We don't like to do that, but sometimes we have to."

2. Operator training. Operators need to know how to take advantage of the newest technical capability of a machine. Parsons relies heavily on the dealer or manufacturer to explain instruments, controls and other functions to operators. "What good is all that advanced technology that helps production and efficiency if the operator doesn't use it?" says Andrade.

Hutchinson says operators should also be well-versed in maintenance. "The operator is the first line of defense to keep the machine up and running," he says. "He's going to be the one to know if something is wrong. He can let us know if it's getting slower when it comes to production, which indicates a problem with hydraulics, or simply let us know that it's not running right so we can get someone out there to take a look. It could be something simple like a fan, but if you let it go and the fan belt slides off, the machine is going to be down. That will cost you more than just the fan belt."

Dale Warner, CEM, C.J. Miller, agrees. "If the operator understands the maintenance, he understands the value of performance and what to expect out of it," he says. "Our operators clean the air filters, and they fuel. Our operators also do their own oil checking."

Andrade says technology has "taken the operator out of the equation."

"It's almost like working on your own car," he says. "Ten years ago you could do that, but today if you have a computer problem on your car you can't work on it. Machines have evolved into the same thing. When you have a fault code, the operator is clueless. You have to get a mechanic involved."

3. Technician training. Faced with ever-advancing new technology, technicians are the first to be sent into training. Warner provides an example.

"We bought a Wirtgen brand machine that is made in Germany," he says. "Our workers weren't familiar with it, so we loaded all the maintenance people and the operators and sent them to Tennessee, where the German company has a dealer. They were there for a week."

C.J. Miller takes advantage of dealer training, says Warner. "Not many operators go to them," he says, "but our mechanics do. We have 15 to 18 technicians, and in a year's time they undergo three weeks of training, plus some off-evening sessions such as brake or electrical seminars sponsored by local dealers."

Parsons uses dealers, OEMs and technical schools. "We try to coordinate with the dealer and the OEM to get our technicians trained on the new technology. Sometimes it does force you to outsource, but that's rare. Usually we do our own work and we firmly believe in training our technicians."

Hutchinson says his company believes in technician training to such an extent that if he has to outsource repairs, "we'll take it one step further. I try to have one of my technicians there to watch and learn how the repair work is done. It gets expensive, but six months down the road you're not waiting for an OEM mechanic to come in and fix something."

4. Scheduled maintenance. Keep it as simple as possible, Hutchinson says. "We have stickers on the machine that says when it reaches 9,000 hours to call the shop and get it scheduled," he says. "If you schedule it right, you're working on the machine when it's not being used. And you'll be working on it on straight time, not overtime."

Scheduled maintenance enhances utilization, Warner says. "The only way you can have availability is to maintain the machine."

5. Repairs. To reduce both costs and maintenance, keep the machine clean. Cleaning up the machine is just another check to make sure everything functions, says Anderson.

"By keeping them clean, you protect against corrosion," she says. "I can get 250,000 miles on some of my trucks now and that use to be unheard of. So you have the units longer and keeping them clean cuts out the rust and definitely pays off."

Of course, many other factors play into equipment repairs: failure analysis, which is critical to any PM program; oil analysis, which is basically a diagnostic tool; careful organization of parts after disassembly; determining the root cause of any failure.

6. Consumables. Hutchinson says tracking consumables may enable you to reduce costs. "If you buy $10,000 worth of filters, for instance, talk to your vendor and ask what kind of program he can put together that could beat that price."

Consumables are kept in stock at the maintenance shop, some are handled by vendors, and if the project is big enough, some are kept at the job site. Tires and filters might be stocked by both fleet and vender.

"Some jobs, depending on the size, have consumables stocked in trailers on the jobsite that can be locked," Anderson says. Manufacturers visit the site and keep the trailers supplied with such things as frequently used filters or components.

Warner, on the other hand, doesn't stock anything on the job. He also tries to minimize parts and inventory. "We stock oil in bulk," he says, "and the vendor is in here every week checking inventory. For tires, we partner with a local tire dealer."

7. Fleet sizing. A fleet needs enough units to meet production demands, but it must be properly utilized. "Fleet sizing drives production," says Hutchinson, "as well as the size of the facility you have to work in, the number of technicians you have, the number of parts people — the trickle-down effect adds to all the costs."

Warner says he's made some changes to control fleet size. He uses a slightly bigger machine to replace two smaller ones. "If we can't keep a machine working, then I get rid of it."

8. Machine disposal. Past history plays a role in disposal, Warner says. "For instance, right now we're starting to slow down a little bit on scraper work. These machines have 15,000 hours on them. We have a bunch of scrapers that sell for $60,000 or $70,000 dollars each. Do I just abruptly get rid of them for, say, $100,000 and then go out next year and buy more at $700,000 each? I'd be better off putting $15,000 of repairs into the units. These are the kinds of things you have to consider when it comes to the disposal of machines."

Hutchinson tracks machines by category. "We look at average cost per hour, average labor cost and so forth," he says. "If we find the unit is costing more than the average life in the field, if it nickel and dimes us to death, we dispose of it."

