Machinery maintenance is an ongoing task for all businesses, regardless of its location, budgets or facilities. Having a planned approach to maintenance is essential for the efficient and reliable operation of the machinery fleet, and even those who change their fleet regularly on finance deals will still need to undertake regular, routine basic maintenance.
Where there is some maintenance carried out, how well is this run, and is the maintenance programme reactive, or proactive?
The old adage is that prevention is better than cure, and this is especially fitting when it comes to machinery maintenance.
Preventative: This sounds easy, but it takes a lot of planning and organisation to get it right. Bad habits must be broken, and a new programme introduced - this is a time and money saver when done well. The staff are less stressed, the machinery just works and, if there is a problem, there is more time to fix it.
Corrective: Get out the welder, get ready to work late, because it will go down at the worst time, and the parts won't be in stock either; it is stressful, and expensive. Oh, and these repairs won't be in your budget either!
Don't blame your local dealer for not having every single part in stock when you need them. The dealer must try and forecast your needs and a little planning on your part can make a huge difference to the level of service you receive.
A Seasonal Business: The turf machinery world is more difficult to predict than the automotive world, where mileage rates are usually a constant all year round, so scheduling service appointments is much easier. We have a seasonal industry, which is then further affected by the vagaries of the weather. However, we all know that the grass grows rapidly in the spring, slows in the summer and goes again in the early autumn before winter brings the growing season to a close.
A busy golf course or sports facility will also have a range of events in the sporting calendar. The turf maintenance practices of aeration, topdressing and renovation must be planned around these events. The machinery maintenance requirements must also be planned into this schedule, so that the machinery is ready for the work programme, and available for the required routine servicing.
So, there is a predicable trend to it and, if we can track that by recording simple engine hours per month, we can see the annual trends for each piece of machinery.
This way, we can see historic usage trends and the planned use for the months ahead. Now, we can plan the servicing schedule.
This method also means that less frequently used equipment is serviced as well. It's too easy to concentrate on the front-line machines and forget about the rest of the fleet, only to find that it lets you down when you really need it.
Any realistic plan must be data driven, and maintenance plans are no different!
An Annual Service: All front-line machinery must be given a full service at least once a year. Mowers, tractors, utility vehicles, even the humble strimmers and hedge trimmers all have a service requirement which, if met, will increase their reliability and productivity.
We used to call this the "winter service", as all mowing would conveniently stop in October and not start again until late March.
However, in so many parts of the country, the grass cutting season can run through to December, and start again in February or early March. So there just isn't the time for servicing large fleets through the winter periods like there was before.
Hence the deliberate change to an 'annual' service, which of course can be done at any time when the machine is not being fully utilised. The current trend for hotter, drier summers are a perfect opportunity for this.
By phasing the annual servicing requirements across the year, (whilst avoiding the main cutting seasons of spring and autumn), the full fleet can get the attention it deserves, and the added advantage of spreading the work like this means the budgets are also more evenly spread across the year.
The more frequent servicing of engine oil changes and replacement of wearing parts should be scheduled according to the expected hours of actual use. By regularly recording engine hours, it is easy to track the usage of each machine and then build a historic usage pattern. This will then guide the maintenance so that the service schedule matches the expected hours of use.
Replacing lower cost filters, worn bushes and damaged seals is much easier and far less costly than replacing pumps, bearing housings, rams and motors. It really does make economic sense.
Operators manual: Its been said so many times, and here we say it again; refer to the manual! It will have the recommended service schedules, all the correct fluid specifications and detail all the maintenance tasks which need to be performed. This really is the bible for each machine and must be used when setting up a maintenance plan.
Parts availability: Once a machine is booked in, all the obvious parts can be ordered in advance. A pre-service inspection should discover any additional items that will be necessary to get the machine back to working at its best. The more you have it covered, the less surprises there will be, and the easier life will become for all involved.
Oftentimes, there will be a list of unreported faults, damage and issues, particularly on the commercial equipment. Where this is found, there is an opportunity for some timely "operator maintenance" as well! If routine servicing or adjustments are not being done correctly, then give the operator some training, so they know how to do it correctly. If there are any costs in getting this done, its going to be far less expensive than repairing broken machinery in the future.
If the working hours are more regular, then you should move from an hours-based programme, to a calendar based one. This is where the machinery has a scheduled monthly service appointment for oils changes, blade replacement, belt tensioning, roller inspections etc.
Such a regular regime allows an audit of the operator maintenance tasks of greasing and adjustment and the reporting of defects.
Faults are nipped in the bud and the machine condition is regularly checked. It's well known that operator accountability will reduce machinery damage and that saves you time and money.
Planned Preventative Maintenance
1. Track the engine hours every month and record them. This will give you the monthly usage for each type of machine, allowing you to plan your maintenance schedules more accurately.
2. Work out how long each maintenance check should take, (in minutes and hours) from the operators daily check, the weekly greasing, monthly oil changes, and rotary blade sharpening or replacement. Right through to the annual servicing, hydraulic oil changes, unit grinds and rebuilds.
3. Once you have a time sheet for each task, it's so much easier to start scheduling this, so that the workshop can cope with the flow of servicing, and so that you can start to plan your parts usage and pre-order in advance of the routine service work.
4. Get the buy-in from operational managers so they understand the need to take machinery out for service and how this helps improve the quality of the performance. You need to know the topdressing and renovation schedules, so you don't send your freshly ground units out on the day after they've topdressed the greens!
5. From here, it's a short step to setting a monthly and annual budget for the rolling maintenance plan. That should keep the treasurer happy.
Its called 'planned preventative maintenance' for a reason, it doesn't just happen, you really do have to plan it, and do the maintenance ahead of the work schedule, so that the machinery is ready to go when its needed. This might sound a little daunting, but it's straightforward once you start planning when and how you get your maintenance done.
There is no excuse for tired, blunt machinery being sent out to cut grass. If the cut quality is poor, it takes longer to get the job done, uses more fuel and stresses the equipment, leading to increased breakdowns and even higher maintenance costs.
If you need some training to get up to speed with your machinery maintenance, then ask your local dealer about training support. All the major manufacturers run workshop training courses for dealer and customer staff each year, and there are good practical courses available at the BTME exhibition every year.
Perhaps the only question left to ask is; can you really afford not to do it?