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Breaking Down Interruption Strategies (Part 1)

“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?”

Healthcare Laundry: Charles Loelius, Cleantex, Irvington, N.J.

Equipment breakdowns and interruptions are best handled by being avoided in the first place. How do you do that? By leaving nothing to chance. It is paramount to have a thorough five-step equipment maintenance plan in place:

  1. Regular Inspections. Just as drivers inspect their vehicles pre-trip, mechanics need to pre-inspect all equipment pre-startup. Utilizing inspection checklists will help guarantee thorough inspections.
  2. Reactive Maintenance. When it breaks, or when the pre-startup inspection reveals a problem, fix it right away and fix it properly. It’s that “fix it properly” part that is always difficult when the equipment is needed back in operation ASAP. Hasty or incomplete repairs, however, will only lead to more serious breakdowns or safety issues down the road.
  3. Preventative Maintenance. Don’t wait for equipment to fail to give it attention; have a formalized maintenance program in effect. Keep a sufficient inventory of parts and motors on hand.
  4. Predictive Maintenance. Use the daily, weekly and monthly equipment maintenance records to predict when equipment will fail, and replace parts ahead of time. This is as proactive a preventative maintenance program as you can establish.
  5. Training. Operators need to be fully trained in how to properly operate the equipment. Operators tend to handle equipment that is regularly inspected better. People respect what you inspect.

That being said, major breakdowns will occur, despite our most proactive efforts. For that reason, I have always endeavored to run a six-day double shift, or seven-day one shift, operation. In this manner, I give the maintenance team plenty of time to proactively maintain the equipment. This also gives our production team “wiggle room” by allowing for additional shifts, or even an entire day, to compensate for major breakdowns.

While admittedly not always possible, I like to stay far enough ahead to be able to withstand a total plant breakdown of four to six hours without disruption of timely service. For instance, all my accounts are produced a day in advance, which gives us time to put together a solid plan should a major breakdown occur.

It is important to maintain a positive relationship with your competition, especially in areas where you are not near an affiliated plant. Offer to help them, at cost, should a major breakdown befall them. Ask them to reciprocate in kind. The chances are you will never need each other’s assistance, but then again, chance favors the prepared mind.

Throughout the years, I have assisted other plants overcome catastrophic breakdowns by soil sorting, washing, finishing and even delivering to their customers. Only once have I needed that kind of help and received it from a competitor to whom I had provided similar assistance previously.

Having a backup plant that can help you withstand a major breakdown also provides reassurance to your customers of consistent, reliable service.

Whether it be an affiliated plant, or a non-affiliated plant that has available capacity, having both a backup plan and backup plant is crucial to overcoming major breakdowns.

Chemicals Supply: David Barbe, U.N.X. Inc., Greenville, N.C.

The best strategy for dealing with breakdowns and interruptions is not to have them. I know, that’s a smart-aleck answer and easier said than done. But, it’s true.

Do the preventive maintenance recommended by your machinery manufacturer. It takes some digging through manuals, or some online effort to find manuals for older machines, if you can find them at all. But, there is no substitute for adjusting things like they are supposed to be done, lubricating, changing belts, cleaning filters, keeping programs up-to-date, etc.

With all the electronic controls running everything, keeping them safe from surges and spikes is critical. Be sure everything is well grounded. This is the most basic electrical safety requirement. Discuss uninterruptible power supply (UPS) devices and surge protectors with a competent electrical engineer.

There are great PC-based programs to schedule maintenance and chart everything out for your maintenance staff. And, I know, they are always too busy fixing things already broken to do the regular maintenance, but it all has to be done.

With all that said, one has to understand that breakdowns happen. It’s a fact of life.

Prepare by keeping critical spare parts on hand. Have phone numbers of machinery suppliers at hand to quickly get parts you need. Have a relationship with good repair companies nearby that can lend a hand with specialized repair work. Identify machinery you have that is old and hard to get parts for. Get what you can now, and be sure it will work. Some critical parts may be out of stock or obsolete. You may want to identify replacement machinery early for some machines.

Look at your operation from a “what if” perspective. What would you do if this machine broke down? Or that machine? Is there a workaround? Do you have an alternative process? Can you procure something as a backup in advance? Go over each scenario and plan for the worst case.

In some cases, your only choice might be to have someone else process at least part of your work. Now is the time to approach other laundries and negotiate an arrangement. A reciprocal agreement might be possible that will help both of your operations be better prepared and feel more comfortable. If your products are similar, they may be able to easily handle your goods. If not, a little prior planning and education will be needed.

You might need to have your respective chemical suppliers program appropriate formulas in each other’s washers. If you talk to your own supplier, they will know who does similar work in the area and may help facilitate an agreement with someone. If you use the same products, similar formulas and processing procedures, keeping quality consistent will be easier.

With all the severe weather events in the news lately, you may have already thought about major utility interruptions. Depending on your type of laundry, consider what you would do in case of flooding, power outages, etc. Talk to your employees about severe weather plans and schedules. Remember, your building and utilities may survive, but if your employees can’t get to work, you can’t run.

