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Preventive Maintenance vs. Emergency Repair

Written by:  Nick Liberto P.E., Powder Coating Consultants, Division of Ninan, Inc.

Extending the useful life of your finishing system and preventing annoying equipment breakdowns is the primary function of preventive maintenance. The alternative choice is to operate the equipment without prudent and timely intervention making emergency repair a reality instead of just a feared rare occurrence. Trusting the reliable operation of your powder coating equipment to luck is not only a poor business practice, it can also make profitability impossible.

Preventive Maintenance vs. Maintenance vs. Repair
First let’s get some definitions straight. You perform preventive maintenance on equipment to extend its service life and prevent equipment breakdowns. This effort requires performing recommended maintenance on a scheduled basis to preclude more timely and costly equipment interruptions. It may mean replacement of components that still are functioning well at the time of replacement because you rather do this in a planned fashion than wait for the component to actually fail causing an emergency situation.

You perform maintenance on equipment to replace worn items that have reached their service life, but did not actually fail. This effort is often preceded by inspection efforts necessary to determine the condition of the components to be replaced. Although it is proactive to perform this maintenance before the equipment component actually fails and can prevent catastrophic failure of related equipment components, it is not the same as providing preventive maintenance that would have extended the service life of the equipment component.

You repair equipment that has already failed. This situation can be totally unexpected, even if a comprehensive preventive maintenance schedule has been faithfully executed. However, repairs can be minimized if preventive maintenance and regular maintenance are performed in a prudent fashion.

Understanding the differences between these three distinct situations illustrates how sometimes “an ounce of prevention” is better than a “trip to the ER.” I am always amazed that some companies eliminate preventive maintenance activities in tough economic times to save some short-term expenses only to pay much higher expenses and lost production time when their equipment fails to function when they need it most. What is undeniable is that this methodology is a gamble that may, or may not, pay off. Certainly newer, previously well maintained equipment, will most likely not fail immediately if some preventive maintenance is postponed to a time when it is more convenient or affordable. But this attitude can set dangerous precedents that may be very difficult to overcome in the future, as bad habits are always hard to break. Finally, successful delay of maintenance activities provides a false sense of invulnerability (“it never caused a problem before”) where the gamble really is closer to Russian Roulette than a well-played hand of poker. It may work out, but it is just not a risk worth taking.

Develop a Preventive Maintenance Plan
The role of preventive maintenance is to prevent the failure of the equipment and reduce the replacement of wear components. Normal wear and tear cannot be totally eliminated, but it can be mitigated and handled in a time of one’s own choosing. Preventive maintenance is the cornerstone of equipment reliability. Each time you turn your equipment on you must have a reasonable expectation that it will perform as it should, without surprises.

Successful preventive maintenance programs start with a plan. This means that someone has identified what equipment components need to be checked or replaced at what intervals to eliminate equipment failures. This plan starts with the equipment supplier’s recommendations and is expanded to encompass actual experience with your system, as this experience may necessitate accelerated maintenance schedules.

Preventive maintenance plans should be all-inclusive, covering all equipment components in a powder coating system. They should be organized by equipment component, such as air compressor, air dryer, conveyor, pretreatment system, dry-off oven, powder application/recovery equipment, EV room, cure oven, etc.. The plans should detail what is to be done and when to do it. This detail should include specific parts that must be replaced/checked. For instance, you want to list all your lubrication points individually in your plan and not just state “lube the equipment”. This level of detail provides a the opportunity to make a simple check sheet for the person performing the preventive maintenance to ensure that they did the job completely and correctly.

Make Someone Responsible
Now that you have a plan, the next issue you must have in place is making some one person responsible for executing this plan. In smaller systems this responsible party may be the actual person performing the maintenance activities. However, in large systems the responsible person may be the Maintenance Manager who directs a crew of workers to perform the maintenance activities. In either case, this person not only has to be provided the plan to perform the maintenance but has to have the resources available to execute the plan. This may mean a significant maintenance budget, sufficient to support in-house labor, outside contractors, and parts/consumables to perform the activities outlined in the preventive maintenance plan.

Enforcement/Accountability
Finally, this person has to know, in no uncertain terms, that their job depends upon executing this preventive maintenance plan in the time period specified. Accountability is key to ensuring that a plan actually is executed. But accountability includes company management to ensure that the responsible party has the resources to actually perform what is required of them. The old saying: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” has never been more appropriate then when discussing support for preventive maintenance activities.

Nick Liberto, P.E., is president of Powder Coating Consultants, division of Ninan Inc., an independent technical consulting firm in Bridgeport, Conn. He can be reached at: pcc@powdercoat.com.

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