A leading sheetmetal machinery distributor in Australia says it is unfortunate that managers of many fabrication plants show more respect to their company cars rather than the machines on which their business is sustained.
Mr Andrew Bentrup, Sales and Marketing Manager at Maxitec , says the company car fleet – essentially a loss maker from the very beginning – is afforded top level maintenance while the far more important business asset, a company’s sheetmetal automation, is often given inferior service.
“The situation across industry is completely dichotomous - there is an open-minded attitude versus a blinkered attitude towards maintenance, with some skimping to save a few dollars which could cost much more further down the track,” said Mr Bentrup.
“There are some very large fabricators here in Australia more than holding their own in the global market; big companies with 24/7 production and as part of their ongoing investment in automation they've upgraded from multiple small machines to one or a few large automated machines that perform more than one process.
“As with any technical upgrade, there are pros and cons, and in this type of scenario it all centres on the issue of maintenance.
“The pro with one high-tech multifunction machine is that a business enjoys much better productivity and lower costs in processing and labour.
“The cons are when your one and only machine breaks down there are no alternative machines so production could be slowed.
“As a result, companies at that level working 24/7 keep machines running and functioning – it is the critical thing for them. This is done by regular maintenance internally from an accredited and capable company.
There are two types of attitudes towards how maintenance should be performed companies – illustrated below by Company A and Company B. Each has identified the need to keep breakdowns to a minimum, but its actions are poles apart.”
Company A knows that the supplier of the machine can't hold every part for every machine. Company A has worked out how to minimise production downtime by working more closely with its machine supplier in relation to organisation and spare parts that would be needed.
Company A shuts down every Friday for three hours for routine maintenance, therefore reducing the chances of something major going wrong. This is a proactive approach using diagnostic and preventive maintenance by internal staff closely trained by Maxitec technical staff. The ideal set-up is when a particular timeslot is set aside every week, which becomes recognised as the plant’s regular downtime.
Company B has a different approach. The management of this type of company is largely reactive in its tactics; the plant stops when a machine breaks down and management is most likely to look around for the cheapest replacement part available (often generic and of lower standard than an authentic proprietary component). Or, as a desperate money-saving move when its machine stops, Company B is likely to obtain a quote from the dealer for a replacement part then look online in case money can be saved – or may even try to reproducing the replacement part in its own workshop.
As a result, Company B is often waiting for the part while the supplier has it sitting on the shelf. The part that does eventually arrive may not be an OEM part and this generic alternative may be slightly unfitting, in need of modification, or of poorer quality materials.
Effectively, Company B may be saving a few dollars in parts but it is not clearly seeing the downtime costs while they are waiting. Therefore, the failure rate with its equipment is now more common and is causing further downtime.
“It is all down to cost analysis,” said Mr Bentrup. “Company B thinks that if it spends less money on parts and service it can finish ahead in dollar terms but the cost in downtime and lost production is much greater.”
“Sheetmetal machines should demand just as much – or even more – due diligence than a company’s car fleet as the machine technology is the heart and soul of the organisation and should not be treated like a hindrance.”