Have you ever spent all night or all weekend working on a job because of a bindery equipment breakdown? If you’re like me, that’s probably the moment you took a keener interest in maintaining your equipment. It’s been my experience that a large number of printing companies have this type of ‘reactive maintenance’ program. When something breaks you fix it.
The production demands on employees in print shops and bindery departments can be high. Everyone wears many hats. You do your best to take care of your equipment but there is probably not a formal maintenance program in place.
If your company embraces Lean manufacturing or has a program like the Total Production Maintenance program from the Printing Industries of America, you’ve got a leg up on those without a program. Perhaps you’ve read some of the thousands of books on the subject or taken courses. Heck, you can get a college degree in the subject if you like.
The sheer volume of information available and the scope of the task is enough to dissuade even the most determined student of maintenance. Thus we stick to ‘reactive’ maintenance because it’s easier and it’s acceptable. But as Murphy’s Laws teach us, there is always the unexpected which will occur at the worst possible moment, even with a preventive maintenance program in place.
There are however, some simple maintenance rules to follow that I learned by being a private pilot. These help prevent the unexpected and enable us to deal with them effectively when they do occur.
Why borrow from pilots? Well, if you owned and flew an airplane, wouldn’t you want your maintenance program to be perfect? You’re not likely to go flying if you know your maintenance is suspect. It’s YOUR life on the line, not your mechanics. And as a pilot, wouldn’t you want it to be simple to manage?
Of course lives aren’t usually at stake in bindery equipment maintenance (although they can be). Yet the life of the business is at stake. Deadlines are very real and can be very expensive when missed. So it makes sense that we too should want our maintenance tasks to be very good and very easy.
With that in mind, here are 5 Rules for Cost Effective Bindery Equipment Maintenance which will eliminate a lot of the chaos of ‘reactive maintenance’. The ideas below were inspired from an article by Mike Busch, an aviation columnist, pilot and owner of Savvy Aircraft Maintenance Management. As an aircraft owner and pilot, these are rules that he lives by, in the truest sense!
Rule 1—Select a Manager
If no one has responsibility for maintenance, by default you end up with a reactive program. Even the most meticulous, caring machine operator needs to be given time for maintenance. In other words you still need a manager.
So the first step is to appoint someone from your staff to manage maintenance, even if it’s you. It might also make sense to have a team of individuals selected from various departments. This person or this team is then responsible for the vitally important task of selecting the mechanics or technicians responsible for servicing their respective equipment.
Rule 2—Choose the Right Technicians and Support Team
Busch likes to use the rule of the “3 C’s” in making his selection. The prospective mechanic MUST be all three:
- Competent. They must be experienced at troubleshooting and servicing your equipment. If, for instance, the folding machine mechanic is experienced at MBO repairs but has never laid hands on your type of Horizon folder, then you’ll want to think twice before letting him work on your machine.
- Communicative. They must keep you apprised of what’s going on as work progresses, especially with complicated jobs. If they tell you to buzz off or they have a dismissive, superior air, it’s time to reconsider.
- Cooperative. Are they customer oriented and willing to work with you in a way that’s comfortable for you? If they are dogmatic about doing things their way only, move along to the next fellow.
I recall my struggle to produce complicated, high quality books on a very old McCain saddle stitcher. We decided it was time to replace it with something newer and brought in someone to help us. He happened to be a McCain expert (competent) and after talking it over, (communicative) he got the old museum piece running at top speed. He explained to us why a second, similar vintage, refurbished McCain would be a better solution even though we were willing to buy newer equipment (cooperative). So we bought it. He had all 3 C’s going for him and both machines performed for years.
Rule 3—Insist on Written Estimates
Have you ever OK’d a repair job without an estimate, only to have a heart attack upon seeing the final bill? I thought so.
There should be three phases to this process which ensure that you, the equipment owner and/or manager, are always kept in the loop.
- Inspection. The mechanic troubleshoots and lays out a list of parts and service needed.
- Approval. The maintenance manager reviews the list and approves the repairs.
- Repair. The mechanic works on the approved repairs. If unforeseen things arise that aren’t on the approved repair list, he discusses them with the maintenance manager before proceeding. That way there are no surprises.
Rule 4—If it Ain’t Broke, Don’t Let Them Fix It
When you read a maintenance manual, you’ll almost always see “time directed” maintenance items. For instance, “Change the hydraulic oil every 40 hours.” But often these items are guesstimates, based on average usage in a “standard” region. The problem with this is you might be sacrificing a lot of service life needlessly, which means you’re paying more money…needlessly.
With the prevalence of new electronic monitoring equipment, it’s easier to use “condition based” maintenance. With monitoring, you only do the repair or replacement when the condition of the part requires it. In our hydraulic oil example, there are in-line monitors that will tell you precisely when the oil is contaminated to the point of requiring change.
You might be able to monitor some items with simple visual inspections. For instance, belts or chains might simply need to be looked at once a month.
In short, if you can put a system in place for monitoring important equipment and their components, you can replace them only when needed. You don’t need to rely on a schedule that adds costs without necessarily increasing reliability.
Rule 5—Don’t Fix it Until You KNOW What’s Wrong
Have you ever called a mechanic in to fix a problem only to find that the problem reappears on the very next job? This is a troubleshooting failure. It happens when you try to fix a problem without really understanding the cause.
Troubleshooting is probably the toughest part of maintenance for a few very good reasons. Sometimes the problem is hard to duplicate without running a specific job. When the mechanic arrives you might be on a different job. But he needs to completely understand what is happening before he can troubleshoot the cause.
Otherwise he is forced to use experienced guesswork to fix the problem. As Busch says, “When the mechanic guesses, the owners pay.”
Good troubleshooting also requires good systems knowledge. If your operator or mechanic lack that, their troubleshooting efforts will suffer.
These rules are not a replacement for an overall maintenance and production strategy. But they will help you deal with the unexpected more effectively, and hopefully keep your weekends free.
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