Panel of Experts

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Breaking Down Interruption Strategies (Conclusion)

“Our industry relies on a lot of equipment. A machine or computer component failure will impact production. What strategies do you have for dealing with breakdowns and interruptions?”

Hotel/Motel/Resort Laundry: Nick Fertig, Rosen Hotel and Resorts, Orlando, Fla.

It should be stated that the number-one goal of a laundry’s engineering/maintenance team is to keep all equipment operational at all times during production hours. The easiest way to do this is to have expertly trained associates and a robust preventative maintenance program that allows your maintenance team to keep all machinery in peak operating condition indefinitely and/or to identify possible points of failure and address them before you have a breakdown.

However, even the best laundry teams with the most robust preventative maintenance (PM) programs will encounter failures. In the case of a failure, the expertise of your engineering team, your parts program, and the relationships you have built with other local facilities and vendors will determine how a breakdown will impact your operation.

In our industry, one of the single greatest assets to your laundry is your maintenance team. If you have motivated and competent engineers, do whatever you have to do to hold on to them.

Invest in them and their future. All major laundry equipment manufacturers offer classes or seminars to assist in educating your team on the finer points of their equipment. The knowledge gained in these classes is priceless, and I can guarantee, with certainty, it will save your operation from many headaches.

Even the most experienced and educated maintenance teams cannot overcome a breakdown if they don’t have the appropriate tools and replacement parts. Too often, our friends in accounting fail to realize the importance of having shelves stocked with spare parts. They see a $3,000 motor still in the original box while laundry professionals see the instrument that will prevent the need to outsource upon failure.

Breakdowns will happen; plan properly. It is all too easy for a $200 part to become a $1,500 part after next-day rush delivery and the overtime required to catch up.

Finally, I think we can all admit that there are times where we just need help. Either our engineering team is experiencing an issue that they have never encountered before or that is outside of their level of expertise. Maybe, we have an incredible spare parts program, but in this instance, we just don’t have that one piece we need to be operational. In these cases, the relationships that you have built with other laundries and local vendors come into play. I have had our local vendor, Steiner Atlantic, go out of their way to locate a part we needed in the field and personally deliver it to our operation.

This is all based on the relationships we have built over the years, and I would not hesitate for a single second to assist another operation when needed because I have been in their shoes before. Without a doubt, at some point, I will be in them again.

Consulting Services: Jon Witschy, Spindle, Woodridge, Ill.

One of your first steps in dealing with breakdowns and interruptions is employing the right team. Ensure that your engineers have the skill set to work with, and repair, the hardware and control systems in use by laundries.

Seek candidates with aptitude and train them on the technology used in the plant. Vendors often provide seminars to improve knowledge on their products. Trade associations schedule more generic training sessions, and attendees might also learn from each other’s experiences with specific equipment during these meetings.

In addition to aptitude, make sure they have the right attitude. Develop a preventative maintenance (PM) mindset, so that major issues can hopefully be avoided. PM intervals should be requested of vendors, and they can be reinforced through the aforementioned training. Regularly check with your team to confirm that preventive maintenance is being performed. Use the available tracking software to monitor activities and keep records.

Make maintenance of computerized equipment a priority, as well. Since there is so much automation in the laundry today, maintaining control system health is as important as keeping the mechanical hardware in good condition. Keep control systems up to date with the latest software and hardware.

Maintain a critical spare-parts inventory so that key components are on hand for replacement in times of need. I bet we’ve all heard at least one story about a major piece of equipment being down, waiting on a part to be delivered. The stories often end with an extra part being ordered to keep on the shelf for “next time.” Instead, be ready for the first time.

Create a backup plan that supports the breakdown of critical equipment. Determine where you might outsource processing. Keep the proper inventory/par levels to service your customers. Operate spare equipment, where feasible. Determine how you could adjust scheduling to catch up with processing and/or work around repairs.

On a similar note, expand these plans to handle larger issues. At recent trade conferences, the subject of “Disaster Recovery” has been on the agenda several times. I’m an optimist at heart, and while nobody wants their business to be affected by fire, flood, or otherwise, it still makes sense to “hope for the best, but plan for the worst.”

Uniforms/Workwear Manufacturing: Scott Delin, Fashion Seal Healthcare, Seminole, Fla.

