OAK BROOK, Ill. — When talking about asset management in a laundry operation, equipment often represents investments worth millions of dollars.
“You want to manage your assets,” says Stefan Schurter, senior vice president with Prudential Overall Supply. “Here’s the simple truth: the better the maintenance, it saves for the plant. You’re going to get an immediate savings.”
He shared his insights during an educational session, Preventative Maintenance as Investment, here as part of the Independent Textile Rental Association’s (ITRA) 2016 Mid-Year Training Conference & Supplier Exhibits.
“I just can’t stress enough to every laundry operator, if you have breakdowns, you shouldn’t,” Schurter says. “Your expectations should be no breakdowns. Our equipment is designed that it doesn’t break down—if we do our preventative maintenance.”
How can preventative maintenance save a laundry money? Schurter offers the following scenario. An operation invests $7 million in equipment that should last 20 years. With preventative maintenance, a company might get another year out of the machines.
“Twenty-one years; that’s 5%. Five percent on $7 million, you just saved $350,000 if we go from 20 years (of) operation to 21,” he says. “The difference in equipment to replace, it’s often not technology, it’s just a difference between maintenance.”
The first lesson Schurter shared with attendees in regards to equipment maintenance? Set expectations high.
“With too many plants, I see that they’re just accepting breakdowns,” he says. “It accelerates. Once you don’t do some of the basics, it’s going to cost you. Airplanes don’t fall out of the sky. They are much more complex equipment than what we have in our plants. If you don’t set your expectations high, who will?”
Schurter says that laundry managers don’t have to be experts on maintenance. They just need to set expectations high. In the laundry business, what gets measured gets done, and he says management should measure maintenance.
Schurter gave an example from his own company. Prudential bought new, open-pocket washers, and after several years at one plant, the machines still looked quite new. At the company’s plant an hour and a half away, with the same equipment, identical plant layout and the same time in use, the company is replacing some of the machines.
“The difference is not the manufacturer. The only difference is on us,” he says. “At one plant, we have excellent maintenance; the other, I wouldn’t qualify as such. We’re paying the same money, but we’re replacing them in one plant.
“If you know about washers today, it’s in the hundreds of thousands of dollars to replace washroom equipment. Keep in mind when we talk about asset management, it’s really us. It’s us paying attention to it. It’s us challenging each other on the plant equipment.”
Maintenance affects most facets of a laundry operation, according to Schurter. If the equipment is down, the machines can’t make money for the company. The productivity is down. If something like a leaky valve happens, the wash formulas get stretched out, and that affects quality.
“Now that the water is going down, we’re needing more chemical, temperatures don’t adjust—there are all kinds of impact,” he says.
Also, Schurter says, if the equipment is not reliable, employees may have to work overtime, and a company is going to be forced to make adjustments that could affect quality. Customers are not going to be happy with the product.
“If something is well-maintained, it looks clean, it’s easy to get to, the electrical panels are closed—it’s easy to maintain,” he says. “Who wants to work on a dirty machine? Who wants to work on an unsafe machine? Who wants to work on a machine with leaky valves and wires sticking out of it? So, the maintenance contribution is just maybe a little bit bigger than when we walk through our plants and think that magically somebody does stuff.”
Schurter says that the higher the expectations of owners and operators, the more the maintenance team will follow their lead. It’s simply the difference between taking care of equipment and accepting less.
One way Schurter points out the value of high maintenance standards is by examining the maintenance-quota relationship.
“A lot of people, when they talk about the cost of maintenance, having the availability of tools, preventative maintenance, sometimes you have to remind yourself to step back for a second and really think about what do these breakdowns cost us?” he says. “Even if one machine is down, maybe it’s the machine you use for your mats. Now you’re disrupting that flow; the machine and the merchandise stands.
“A lot of people don’t think about that, but again, a machine that experiences a problem, you may now inject bleach and you leave that bleach sitting in the wrong wash formula or wrong wash time, or you overextend the wash time, or you underextend, and you end up damaging some of your merchandise.”
Schurter says that he goes into too many plants where he sees machines bouncing up and down.
“There’s no need to be a maintenance expert. You just walk the plant, and you know this is not good,” he says. “Constant pressure is what we want, not bouncing. So, you’re going to have stress fractures, on the equipment and the people.”
Properly maintained equipment also impacts safety, says Schurter. Some laundries pay up to 3-4% of revenue in some areas for workers’ compensation premiums. The better a company is on the safety side, he points out, the better are the company’s costs. The whole maintenance contribution has a huge impact on the safety of equipment.
Then there’s the problem of restarts. He says that once a piece of equipment is down, it’s out of sync.
“It’s not where it needs to be; it’s out of rhythm,” he says. “Your people may not even know how to properly restart it, and you have temperature, chemical and mechanical problems.”
Research shows that maintenance personnel, like everybody else, need a boss, according to Schurter. Management needs management, and if maintenance supervisors are part of a management team, they need to be supervised like everyone else.
He says that in order to have an effective maintenance staff and preventative maintenance plan, the department needs effective supervision. That supervision requires a few basic qualities to be effective.
