Equipment Maintenance Tools

Sept. 28, 2010

The most important equipment maintenance tools aren't compressors, wrenches, screwdrivers, flow meters, torque and impact wrenches, and all the other gadgets and devices that overflow a shop's tool crib or mechanic's toolbox.

The most important equipment maintenance tools aren't compressors, wrenches, screwdrivers, flow meters, torque and impact wrenches, and all the other gadgets and devices that overflow a shop's tool crib or mechanic's toolbox. They are your software programs, records, service trucks, tool control systems, and oil analysis programs, to list just some of the more critical of the collection.

Having an equipment management program is the most important tool. Without one, you won't set goals and objectives and you will have no way of knowing how well you are doing. Equipment records are an essential part of any program. There are a variety of software programs currently available that can help you develop a program if you don't have one or update your program if you do have one. This link will take you to a product listing of current programs.

Typically all maintenance programs are based on a series of periodic inspections and services. Most programs use hours as the primary method of scheduling these inspections and/or services. If your operation is routine, i.e. you are doing the same things daily and for the same amounts of time each day, there is no reason you can't use the calendar for scheduling your maintenance activities. A third method is based on fuel consumption. In this type of program the schedule, other than daily pre-start inspections, is based on the amount of fuel the machine consumes. It is probably the most accurate, non-technologically based method of scheduling service and inspection intervals because it is actually based on the amount of work a machine does rather than the passage of time or the time a machine is on and running.


Technology offers yet another way of monitoring the critical health of your equipment. Most of the equipment manufacturers offer programs that monitor the functionality of your equipment in real time, keep you apprised of its operating conditions, and give you a warning when a problem develops or is developing.

Caterpillar, for example, has Product Link and Equipment Manager available. Product Link enables information flow with your machines in the field and is accessed via a secure web-based application, EquipmentManager. With key indicators from your equipment such as hours, location and diagnostic codes and powerful tools like mapping, maintenance scheduling and severity indicators, this application enables quick identification of actions required to maximize equipment uptime and control your owning and operating costs.

Another example is Komatsu's KOMTRAX. The KOMTRAX system was designed to give owners and managers the information they need to make strategic business decisions regarding machines and their operations. The intended payoff is increased productivity and machine availability, as well as smarter management. The system comes installed on almost all new Komatsu construction equipment including excavators, crawler dozers, wheel loaders, articulated dump trucks, smaller dump trucks, and motor graders.

Other manufacturers such as Deere, Case, etc. offer similar systems as do some communications and software suppliers such as LoJack, Qualcomm and Maxwell.

Until recently, one of the biggest problems with remote monitor systems has been reliable communications links. Satellites aren't always the easiest things to use. When the sender/receiver is under cover (and that cover can be a roof, heavy tree growth and severe cloud cover in some instances), transmissions are not always reliable. Inmarsat, a 30-year-old satellite service provider, has recently introduced its new Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN) service. It provides instant, on-site voice and high-speed data connectivity for your remote projects — no matter where they're located or for how long. Project and site managers can send progress reports, still images and video back to head office directly from the construction site — improving efficiency and productivity and helping to reduce completion times. According to Inmarsat, BGAN terminals are robust, highly portable and can be set up in minutes. They're ideal for managers moving from site to site — or you can establish a multi-user office on site with fast and reliable access to all your standard office applications.

Of course, once you have a program it has to be used and supported by everyone from the top on down. Before you sell the operators on the program's importance, you have to convince the president, chairman, owner, or whoever is running the company that their support and backing is critical. Without it, the program won't work.

Oil Analysis

When oil analysis was first introduced to this industry, it was viewed as a gimmick. Well it wasn't then and it isn't now. Today engine, hydraulic system, coolant systems, and equipment and vehicle manufacturers embrace the concept and endorse its value as a critical equipment maintenance/management tool. Virtually every equipment manufacturer and oil producer either has its own oil analysis programs or uses the services of an independent lab. A visit to our website will give you a look at some of them.

Donaldson filters operates its program through an independent laboratory. See how it works online.

The Donaldson oil analysis service includes evaluating the results of the tests performed and provides detailed reports, including specific maintenance recommendations. You can use the data and recommendations to improve your preventive maintenance, reduce equipment downtime, and reduce your overall cost of lubricants by extending oil drain intervals.

There are five processing steps to the Donaldson oil analysis service:

  1. Collect the sample
  2. Complete the Sample Processing Form
  3. Label the sample
  4. Send the sample to lab
  5. Review the results

The Laboratory Report is the heart of the program. Each computerized report indicates the results of the current and up to five previous samples for a given sampling point — making trending simple — plus comments and maintenance recommendations provided by trained Data Analysts. After testing is complete, Data Analysts evaluate the results and make specific comments about the results, their significance and recommended maintenance actions. In all cases, the final decision to follow the recommendations is yours.

The bottom line is that Donaldson as well as others you might use for oil analysis provide you with test results and recommendations, which you can use as a tool to make more accurate maintenance decisions. The effectiveness of this tool is related to the quality of the sample, the information you provide the lab, and your desire to use this service.

With any oil sampling program it's important to remember that it is a tool that will help you make better, more accurate decisions about your equipment. The accuracy and value depend on what you put into it. You need to be timely with your samples, the samples must be collected according to the lab's instructions, and the samples must be turned over to the lab as soon as possible. The information you get back needs to be analyzed and understood; call the lab immediately if you have any questions. Oil analysis is probably the best maintenance tool you will ever find.

