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Taking — and Keeping — Stock (Conclusion)

Simple steps can keep small problems from becoming major issues

CHICAGO — In an equipment-dependent field like dry cleaning, a broken machine can slam the brakes on the work in process, and cause headaches and heartaches for owners who see lost production time and opportunities.

In Part 1 of this series, we saw how keeping some basic parts and tools on hand can get a broken piece of equipment back up and running in minutes, rather than days, and in Part 2, we examined some ways to keep those machines from breaking down in the first place. Today, for the conclusion, we’ll look at how a simple walkthrough of your plant can help you spot trouble before it takes hold.

Stop, Look and Listen

While professional diagnostic tools are useful when making repairs, daily and weekly preventative maintenance tasks can be accomplished by simply paying attention.

“Once you fire up your boiler in the morning, after about 15 minutes, you should do a walk-through of your plant,” says Lou D’Autorio, owner of Skylou Mechanical, a Florida-based repair service. “If you see steam coming out of anywhere — a press, a pipe or wherever — you have an issue. You’re burning energy and you’re losing money. Then, at the end of your day, turn your compressor off and walk your plant. If you can hear air, you have a leak somewhere. Those are two things that are always neglected. They’re easy fixes and you can save yourself money.”

Bob Aldrich, president of Aldrich CleanTech in Worcester, Massachusetts, says when it comes to conveyors, a lack of lubrication on the carrier pins and the wheels is commonplace.

“A lot of cleaners, if they push the button and it turns on and brings the clothes down, they’re happy,” he says. “We’ll go in and hear it making all kinds of noise and screeching. What happens, especially with the up-and-down conveyors, is that the actual chain will stretch enough that, if you walk into the plant, you’ll see the chain kicked out at almost a 30-degree angle. The actual framework of the conveyor extends and starts breaking the aluminum support carriers, and it becomes a nightmare.”

Steve Henley, western sales manager of drycleaning machine manufacturer Realstar USA, believes that taking care of the basics on a machine can also pay dividends — with cleaner clothes now and fewer problems in the future.

“Some cleaners don’t take the time to manually clean their still — where the solvent is distilled or purified — on a regular basis, or clean or change the filters as needed,” he says. “These steps ensure that the solvent is clean and gives them the best cleaning performance.”

Other necessary PM tasks are just as easy.

“The lint filters and button trap should be cleaned after every load,” Henley says. “It’s as simple as hitting the ‘open lock’ button on the computer, pulling the button trap out and getting the lint, coins, paper clips or anything that might have come out of the garments that were missed before loading the machine. It only takes a minute or two.”

Neglecting the simple things like cleaning the button trap can lead to bigger problems down the road, Henley warns.

“A paper clip, for example, can get missed when the cleaner checks the pockets,” he says. “The clip can come out of the pocket and go through the piping. If it bypasses the button trap, it can get into your solvent pump. There, it can potentially crack the ceramic. Now, there’s solvent leaking out, and solvent can get expensive.”

Jerry Moore, owner of Moore Services in Cleveland, Ohio, suggests that dry cleaners shouldn’t ignore the reality of what it is they do for a living, and how it affects their machines and their environment.

“In dry cleaning, dust and dirt is really our business,” he says. “Otherwise, those clothes wouldn’t come in. And unfortunately, dust and dirt are our biggest enemy as a service company, because it gets everywhere. A lot of dry cleaners ignore lint, dust and dirt around critical parts of the store. A lot of machines now run on inverter drives, for example. In just the last week, we sold several of those — and they’re very expensive — because they were plugged up with lint.”

Moore also asserts that lubrication is not “a good idea” but a necessity.

“Pretty much every machine has grease fittings on it,” he says, “that say right on them, ‘Grease Monthly.’ And again, that comes down to creating standard practices that will keep repair people away and keep you in business.”

Staying on Top

Building a preventative maintenance schedule into normal activities and keeping a stock of supplies on hand is not a drain on time and resources but, instead, is an investment.

“The equipment is so much more expensive and is so much more complex than it was years ago,” Aldrich says. “The nice thing about our equipment now, though, is that the maintenance schedules aren’t as frequent as they used to be. But, if you neglect them, the repairs can get very expensive. With the proper parts and maintenance, cleaners can get better performance and a longer life out of their equipment.”

“Being aligned with a decent service provider can go a long way,” Moore says. “Ask your service provider to identify or assist you in coming up with a periodic preventative maintenance list. Most of us will do that and give you some guideline in terms of where to start.”

“Time is money,” D’Autorio says. “We’re busy enough in this industry as it is. If you don’t do the small stuff, you’ll pay for the big stuff.”  

For Part 1, click HERE. For Part 2, click HERE.