Matthew Cockram, the technical director of Plastic and Chemical Trading, has agreed to answer a few of the more common maintenance questions. Read on to get his insights into maintenance schedules, maintenance mistakes and much more!

What are the benefits of machine maintenance?

The key benefit to machine maintenance is regulated control of when your machine is actually down. If you plan your maintenance, you can actually know which days, when, how and for how long your machine will be in inoperable and will be unavailable for production.  The key advantage to that is that as you get better at it you can actually shorten that time, to the extent that you know that, for instance,  if you have half of a Monday with no production, that is your standard operation and you can live with that in terms of production planning and volume planning.

As a general rule of thumb, how often should manufacturing machinery be serviced?

Generally we like the machinery that we represent to be serviced quarterly. The  specification is generally done on an hour’s-run basis but in our experience the local manufacturers can’t manage that from a planning perspective. So we have worked in partnership with those customers of ours that are interested in doing maintenance, where they do the quarterly maintenance themselves and they let us do an annual service where we check the quality of their quarterly servicing and bring the staff up to speed on what is required. By doing that we find that we do stay ahead of the curve and keep the machines running and sticking to the planned maintenance schedules.

How should manufacturers go about maintenance?

Ideally you should know how much maintenance you’re doing when, and your staff needs to be trained so that they approach the job with confidence and awareness of what needs to be done.  This allows them to do it timeously rather than running around once a machine has stopped working,  trying to understand what needs to be done next  To do this, we offer training when we do the installations of the machines. Unfortunately not all customers give us the time or the opportunity to do this training but when we are afforded this we do notice  a huge improvement in the uptime of the machinery

What happens when manufacturers neglect maintenance? 

Unfortunately we do have customers who neglect maintenance and the reality of this is that they lose control of the process of when and how their machines will go down.  To the extent that one particular customer is actually fighting to catch up with production because he has not done his maintenance appropriately and every single time it’s ‘repair as quickly as you can with any means possible’, just to get the machine running again. The problem there is that the machine gets further and further away from the standard machine,  making it more and more difficult to troubleshoot when and if the machine does go down, thereby taking even longer to repair each future time,  to the extent that ultimately the machine becomes unusable.

How can manufacturers improve their maintenance procedures?

The easiest way to improve your maintenance procedures is,  firstly,  is to know how long the standard procedures take and then to ensure that your people know what those procedures are and how to do them. And while doing these to see the changes,  because the key to maintenance is analysing and seeing what has changed in the machine over the time frames since the previous maintenance cycle and over a number of the previous maintenance cycles so that you can assess when something might require replacement in anticipation of the event rather than when it finally does breakdown.

What are some of the maintenance mistakes you’ve seen manufacturers make?

The most critical mistake is ignoring maintenance. As discussed that brings the process of control of your up-time-  it takes it away from you. Often customers cut corners were they try and replace parts with cheaper parts or nonstandard parts , which then takes the reliability of those parts away but also troubleshooting going forward – that part is not understood by the people who know the machine and understand how to maintain it. For instance, full implication of, for instance,  setting the hysteresis of the hydraulics or the full control functionality. So there is a knock-on there,  where a few saved rands today will cost you a significant amount of production later and therefore in the long run been a more expensive solution than the fact that you might have saved five or ten percent of the purchase price of the part at the time of purchase.

Do you have any maintenance advice for new manufacturers that are just starting out?

Take the time to understand your machinery: understand its maintenance requirements and then set yourself up to work within those requirements to ensure that you will maintain and  address faults and issues as and when they arise, before they become a production issue. Some customers insist on allowing their production managers to be in control of maintenance, in our experience then the maintenance is never done as production takes first place.

Have somebody who is not tied to production to be in control of maintenance and have the support and the strength to be able to say to production ‘we do need this down time in order to be able to avoid uncontrolled downtime’.

Plastic & Chemical Trading is a valuable technical partner that supports your manufacturing needs. Contact us today to ask how we can streamline and improve your business!