The US Army is a massive organization spanning the continental United States, overseas territories, and occupies land in several countries around the world and as you would suspect, its a costly enterprise. In an effort to make the “Green Machine” more cost-effective, the organization has been working hard to instill systems and processes and a culture of preventative maintenance that'll help cut costs. As an officer in the Transportation branch in charge of over 60 trucks capable of hauling everything from Abrams battle tanks to 2,000-gallon tanks and about 16tons of ammunition/explosives, I learned a lot about equipment maintenance programs and was put in charge of saving my organization money while enabling it to rapidly respond in times of crisis.
Whether you are in charge of managing a company’s fleet of heavy equipment or you are running your own small business and are in charge of it all, you know how important your machines are. Your machines are a force multiplier, granting the ability for one man to do the job of ten in half the time and that makes your machines your breadwinners. Why is it so easy for managers and especially for the small business owner who wears multiple hats and have to be everywhere at once to forget this very important fact?
The fact of the matter is, at a glance those rugged machines look like they don’t need much love, I was guilty of this when I was a brand-new lieutenant in the army. I figured the equipment manufacturers were working incessantly to build equipment that required less maintenance but if you want your business to run smoothly, as I wanted my unit to run without hiccups or downtime, and you’d like to enhance your equity and borrowing power when it comes to trade-in value or collateral for a business loan, you have to put in time and effort on maintenance. The equation is easy, scheduled maintenance time= little to no unscheduled maintenance and the same goes for the opposite of the equation, little to no scheduled maintenance= unscheduled maintenance and that is a vital detriment to your business’s ability to be profitable.
So what do you do? The short answer, of course, is to have a maintenance plan, but that entails more than arbitrarily choosing dates throughout the year when you are going to conduct maintenance or taking your equipment to the local shop. You might get away with doing that with your personal vehicle but your breadwinners need more than that, you need to instill systems and processes to not only catch the mechanical issues when they happen but predict when they will occur and get ahead of it.
The following are a few tips to consider when creating the systems and processes for a preventative maintenance program.
1) Create a Maintenance Program
The Army has a corps of highly specialized personnel, the warrant officers, who are primarily in charge of developing a maintenance program for fleets ranging from twenty to two hundred pieces of equipment. Now, your organization may not have the luxury or ability to hire a maintenance specialist, but in most cases, a prescribed maintenance program can be found in the user’s manuals of each piece of equipment. This maintenance program will define what actions must be done during Quarterly, Semi-annual, and Annual services. These are vital services that extend the life of your equipment and keep them performing at their best, but you must put these services on a calendar and plan for the equipment to be out of use for the time of service as these types of services typically require several days to complete.
Once the maintenance plan is created and set down on a calendar, it will be easy to forecast the cost of such a program. This way you can plan your maintenance and material costs and include them in your expenses when creating your business’s budget.
2) Maintain Operational Records
Next, you must have a method to record all your maintenance activities. The services in your maintenance program are typically prescribed in terms of the equipment’s time in use. This can be calculated by either mileage traveled, hours in use, or a combination of both. Read what your user’s manual prescribes and incorporate that into your record-keeping procedures. For the most cost-effective method simply scan all your maintenance logs and keep them in a consolidated folder with a spreadsheet that keeps track of all log numbers and key occurrences that may affect your maintenance program and change the scheduled dates of services.
A key aspect of keeping your records orderly is to premake maintenance logs ready to print and have them easily accessible to employees. Cover all charts and the calendars with plexiglass, plastic wrapping, or document protectors. Record data with a grease pencil, dry erase marker, or pencil so you can reuse the documents and not spend a fortune reprinting; at the end of the year the plexiglass can be erased and the charts and calendars reused. Maintenance charts may not solve all maintenance problems and they do require work to keep them up-to-date so it may be best to assign someone with this as their key responsibility.
These are a couple of documents you can use to help manage your system:
*The 5988 is a form the Army uses both at the maintenance manager level and at the individual operator level. The data from these documents is uploaded to the Army's data management software and records are constantly updated every Monday.
*The following example is bit more simple for those who do not have the luxury of data management software. This may be easier to store in filing cabinets, plug into a spreadsheet, or scan to store on your desktop.
3) Instill an owner-operator culture in your business
It is a proven fact that people take better care of their own things then they do other people’s. A vital part of my maintenance program while I was in the military was assigning equipment to individual Soldiers when they arrived at the unit. Giving employees ownership of a piece of equipment immediately after being hired gives them a sense of purpose and makes them directly responsible for costly repairs due to negligence. In the military, if a Soldier’s negligence leads to costly repairs or damages, the Soldier or their direct line supervisor pays for it. It may be a tough-love method, but that practice saved our unit thousands of dollars.
The fact of the matter is, no one person can manage every piece of equipment in a fleet. Its not physically possible and will lead to mental health issues for any one person who attempts it. If you assign equipment to individual operators you will be able to knock out vital pre, during, and after operation inspections and services which can lead to discovering fluid leaks, axle alignment issues, and early detection of small problems that could lead to bigger ones. In addition, the operator should ensure to clean the equipment after use and check all wire casings as part of their after operation procedures to ensure no fluid leaks or damage to electrical wiring occurred during use.
**It is important not to abuse the owner-operator culture. Employees should only pay for costs directly linked to NEGLIGENCE, this means you need a really good record-keeping procedure to track this NEGLIGENT activity. For example: if a piece of equipment ends up overheating due to a lack of coolant and every maintenance inspection worksheet the employee turned in reported liquid levels were good this is a NEGLIGENT activity which has led to a costly repair. This is when an employee can be liable and should develop a plan with the company to pay for such damages.**
4) Operator Training- prevention through proper use and knowledge on capabilities
Part of the owner-operator culture should emphasis employee training on equipment. If a new employee joins the company and is assigned a piece of equipment, they should not be allowed to operate said equipment until they undergo a training regimen that includes proper use, capabilities, and maintenance procedures. The employee should prove their understanding through an examination that takes into account all aspects trained and only when the employee shows they are competent on the piece of equipment they will operate should they operate. This may sound time-consuming and expensive but believe me, the training will be worth more to the company in cost savings when it comes to easily preventable repairs.
It is important this training is ongoing and the employee is tested at least twice a year on their knowledge on equipment capabilities and maintenance procedures.
Instilling a culture of preventative maintenance will keep your company churning project after project with little to no downtime and is worth the time, effort, and money it takes to develop one. The list provided is not exhaustive and as a manager or business owner you should always look into industry best practices to better refine your systems and processes but perhaps more important is that you ensure the “Average Joe” in your company understands that.
This video is an example of an "owner-operator" conducting his after operation service. This would be a better service if the man had a document to record his findings or what he has done.
1. G95-1261 Five Strategies for Extending Machinery Life- Robert D. Grisso and Steven R. Melvin University of Nebraska. https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1698&context=extensionhist
2. Oil Analysis- By Robert D. Grisso and Steven R. Melvin University of Nebraska. https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1403&context=extensionhist
3. Best Practices for Equipment Maintenance https://www.commercialcreditgroup.com/whitepapers/best-practices-equipment-maintenancev