The first quality Schurter mentions is simple: show interest.
“You don’t need to be an expert, but you show interest in what they do. You take a couple hours out of your busy schedule and say, ‘I’d like to come with you, I’d like to see how you do your preventative maintenance,’” says Schurter. “If the person walks up to the machines, and he has a list and knows what to do and starts lubricating, checking levels and so on, you can feel very good about it.
“If the same person goes around and starts trying to read the list and starts thinking about how to do this and then goes behind the machine and you don’t see things being cleaned, no lube, you probably already realize the problem is the preventative maintenance didn’t get done.”
Schurter points out that maintenance personnel tend to be introverts. It doesn’t come natural for them to speak in front of groups. They like to be separate from the plant staff, with a maintenance office that has a microwave and refrigerator.
“Take that out,” he says. “Force those people to go into the lunchroom so they sit with other employees and a bond is formed. Your production people could walk through the plant as part of your maintenance staff. If the production people know they can talk to your maintenance people because they are not hiding, next time something happens on a machine, they can point out that something is wrong with the machine.”
Schurter encourages management to foster those relationships and to make sure the maintenance staff knows they aren’t different from everyone else in the plant.
“Make sure that they understand that they have eyes and ears out there so that before a problem happens, you’ve got all these people who can tell when small problems happen,” he says. “Production people can be those eyes for you.”
Effective supervision also means setting a timeframe, a policy, setting the conditions in a plant, according to Schurter. Management has a responsibility to fix it when they walk through the plant and see that the maintenance staff and production staff don’t have an understanding with one another.
“That’s how you’re going to get the best of the best,” he says.
Another important quality that maintenance staff need to notice when it comes to supervision is recognition, according to Schurter.
“They want to make decisions, and they want to feel valued. They turn wrenches, they like to do that, and there is a sense of accomplishment,” he says. “You, as a manager, need to go out there and say, ‘Good job.’ Point out when they fixed a machine or did a good preventative-maintenance task, and thank them, like you do every day for customer service representatives. Their contribution needs to be recognized.”
Schurter also recommends a strong commitment to training and development.
“Are you sending your maintenance people to school? Are you encouraging them in some fashion? Some people in some companies have skill levels. We pay our people based on their skills,” he says. “The long-term maintenance people in your plant, have they kept up with some of those skills? Have you encouraged them? Reward them for learning new trades.”
Schurter says that if the laundry takes care of its maintenance workers, they will take care of the company. He says the laundry needs to make sure it has a commitment to maintenance personnel and give them support.
“As we go to $15 and $18 an hour minimum wage, we’re going to see more automation to come,” says Schurter. “More complex machines are coming, and the maintenance contribution and the maintenance people are going to be more critical.”
APPROPRIATE MATERIAL CONTROL
All of the preventative maintenance that needs to happen in a plant can’t happen if the staff doesn’t have the necessary parts and tools, says Schurter. On the other hand, a shop overrun with parts and supplies isn’t good either, he says.
“Ever been in a maintenance shop with all of this equipment around there?” he asks. “Pumps, motors, nothing is tagged. You don’t know which one is good or bad. They think they know. Then he goes on vacation. Next thing, a water pump goes and somebody just takes whatever from the shop and they realize it’s bad.”
Part of appropriate material control is to throw out the broken stuff, clean out the mess, says Schurter.
“Sometimes, maintenance people have great intentions, thinking they’ll rebuild a valve when they have time—they never have time,” he says.
Force them to get rid of clutter and establish appropriate material-control lists.
“It’s huge. You have to have an inventory list, or the maintenance staff doesn’t do their job,” he says. “It doesn’t have to be computerized. Doesn’t have to be fancy, but challenge your maintenance people. Just you asking to see the list will force them to take notice.”
Finally, Schurter says give maintenance a budget and make that budget part of staff meetings. Make the supervisor part of operations, and make him understand the impact they have on the bottom line.
THE BEST OF THE BEST
The best of the best in laundry maintenance—what separates some of those?
Schurter says it comes down to a proactive approach. He says he has conducted research that shows preventative maintenance represents 60% of all maintenance activity in the best plants.
As an example, he says that in a plant with three maintenance workers, two should be doing nothing but preventative maintenance.
“If that’s not the case, you’ve got a problem in your plant,” he says. “They shouldn’t be building furniture, moving walls, painting buildings; they should be doing things with a proactive approach—all activity being preventative maintenance. They shouldn’t be troubleshooting, unplanned work, calling back for parts, all of that should be planned—40 hours of pre-planned work.”
The best plants, according to Schurter’s research, say that 80% of all maintenance work was planned.
“If you do all this, washers don’t break down,” he says. “We know what we have to do. We need parts at a certain time, to buy them effectively, to put them on the shelf and we schedule it so it doesn’t have to happen on Saturday or Sunday. We take one machine down. We plan it, do our maintenance work and bring it back online. It saves you a lot of money.”
What separates the best from the rest? Schurter says the best simply do basic things well, which is preventative maintenance.