The better a machine is maintained and the more competent the repairs and operations, the longer the interval between purchase and disposal.

Warner tracks machine life based on fuel consumption. "When it comes up to X number of gallons, we consider its useful life done," he says. "That's when we really start to scrutinize it. That's the number that turns the light bulb on."

Key Aspects of Training Programs

The heart of any construction fleet training program is its people: machine operators and technicians who keep the machines moving. Theresa F. Anderson, CEM, corporate equipment manager for Parsons Construction, says even though the dealer or OEM provide instruction, she still faces challenges. For one thing, manufacturers have made computer controls on the machines so complicated and introduced so many variations on how to set the machine up, many operators don't understand what they need to do, she says. "They just jump in the seat and make it run, as opposed to truly finding out its creep mode, high power mode or cycle mode. It's hard to get them to use these performance modes. Manufacturers have put certain components on the units to make them easier and more productive. Unless the operator goes through training and listens and learns what the dealer has to say, they won't even know how to use the added capabilities."

It is important for operators to learn what the machine can do, she says. It does no good if they continue to operate a new machine with new technology the same way they did the old machine. "You really have to stay on top of this," she says. "Watch them and encourage them to read the operators manual to its fullest potential and to use that technology."

Ron Hutchinson, CEM, construction equipment manager for the Midwest and South, Barrett Paving Materials, says operators need to be trained, first of all, in how to operate the machine safely. They also need to be trained on daily inspections and learn such things as how to tighten fan belts and know what a fault light means when it comes on.

Qualified operators are hard to find, says Dale Warner, CEM, C.J. Miller. He's tapped into an influx of Spanish-speaking residents who moved into his area. "I hired a parts man who is from Mexico to act as my interpreter," he says. "The operators and all new hires go through a three-day indoctrination course. Operators go out with the interpreter, who is very knowledgeable about the machines. He takes them through the steps, such as pre-shift inspection and how to properly check the machine out."

Parsons also relies on dealers and OEMs for technician training. "Technology is always advancing and changing, so it's very, very important for them to learn the new systems," she says. "We equip our mechanics with laptops. We do the downloads. Again, you have to teach the technicians to use the laptop and teach them its value: to extract data and get a diagnosis." Or look for a solution which may simply be setting up the computer operating modes correctly.

The Importance of Oil Analysis

It has been said so often that it has become a cliché; but things that are true often become clichés. It's this. Oil analysis is like a blood test. A blood test can tell you if your cholesterol is too high, for instance, which allows the doctor to treat the problem before it reaches stroke or heart-attack level.

Oil analysis allows technicians to treat the problem before it becomes a catastrophic failure.

"I live and breathe oil analysis," says Dale Warner, CEM, C.J. Miller. "It's the cornerstone of any preventive maintenance program. It's also a key that tells you when to replace or rebuild a piece of equipment."

Warner says the first thing he does when he arrives every morning is pick up the oil analysis sample bottles collected during the previous evening. "I fill out the forms myself so I can make sure the information is right. Oil analysis is so important I've sent a person home for not taking a sample. I'll take a day's pay for doing that."

He does 8,000 oil samples a year. "Everything we do, every component, every drain interval is sampled," he says. "We trend everything and we also do particle counting on every PM, especially on large excavators and large hydraulic system. We also refilter to keep the machines clean."

Oil analysis helps determine if one element in an engine is rising or not, says Ron Hutchinson, construction equipment manager for Midwest and South, Barrett Paving Materials. If it is, that element in an engine might come from rod bearings, cam bearings or oil cooler. "You can use oil analysis to pinpoint your problem," he says.

Theresa F. Anderson, Parsons Construction, says shops don't recognize the value of oil analysis because they don't understand it. "They don't know that a lot of chrome may be a ball bearing problem," she says. "They aren't getting the education they need. Oil analysis is meaningless if you don't train your people to analyze the data properly."

Calculating Residual Value

One of the hardest things a fleet manager has to do, says Ron Hutchinson, Barrett Paving Material, is to calculate residual value of the fleet.

"It all depends on whether you are a high-performance or low-performance fleet," Hutchinson says. "High performance means you turn the machines over quickly. Low performance means you keep the machines longer."

He calculates fleet value on such factors as published book values and auction reports, for instance, to find out what dozers are selling for. "You use that as a base line," he says. "If the base line is $20,000 you know you can't ask $40,000 for a machine and you know you don't want to ask $10,000."

Another consideration that should be factored in, says Hutchinson, is the maintenance program you have on the machine.

Dale Warner, CEM, C. J. Miller, has to calculate fleet residual value twice a year, he says. "If you don't keep adjusting the value of your machines, your insurance cost will go up."

He says his estimated replacement value is almost $70 million. The insured value, or residual value, is probably $28 million. "And that constantly adjusts," he says.

Every six months Warner looks at published values, using resale value and quick sale value, or "what it's worth right off the street."

He deducts about 17 percent from quick-sale value. He also looks at auction guides. "I try to place the value of equipment as if I had to sell it today," he says.