Other Tools

Another vital maintenance tool is your service or maintenance truck. Properly equipped and designed for your specific application, it can and will contribute to keeping machine availability at its highest possible level. In order to do this, it must be in good operating condition.

Mechanics trucks might not always be thought of as the heroes of the job site, but in many respects they are. When equipment breaks down and productivity stops, the mechanics truck swoops in, fixes the problem and brings dreaded downtime to a halt. It's a bit ironic that mechanics trucks — whose sole purpose is usually maintenance and repair — often get the short end of the maintenance stick.

"If a piece of equipment goes down and it can't be repaired in a timely manner because the crane on your mechanics truck is out of commission due to a neglected preventive maintenance (PM) schedule, then you are losing money," says Tim Worman, product manager of commercial vehicles at Iowa Mold Tooling Co. Inc. (IMT), a service truck and crane manufacturer.

Mechanics truck owners are typically good about keeping up on the chassis' PM schedule, but they often forget to be as diligent about other components of the service body, such as the crane and the air compressor. But an out-of-commission crane is just as detrimental to your fleet's productivity as the service truck's engine going out.

"What people don't often realize," Worman says, "is that mechanics trucks are a revenue generator. It's still a common misconception that these trucks are a cost center, a 'necessary evil.' That is far from the truth. A well-maintained and productive mechanics truck puts dollars back directly to your bottom line. Time is money, and downtime is the greatest enemy of profitability in a construction equipment fleet. There is no faster, more efficient way to repair equipment than on the job site, but only if you take good care of your mechanics trucks to ensure that they are available whenever they are needed."

The crane and air compressor — components added to the majority of mechanics trucks — are another story, however. Worman says IMT telescopic cranes and air compressors are also very durable and reliable and can last out in the field for many years, but only if the daily, monthly, quarterly, and annual maintenance and inspections are performed diligently. For a recommended service truck crane and compressor maintenance program, read the article "Service Trucks Need Some TLC Too."

Now the Toolbox

One of the keys to performing the maintenance requirements is having the tools to do the job. Tools have a bad habit of developing legs and getting lost, not finding their way back to the toolbox or tool crib. To illustrate the point, you could assume that a company that has designed and manufactured hundreds of gas and steam turbines throughout North America should not be at all concerned with the whereabouts of a 19-millimeter socket, right?

Actually, it's quite the opposite. According to Felix Voser, manager — Technical Support Gas Turbines for Alstom Power Inc., the ability to pinpoint the location of a tool and the person using it is not only critical to managing an outage efficiently, but is particularly important when it comes to making sure a tool hasn't been lost or misplaced.

Alstom has traditionally managed its tool program by purchasing any necessary tools from outside vendors, and then deploying such tools to customer sites in fully loaded "tool cribs." Despite Alstom's best efforts to manage the tools, at times Alstom had a lesser ability to control the crib's inventory once it was delivered to the job site. Identifying a more comprehensive means to accurately deploy and manage jobsite tools became a top priority.

A New Approach

Alstom Power turned to an outside source to help develop and manage the company's tooling program. Because this was such a drastic change from the past, Voser said he wanted a partner that could handle everything from start to finish — from identifying the necessary equipment to providing the tools and managing the program.

He turned to Snap-on Industrial and the company's Mobile Tool Solutions program. Already known for providing the highest quality tools, the company is also a valued partner in solving tool management challenges such as the ones faced by Alstom Power.

Snap-on Industrial was able to deliver a complete custom-built turnkey tool crib system, designed to meet Alstom's specific requirements. The modular system included Snap-on tools, storage and control systems, cabinets, shelving, as well as the electrical components, lighting and air conditioning. But the real key to this initiative was using the company's Level 5 Tool Control System to achieve complete tool management.

The Level 5 software offers CAD tool control layouts and electronic keyless entry systems, in addition to a sophisticated database management system that enables complete and accurate tool tracking.

According to Voser, the Snap-on Industrial solution was an "eye-opener" to what can be accomplished if a tool crib is properly managed using tool management software.

Alstom Power's first Snap-on mobile tool crib was sent to an outage in Milford, CT. Other sites in Burgin and Trapp, KY, soon followed. Upon completion of both jobs, Snap-on reported a much improved return and accountability rate of the inventory initially sent.

When one job is complete, the Snap-on Mobile Tool Solutions Crib is ready to move onto the next location. Mora said everything is designed to be quickly secured and stored as the crib is loaded onto a tractor trailer. At the same time, Alstom Power receives a printout of what tools need to be replaced, recalibrated or recertified before the tool crib moves on.

Voser said this greatly enhances the company's safety program, too, because accurate safety records can be kept for equipment such as rigging. It also alleviates the company's concerns when it comes to measurements and calibration because Alstom Power can quickly check if its measuring tools have been calibrated at scheduled intervals.

"The mobile tool crib with the tracking system has been a tremendous improvement for Alstom Power," said Voser.

There's a lot more to this article so — to steal a line from Paul Harvey, "for the rest of the story" —  read the article, "Controlling Jobsite Tools."

As we head into the uncertainty of the future, there is one thing we can be sure of, and that is if we want to get the most out of our equipment we need to invest in a serious maintenance program. This is one investment that will always give you a return in improved productivity and profits.