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Taking — and Keeping — Stock (Part 2)

Keep your drycleaning machines running smoothly and producing better results

CHICAGO — With life returning to the industry, now is the time for dry cleaners to start making up for lost time as business picks up. When a machine goes down, however, improving economic conditions quickly give way to mechanical realities.

In Part 1 of this series, we examined how having some simple parts and tools on hand can keep a breakdown from becoming a disaster, and today, we’ll look at further ways to minimize downtime by planning ahead.

Getting Proactive with Preventative Maintenance

One of the main benefits of having a stock of parts available is that a dry cleaner can head off expensive repairs down the road by taking care of problems while they’re still minor.

Preventative maintenance is key to keeping these issues small. Some machines require regular cleaning, and, just as you need to change the tires on a car, there are parts that simply wear out after regular use.

Consider the heart of a drycleaning plant: the drycleaning machine.

“With drycleaning machines, one of the most common complaints is the poor drying,” says Bob Aldrich, president of Aldrich CleanTech in Worcester, Massachusetts. “It could be from low freon levels, clogged air filters, the pneumatic valves that let the steam into the coils for heating are either not working or working poorly, or bad traps.”

When a drycleaning machine is operating poorly, Aldrich believes it quickly turns into a bigger problem.

“The neglect of the drycleaning machine is a direct correlation to a poor reflection of our industry to the consumers. The conditions we find some of these machines — the condition of the solvent, the filters, the separators, the tanks, the solvent coolers and heaters, the still condensers — is sometimes frightening. It makes for a bad product going out to the consumer, and it’s a black eye for our industry.”

Another problem Jerry Moore, owner of Moore Services in Cleveland, Ohio, has found that all cleaners must deal with regularly is leaks.

“Steam and air leaks start as minor issues and turn into something major,” he says. “Now it’s really broken, and the cleaner needs parts. Now they need service. Now they need emergency service, which always costs more. And, as a lot of people have said within the industry, you detect them by listening, or by doing a walk-through, or by establishing some kind of a preventive maintenance program on your own.”

For Lou D’Autorio, owner of Skylou Mechanical, a Florida-based repair service, a good preventative maintenance program solves two problems.

“It saves time, and it saves money,” he says. “Shutdowns are costly, and when something breaks, you’re down. So now you have the expense of trying to get the part if you don’t have one on hand, and that expense comes with overnight shipping, which is way more expensive than regular shipping.

“You also have the cost of an upset customer because you didn’t get their stuff done when you promised it to them. So, when you stay ahead of the curve and routinely maintain your equipment and evaluate it, the likelihood of a breakdown is minimized greatly.”

Also, as the pandemic fades and people need more cleaning done, now is not the time to have a machine down.

“Probably the most important aspect of preventative maintenance is just minimizing emergency service calls,” Aldrich says. “When the industry gets rolling again, and it’s crunch time for everybody, will there be a technician available in your area? How quickly can they get there?”

Starting a PM Program

For D’Autorio, the first step of setting up a preventative maintenance program starts in one place: “Get all your manuals. Every piece of equipment you buy comes with a manual; if you don’t have the manual, contact your manufacturer. Each manual comes its own maintenance schedule — weekly, monthly, quarterly and yearly.”

D’Autorio suggests delegating weekly inspections, so that more eyes are available to check every machine. Also, the time of the week can be important for setting up a regular schedule.

“Most plants are slower on a Friday than they are on Mondays, so make Friday your inspection day,” he says. “Everybody inspects their equipment, wipes it down, makes sure it’s functioning properly and gives you a report of any issues that are starting to arise.”

Moore says that setting up a preventative maintenance schedule the correct way from the beginning is vital for future success.

“It really matters that, whoever sets up the program, they have an understanding of how everything works — how each machine is a part of the drycleaning process and how each machine impacts the finished product,” he says. “You can outsource someone to come up with a PM program for you, or you can do it yourself.”

Moore also cautions dry cleaners to keep human nature in mind.

“Create a schedule that’s relatively easy to maintain, because if you overcomplicate it, no one’s going to want to do it — including you,” he says. “You also want to make someone accountable. Create a checklist and have people sign off on it. It’s a sure way to track things and, ultimately, it gives you accountability for the future.”

If owners aren’t comfortable with setting up a PM schedule themselves, Steve Henley, western sales manager of drycleaning machine manufacturer Realstar USA, suggests turning to the experts: “As a manufacturer of drycleaning machines, we have a recommended maintenance schedule for their model of machine. Our technicians can go over this schedule and help each individual cleaner tailor this program to meet their needs.”

Come back Thursday for the conclusion of this series, where we’ll see how simply using your eyes and your ears can help you target potential spots in your plant. For Part 1, click HERE.