To put my chemical supplier hat on a little tighter, make sure your vendor has backup parts on hand for their machinery. Ask them about it now. They should be doing preventive maintenance at every visit and planning for repair and breakdown work.

Our company keeps critical parts on hand at customer locations. We go so far as to program alternative formulas into washers and stock alternative products on site for emergency use. Talk to your supplier and ask what their plan is. If it’s not acceptable, work out something better.

To sum up, there is no substitute for planning. Be proactive, plan, organize, formalize agreements, communicate your plans and follow the Boy Scout motto: Be Prepared.

Textiles: Steve Kallenbach, ADI American Dawn, Los Angeles, Calif.

Machines, computers, vehicles and even people all break down at times. It’s a fact that likely won’t change.

With regard to machines and computers, savvy operators should approach their business process with the following resource evaluation in mind: Is the machine or computer considered “mission critical”? In other words, if the unit goes down, will your effective and profitable operation be disrupted to the point that customer experience will suffer, or cost will be substantially impacted, or revenue will be negatively impacted, or all of the above?

If the unit’s outage would not cause significant disruption as defined, it’s a matter of a simple plan of how the unit can be fixed when needed, whether parts should be pre-ordered or are available, and whether you have internal talent to repair the unit—and if not, you have selected a service provider who can call when you need them.

Part of this analysis is also to look at the availability of possible subcontracting of the process that the unit currently provides. A final part of this analysis is to ascertain the best form of repair or replacement (if needed), along with at least a primary and secondary supply option, and even temporary rental options when possible.

As for primary or mission-critical machines and computers, an entirely different recovery plan should be put in place. Mission-critical equipment is easily defined as assets that will cause significant disruption to your customer experience and/or impact costs or revenues or both, until the unit is back in service.

For instance, if you have one tunnel washer in your operation, and that unit goes down, typical operators are in pretty deep trouble. In this case, the tunnel should be analyzed as to which parts are more typical to break down. In some cases, based on known parts delivery times, these replacement parts might be purchased and stocked in advance. In other cases, the knowledge of how long it will take to get either remote technical assistance, or, if needed, on-site repair, along with how deep the critical parts are inventoried by the machine supplier or repair company, is important.

In the scenario of a single tunnel washer, an emergency plan should be considered, much like a fire recovery plan should exist. Do you have a backup processor within a reasonable distance that would, if needed, subcontract the wash work and support you in this emergency? Many operators negotiate two-way support agreements, giving both parties the assurance of a backup, if needed.

A number of years ago, I witnessed a large plant’s wash floor outage, when its tunnel system went down due to the load management computer (proprietary) crashing. There was not enough production staff to run the operation 24/7, in order to keep up with the need. And there was not enough subcontracted production capacity to handle the volume. The plant was “down.”

After the fact, it was discovered that the maintenance department actually had a spare computer module, but that it was never tested and had been damaged beyond repair. This outage was eventually put back online (about a week later), but the cost of recovery was astronomical, because while there was a plan in place, there was no inspection of the plan to ensure all was ready if needed. One can only imagine how much this cost the operation that week in buying textiles to make deliveries and how much customer experience was negatively impacted.

As for general computers with replaceable software, a much more inexpensive and manageable asset safety and recovery process is available to all consumers. First, administrative computers (even mission-critical units) are not expensive. Good operators rotate new computers into the mix and use the best used computer as a backup (after proper refurbishment or maintenance, as well as pre-loading necessary software). In the case of this type of computer breakdown, operators should be able to recover within a few hours.

Secondly, cloud computing and storage has changed this entire world. I own a nice laptop, which I consider mission- critical (to me). I also own my last version of a laptop, which has been thoroughly refurbished, checked, reloaded and tested—and at the ready, should I need it. Finally, every single file on my computer is stored on a cloud.

In my case, a living copy of my entire digital world exists online, on Dropbox folders continually sync with my hard drive (when online), and continually update to store all new and changed files.

At any time, I can log in to my folders (from any computer, smartphone or tablet belonging to anyone) and work with my secured files. It is so workable, that I no longer need to back up my computer. That’s done every minute of every day in what server language refers to as a “raid” configuration. A final benefit to this type of cloud computing is the smartphone or tablet app, which allows most all file management to be done from my phone or tablet.

Finally, I have a copy of all the programs running on my computer organized in one secure location. And in most cases, I have committed to cloud-based software subscriptions that can be downloaded from anywhere, on demand. In my little world then, I have a laptop, a backup laptop, a smartphone and a tablet that all, simultaneously, ensure that I will never have a significant computer outage. And my software is either ready to reinstall from a disk or flash drive or is fully downloadable at any time.

So, in summary, decide whether your core machinery and computer assets are mission-critical. If they are, have a plan that is tested to work. And then schedule your personal inspection of this plan on a quarterly basis.

Check back tomorrow for the conclusion to hear from experts in hotel/motel/resort laundry, consulting and uniforms/workwear manufacturing.

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