The sounds of a once-smooth system now vibrating and squeaking. The distinct smells of overheated metals and oils. The drips of oil or metal shavings on the floor, and the discolored or warped parts due to excessive heat. All of these are signs that your conveyor system may be overdue for some TLC. All of them can be detected by the simplest tool in your belt – attentively touring your facility.
However, these changes often don’t happen suddenly. Instead, they happen so slowly that daily operators – and even managers on a daily walk – may not notice them.
Simply being aware enough to recognize that problems are happening with our systems is perhaps the greatest challenge to maintenance.
One of the greatest values we feel we provide at PeakLogix is our commitment to an ongoing relationship with our partners. We’re as dedicated to providing support after the go-live date as we are through the design and installation processes. The variety of services we offer include delivery and assembly of parts, maintenance and repairs, training, and 24/7 system support.
In addition to that, we wanted to offer a survival guide to maintaining your systems. Conveyors are the arteries of today’s fulfillment. A preventative maintenance program that helps you schedule maintenance and plan for repairs will do more than increase your uptime. It will also allow you to budget better; planned maintenance is a capital, rather than an operational, expenditure.
Hire maintenance technicians… and pay them well
A great maintenance technician is an insurance policy against downtime, lowered throughput, and delays. These are crucial, professional employees. Compensating them accordingly will allow you to find and retain the best talent.
The minimum requirement for being a maintenance technician is a high school diploma and some experience. And experience in this department counts for a lot. If, however, your facility’s best maintenance tech has only the minimum qualifications, then consider helping them advance their careers. There are national and international organizations that certify maintenance techs, and many universities offer associates degrees.
If your company already offers tuition reimbursement or other incentives, make sure your maintenance staff is aware. It will not only add value to your business, but also provide the employee with better job security and satisfaction, and improved opportunities.
If a full-time, well-trained maintenance tech isn’t in your budget, PeakLogix also provides a preventative maintenance and service plan for even the most advanced systems.
Have a system for maintaining your system
From the day-to-day routines of the operators to the annual inspections by your service provider, maintenance and care should be planned for. Maintenance, much like safety, is everybody’s responsibility.
When operators are first onboarded, they should know that daily maintenance checks are part of the job. Before they begin a shift, they should inspect equipment for any sign that the system is performing sub-optimally. Any aberrations should be reported both to the maintenance department and the shift supervisor.
At the same time, in systems for which it’s safe and appropriate, cleaning conveyor belting goes a long way towards keeping them running smoothly. Removing dirt and debris before they can get into the moving parts is a simple, effective part of a maintenance plan.
Including these things in a daily check-off list should be part of the documentation your facility logs to help track problems and repairs.
The maintenance department should conduct routine audits both of the system as a whole as well as individual parts of the conveyor. In these audits, remember to compare what the system was designed to do against what it’s being asked to do. A system that handles materials, sizes, or weights that aren’t in its design will fail sooner than expected.
Examples of items included in a maintenance audit are:
- drive trains,
- lubrication levels,
- scales, and
At the same time, belts and chains should be checked for timing, tension, and tracking.
Finally, the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) will recommend an inspection, probably on a yearly basis. Whatever the recommendation is, be sure to stick to it, and to follow through with their recommendations.
Budget for a full set of spare parts
Conveyor systems are often complex and can stretch for miles. If the wrong part breaks, the entire system can grind to a stop.
To understand what that will cost you, you need to know first how much money you lose for each hour of unexpected downtime. Then, multiply that by the number of hours you might be down.
If you don’t have a replacement part in stock, then at a minimum you’re looking at 24-hours. Your vendor has to get the part from their warehouse, get it to your facility, and install it.
Worse than that, if the part is not in stock in the vendor’s warehouse, you might be looking at several days to months of downtime. That’s the time it could take to order a part, manufacture it, and receive it.
Having the spare part in stock means your maintenance tech can fix it. Or, that your vendor or service provider can remedy the issue quickly. The downtime in these cases is counted in hours instead of days or weeks.
At the same time, however, having unnecessary parts in inventory also has a cost. Some states tax inventory – even of spare parts. Even in states that don’t directly tax these things, there are costs associated with storing and handling them.
Best-practice is to have someone in charge of the spare-parts inventory. Keeping it up-to-date – making sure needed parts are on-hand and obsolete parts are not – is an investment that you will be glad you made should you need it.
From the manuals provided on the go-live date to the daily operator check-ups, keeping track of documentation is crucial to keeping your system running at peak efficiency.
The manuals provided by the supplier or manufacturer will help your maintenance crew create a preventative plan, as well as provide spare-part numbers.
The daily check-ups conducted by operators, as well as the less frequent audits done by the maintenance crew, can show where a problem began or how it progressed. Even something seemingly simple – such as a small oil clean up in a previous week – can indicate a symptom of an unknown, larger problem. Both check-ups and audits should be logged, and should include:
- a description of the problem,
- the date the problem was identified,
- who corrected it,
- the corrective action taken, and
- who – if anyone – was informed.
Finally, as discussed, maintaining an accurate log of the spare parts inventory can do more than ensure your system stays up and running. It can also lower the costs associated with inventory counts.
Always be planning
The traditional, ad hoc approach to repairs is shortsighted and insufficient. Waiting for problems to happen and then slapping the cheapest, most easily grabbed Band-Aid over the leaks and squeaks will not only shorten your machine’s lifespan, but is also a missed opportunity for improvement.
Both during the initial design stage, and during repairs and upgrades, consider including or adding extra features that ease the maintenance process, saving time and money.
Systems that include troubleshooting software, alerting your maintenance teams to potential problems, are phenomenal options when available. Another great feature is remote diagnostics that enable the OEM to evaluate issues without even coming to the site.
Inspection panes can be included in the design – or added during repairs – to help monitor lubricant levels or check for unwanted debris.
When you encounter a problem – even if it’s just routine wear and tear – stop and consider it. Ask if there’s a way to make the problem happen less often, or be less severe, in the future.
Finally, remember you aren’t alone
Even if you have a full-time, capable maintenance staff, be sure to – at a minimum – stick to the manufacturer’s recommended inspection schedule.
More than that, however, at PeakLogix, we consider one of our most important assets to be the professional relationships we develop. We form partnerships with our clients.
That means doing more than installing a piece of equipment. It also means being available throughout that equipment’s lifecycle. If you have concerns or questions about your equipment, we want to know first so that we can help you, and second so that we can help our other partners who may have the same concerns and questions.