Several weeks ago while driving home from the airport, my “check engine” light came on. Wondering what the problem might be and needing my car for work, I quickly called the service department to make an appointment to get my vehicle diagnosed and fixed as soon as possible.

Upon arriving at the dealership the next day, my car was immediately swept away and hooked up to a machine to check the electronics and perform a quick diagnostic on the vehicle. A few minutes later, I was informed the problem had been found and that corrective action was being taken. Luckily, while discussing the situation at hand with my personal technician, he informed me that because the issue was diagnosed as being computer-related, the corrective action taken was a simple fix—a reset and reboot of a specific module.

Watching this unfold in front of me made me think about the machinery used to produce our products day-to-day and week-to-week in our laundry facilities. Most of the equipment used to process our goods daily are pretty much now all computer-driven, in one way or another. The days of the tool belt worn by our maintenance team holding a wrench, screwdriver, pliers, hammer and, of course, duct tape have been replaced by belts now sporting mini iPads, smartphones, USB cords, and microchips and parts that are used to diagnose the computers responsible for making the equipment run smoothly.

Nuts and bolts, big heavy wrenches and dirty oil cans are slowly but surely being replaced by small microchips, USB ports and plug-in components. The long, tedious diagnostic process is now being reduced to minutes by a new-wave maintenance team with a wealth of computer knowledge.

In this new age of electronics and computers, we take things for granted. We forget that just like us, our electronics also need a rest to recharge and should be shut down whenever possible. By shutting down or powering off our computers, smartphones, electronic equipment and gadgets every once in a while, this actually gives the computers within a chance to regroup, so to speak, thus continuing to maintain a high level of performance.

Some of the procedures and strategies being taken today to help prevent breakdowns and interruptions in our daily processing regimen may include shutting down equipment to allow computers to refresh. This shutdown also gives maintenance teams a chance to perform daily diagnostics and safety checks on specific pieces of equipment. This is key in today’s world of electronics. Periodic shutdowns and diagnostic checks help to ensure that we have no issues with breakdown and slow efficiency in our processing.

However, it is also just as important that we have a back-up plan in the event a piece of machinery does go down and needs to be taken offline for a period of time for an unforeseen repair.

In the past, our maintenance team would stock extra nuts and bolts and possible key spare parts to have in the event of a breakdown. Today, it is important to consider stocking spare electronic modules whenever possible to guarantee you have the right micro-module in the event of a breakdown and/or malfunction.

In some plants where there are multiple pieces of the same equipment, it might be wise from time to time to bring one of the pieces offline and do a standard maintenance check. This will ensure all the bells and whistles are working properly.

Another key point that should be considered is sending your maintenance team to, or furnishing them with, ongoing electronic and machinery training. Think about it, these are the guys who keep our plants humming while keeping the machinery working at its best. By working with your equipment suppliers, as well as local technical schools, our new-age maintenance team will be able to receive and keep up with the new technology needed today to run our equipment flawlessly.

If time is an issue and you cannot send them to training, work with your vendor to see if they would consider doing some on-site training.

Multiple processing facilities are not only a vehicle for processing more poundage of product, they can help in the event of machinery/equipment failure or breakdown. Sure, we may incur some added expenses by having to move work from one facility to another for processing, but at the same time, the upside is we are not losing a beat and are able to continue servicing our customers on time as they expect from us daily.

Scheduling machine repair or diagnostics during off-hours is another way to avoid losses in production. By scheduling during off-hours, our labor force and customers are not impacted by the work being performed on our equipment.

Inventory control is another key point to preventing interruptions in our processing and delivery systems. If we do not manage our inventory properly, it will eventually catch up to us and possibly cause a slow-down or an issue with delivery to your customers. Staying ahead of the curve at all times with processing allows us to analyze our situation at hand and avoid setbacks and interruptions.

The above is not a sure cure for stopping breakdowns and/or production interruptions, but it is a proactive suggestion for preventing costly breakdowns and/or interruptions.

Now, as for that “check engine” light on my car, it turned out to be a dead fuse. Unfortunately for me, the labor to discover this was more than the part needed, but then again it was a preventative action that needed to be taken and corrected to ensure my peace of mind while driving.

Miss Part 1 with insight from experts in healthcare laundry, chemicals and textiles? Click here to read it.

Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Matt Poe at [email protected].