Managing Laundry Equipment Downtime, Repair (Part 1)


(Image credit: Alissa Ausmann)

“What are some strategies for dealing with equipment breakdowns and the interruptions they cause?”

Equipment Manufacturing: Gary Ostrum, G.A. Braun, Syracuse, N.Y.:

The answer here is simple: One cannot afford to have equipment down during production hours. How one goes about achieving this goal, however, is not as simple.

First, it takes a distinct mind-set change in an operation, especially if a “fix it when it breaks” mentality exists. This must be changed to a mind-set of “fix it before it breaks”—that is, a process of scheduled tasks and service protocols that will resolve issues before they result in equipment breakdowns during production hours.

This starts by taking a plant’s current preventive maintenance program and changing it to a proactive maintenance program. Just a change of verbiage? Not quite.

In a preventive maintenance program, one may change the oil in a gear reducer every 2,000 hours. Following a proactive maintenance program, an operator will change the oil, look over the gear reducer to see if there are any leaks from seals, take a temperature reading to see if the operating temperature of the reducer has increased, and perform any other tasks needed to see if there has been change in the performance of the gear reducer that indicates an upcoming issue.

Obviously, when such an issue is found, a service event can be scheduled to resolve it at a time when it will have the least impact possible on the operation.

Now that we are thinking proactively, let’s keep the ball rolling. What additional processes can be put in place? Does the equipment manufacturer you deal with offer a formal, proactive wellness-assessment program?

With this approach, a technician directly employed by the manufacturer and specifically trained to conduct wellness assessments goes through each piece of equipment in your operation, leaving you with a detailed playbook on each piece, noting whether the wrong direction is being taken in maintenance of the equipment, or whether it’s in line with OEM specifications. This is invaluable for heading off unplanned downtime as equipment ages.

Does your operation have a slow period? Many plants that process food and beverage linens in the Northeast slow down a bit in volume come the winter months. This is an excellent time to take one ironer system down at a time and go through it stem to stern, so it does not go down the week before Mother’s Day.

The change to a proactive mind-set with regard to maintaining the equipment in facility will go a long way in reducing unscheduled downtime, but of course, it will not eliminate it.

So what considerations can help ease the pain of unscheduled downtime when it does occur?

The skillset of plant engineering staff. What is being done to maintain and improve this team’s skillset? Does the manufacturer of your equipment offer service schools and/or on-site training engagements and are you taking advantage of these? Do you send your team to third-party training activities, such as the Maintenance Management Institute offered by TRSA, or a class on maintaining steam systems that may be offered by a company?

Proper parts in inventory. Do you review your parts inventory, comparing it to the manufacturer’s recommendations on a periodic basis? Have you personally confirmed the company’s ability to support your equipment with parts next day? Remember, there can be no next-day delivery if a part has to be put on a boat or go through customs.

Round-the-clock support from the OEM. Does the manufacturer of your equipment provide such support, giving you access to a technician employed and trained by the manufacturer, allowing for expert phone support? What are the specifics for your program? Have you personally confirmed whether this a formal, staffed, funded and committed process from the manufacturer, or just something they just put on sales literature?

As important as these three items are to minimizing the impact of unscheduled downtime, let’s remember that the real impactful action is to develop and maintain a proactive maintenance system.

Hotel/Motel/Resort Laundry: James Brewster, RLLD, The Resort at Glade Springs, Daniels, W.Va.: 

Laundry equipment is the heart of any laundry operation. Without it, nothing would be processed. Unfortunately, machinery will ultimately fail, and how you deal with it impacts the entire operation.

For starters, you should always have a preventive maintenance program in place. This will dramatically decrease long periods of downtime in your operation. The program also allows for the machines to be serviced at periodic times, and can uncover underlying problems with machinery. That way, repairs can be made in a timely manner, reducing not only costs, but lost time for that piece of equipment.

In the event that a piece of machinery does go down, try to locate the source of the problem, diagnose it and start the repair process immediately. Doing so, however, may cause your labor costs to rise when lost time is made up.

Another route to explore is a contingency plan to outsource the plant’s linens to another laundry. For example, if your plant’s tunnel washer goes down, is it possible to have another laundry wash the linens, and bring back the washed goods so your plant can finish them? This could bring down the cost of outsourcing, since the other plant would not have to fully process the goods being brought in.

Ultimately, you need a good preventive maintenance program to reduce lost time and a contingency plan in case a vital piece of machinery is down.

Equipment/Supply Distribution: Justin Oriel, Garment Machinery Co., Needham, Mass.:

The machinery in a laundry is only as good as the company or person that is able to service it. Should one of your machines break down, the amount of downtime that your laundry will face not only equals increased headaches due to the machinery’s inability to operate, but also dollars lost due to decreased production in your laundry.

There are a few ways to limit the effect of a broken piece of equipment. Having a decent collection of spare parts on hand for simple repairs—belts, hoses, water valves, igniters, spark wires and other popular parts—is beneficial for getting a broken-down machine operating quickly.

A laundry room operator should speak with the service department to put together a good parts list. Investing in these spare parts and making sure you have them readily available should a machine break down will help speed up the repair process.

If you outsource the repairs of your machinery to a local laundry dealer, make sure the employees in your laundry have that dealer’s contact information readily available. Access to a telephone number or an e-mail address to schedule service is key to getting your issue resolved as quickly as possible.

Your local laundry dealer may offer preventive maintenance plans on your laundry-room machinery. This will help mitigate potentially larger issues in the long run. Just like in maintenance of a car, routine maintenance will keep the machinery in great operating condition year-round and may spare you large repair bills.

The opportunity to catch a small problem before it becomes a big problem means you can run your laundry with little to no worries.

These are just a few ideas that you can implement in your laundry to prevent any potential interruptions in the day-to-day use of machinery.

Check back tomorrow for the conclusion!


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