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Preventing Downtime (Part 2)

Listen to what your plant is telling you

CHICAGO — It’s doubtful that anyone has ever been excited to wake up in the morning to perform preventative maintenance at their drycleaning plant. On the other hand, there have been multitudes of owners who wished they had practiced good PM on their machines right after those machines broke down and stopped their plants cold. Having — and following — a preventative maintenance can keep your plant operating smoothly.

In Part 1 of this series, we started examining the four laws of effective preventative maintenance with Law No. 1: Small Things Can Add Up to Big Trouble. Let’s continue down the list with two more laws that will serve you well if you obey them.

Law No. 2: Stop, Look and Listen

So, what are some of the most valuable tools a cleaner can use for PM? Your eyes and your ears, says Vic Williams, the Eastern sales manager of equipment manufacturer Union Dry Cleaning. Sometimes, problems will present themselves to you — if you know how to look for them.

“I know when I walk in my plant and hear the boiler pumps running all the time,” says Williams, who also has owned Impressive Cleaners and Formal Wear in McDonough, Georgia, for the past 20 years. “I know something’s not right when I hear that.”

It’s not always easy to pay attention during business hours when the hustle of the plant might hide little hints that something is wrong.

“Go in on a Sunday when it’s quiet, and fire everything up,” Williams says. “And then just listen. Listen for air compressor leaks. Listen for the vacuum.”

If leaks are detected, he says, either fix them then and there, or mark their location for a maintenance call.

“This isn’t a business where everything works and you can just walk away,” says Williams. “It does require a little hand holding.”

Also, since your employees are the ones most familiar with the day-to-day operations of their machines, make sure they know to come to you when they believe there’s a problem.

“Listen to your operators, because they’re the ones who will tell you if their machines are starting to act funny,” says Mike Tungesvick, national sales manager for equipment manufacturer Sankosha USA. “The backbone of your company is your people, so pay attention to what they’re telling you.”

“If something isn’t working correctly, make sure your operators understand that they should let you know immediately, and not in a week,” Williams says. “That’s how big problems get started. A lot of this stuff is preventable if you just keep it simple.”

Law No. 3: Know Your Equipment

Knowing how a machine is supposed to operate when everything is working correctly is key to understanding when something is going wrong, Williams says, as well as how to care for it into the future.

When getting a new piece of equipment, he believes that it’s great to have the person who is going to operate it receive training by the manufacturer — but the owner needs to be involved, as well.

“Don’t be the person who stands back and says, ‘Just train my operator,’” Williams says. “What if that employee leaves next month? You have to know how to train someone else to run and maintain that machine.”

When it comes to performing preventative maintenance and repairs, knowing your own abilities is crucial, Williams says.

“Build a rapport with a good maintenance person,” he says. “That person is going to save you a lot of time and money, especially if you’re not mechanically inclined.”

Williams believes it’s best to call the manufacturer if the problem doesn’t seem to have an obvious fix, or if owners feel like they’re getting in over their heads. While this sometimes can result in needing a service call, he says that modern technology is always providing operators with new tools.

“The best invention ever is the iPhone, because we can FaceTime them,” Williams says of cleaners needing guidance. “So, if they say, ‘I’ve got this valve that’s sticking,’ but they’re not sure which valve, I can ask them to show me the machine working. We can solve a lot of problems by using the phone and being able to actually see what they’re seeing. It helps to speed up the service process.”

Educating yourself about your equipment is a great investment you can make in your business, says Jerry Moore, owner of equipment supplier Moore Services in Cleveland.

“Make yourself familiar with manuals,” he says. “Try and participate in what our trade associations have to offer. But most importantly, any time you have a service technician come in, you’re really going to want to follow them around. You don’t want to drive them crazy, but ask questions and watch what they do. If they’re comfortable with you, most are more than willing to share tips and tricks. Pay attention to what they do because it’s the fastest, easiest way to pick up on those simple things that you can do yourself.”

Come back Tuesday when we’ll finish up our examination of the four laws of effective preventative maintenance with what is potentially PM’s biggest enemy: procrastination. For Part 1, click HERE.