Staying Ahead of Machine Issues Requires Engagement and Awareness

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Staying Ahead of Machine Issues Requires Engagement and Awareness

By Diane M. Calabrese / Published July 2015




roubleshooting Machines

     Precision engineering and the best component materials make high-quality machines more durable than ever. Well-made equipment performs so flawlessly that machine issues become less common each year.

Yet staying ahead of machine issues still requires an equipment owner to be engaged and thoughtful. “Routine maintenance is always important as it is preventative maintenance, which keeps the equipment running when it is needed,” says Jay Hallaway, an electrical engineer at Alkota Cleaning Systems, Inc. in Alcester, SD.

“Always eliminate the obvious or simple things first,” says Hallaway. “For example, is there fuel in the tank, is the GFCI [ground-fault circuit interrupter] or motor reset button tripped, etc.” In the middle of an exceptionally demanding day, it’s not that difficult for an end user to overlook something as basic as fuel in the tank. Whatever the issue, though, talking with the equipment user is the place to begin.

“I think it is important to know the product you are repairing as well as how the operator is using the equipment,” says Hallaway. “Get as much knowledge about the repair issue as possible before attempting to troubleshoot or repair.”

As the link between the manufacturer and the end user, a distributor has the opportunity to reinforce the recommendations about routine maintenance. The distributor can also amplify them. The original equipment manufacturer (OEM) provides a recommended maintenance schedule as part of the instructions that go to distributors. That schedule is the starting point for the instructions that distributors provide to customers.

In some cases, it’s appropriate for the distributor to add instructions. “Whenever we supply custom-fabricated products” instructions are added, says Lowell Peterman, service manager at Pumps and Pressure, Inc. in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada.

Peterman, too, emphasizes that routine maintenance is “very important” to avoiding mechanical problems. Recommended maintenance is also a necessary part of a warranty agreement. Many distributors have had to explain to customers that an equipment breakdown occurred because the customer did not maintain the machine as recommended in the operator’s manual. As such, the repair is not covered by being under warranty.

The importance of talking with the end user cannot be overstated. The conversation gives a service center representative the chance to enforce the need for recommended maintenance. And it allows for a thorough understanding of any issue with a machine.

To be avoided is a temporary solution to an issue. “Too often, the problem is repaired, but the underlying cause of failure is not considered and not addressed, leaving the possibility for the problem to re-occur,” says Peterman.

Thoroughness is its own reward. As problems are detected and fixed, a general schemata (a flow chart of sorts) develops that allows experienced service center representatives to pinpoint issues quickly. 


Each service center develops its own way of troubleshooting, but there is considerable overlap in the basics. Eric Smart, general manager at Cougar Cleaning Equipment in Odessa, TX, shares some details on the approach his company takes.

“We provide the customer with an operator’s manual from the manufacturer,” says Smart. “We go over the recommended maintenance schedule in the operator’s manual. We make certain that the maintenance schedule will be sufficient, depending on the environment the equipment will be working in.”

A distributor or service center representative can help an end user appreciate the dollar value of routine maintenance in ensuring that the equipment “will be productive,” says Smart. In turn, that productivity will “decrease the cost of operation.”

Lower cost of operation and less downtime are just two benefits of staying aligned with recommended service. There is also a “safety factor,” says Smart. “During routine maintenance, you are able to inspect and determine if the wearable items are in good working condition.”

All good outcomes at a service center begin with well-trained technicians, explains Smart. The technicians must be properly trained. “We have our new techs work with our senior techs for proper training—and troubleshooting.”

Experience is a great teacher. “Service technicians become more efficient with experience,” says Smart. “This is what ensures there are no mistakes during the troubleshooting process.”

By including a discussion of the warranty on the date of the equipment purchase, a distributor encourages customers to acknowledge if they failed to meet their responsibility. “We educate our customers on what warranty will and will not cover at the time of purchase,” says Smart. As a result, “the customer usually knows when they were in the wrong,” explains Smart. “And the proof is in the condition of the equipment.”


Talking and troubleshooting are inextricably linked. “Not asking the questions about how the customer has installed and used the equipment on a daily basis is a mistake,” says Carey French, service manager at Cam Spray in Iowa Falls, IA.

“Specifically ask about inlet water pressure, water temperature, number of hours of operation, number of operators, electrical supply, and routine maintenance performed,” says French. “You can learn a lot about a customer and the way a machine is used and breaks down by having those conversations.”

As part of the instructions from the OEM, French’s company provides succinct reminders on the pump and filters. He gives us the basics for pump and filters.

“Pump—prior to turning on the power switches or your engine, check the oil levels in the pump and engine if gas powered,” says French. “The pump oil should be changed after the first 50 hours of operation, then every year for average service or more frequently for extensive use or hostile environments—dusty or high moisture.

“Filters—water filters, hoses, and fittings should be checked prior to every operation for cleanliness and leaks and repair needs,” adds French. “Repair or replace as needed.”

Prevention vs. Complacency

The performance of machines in 2015 is so good that it’s all too tempting to push them just a little longer or harder. Becoming complacent about preventative maintenance, however, sets up a potentially costly scenario if something goes wrong—whether the machine is under warranty or not.

Skipping preventative maintenance when a warranty period has expired can be appealing during a busy period. But never succumb to the adage to not fix it if it’s not broken. Waiting until a machine experiences a failure to give it attention can be costly.

For one, the failure might occur in the middle of a job some distance from a service center. The service center may not be able to offer immediate assistance. And depending on the type of failure, it could lead to a cascade of issues with the machine. That increases downtime on a job site, as well as frustration among employees and customers. There is also the related issue of safety. All employers want to keep their employees safe on the job—perhaps the foremost reason to keep equipment in perfect operating condition.

On a practical level, if an employee is injured by a machine that has not been properly maintained, both OSHA and the insurers will be concerned with the incident. Any fine or premium increase adds to the monetary cost.

The prudent course demands adherence to the recommended schedule of preventative maintenance. Long term, money is generally saved because well-maintained machines have a longer life.

Solid Service

End users value responsiveness in service. In some instances, service centers are able to send technicians to job sites. That’s a plus for the end user who has established a strong working relationship with a service center.

The stronger the tie between the individuals at a service center and the end user, the more candid conversations can be. If a machine owner brings in equipment for scheduled maintenance and the technician notices the machine is not being kept clean, it is something that can be discussed.

A tight bond between the service representative and equipment owner also allows for honest discussions about any machine problems. In some cases, as rare as they are today, there will be a machine with a defective part. (It’s not always a lack of preventative maintenance, operator error, or incorrect use that takes a machine out of service.)

An equipment owner that has a good working relationship with the team at the service center is likely to be less upset that a machine went down because of a defective part. Taken for granted is that the equipment owner has complete confidence in the knowledge base of service center employees.

Experienced equipment owners look for and stay with equipment service departments staffed by well-trained staff who are alert. Understaffing a service center contributes to employee fatigue. A busy equipment owner wants a fast and professional response whether a machine needs routine service or has a specific issue.

Conversations between equipment users and service center technicians can also lead to opportunities for discussing new products. Although an equipment owner does not want to be slowed down by sales pitches when there is an issue to be resolved with a machine, the owner will always be receptive to recommendations about how to improve the performance of a particular machine—and keep it as trouble-free as possible.