Volume 14, Issue 5 - June 2013

feature

A Well-Oiled Machine
Many Manufacturers Opt for In-House Maintenance

You must have a well-trained in-house maintenance staff if you want to have a functional plant.

“You have preventative maintenance on a daily basis,” says David Barnes, president of Viwinco Vinyl Windows in Morgantown, Pa. “We have six maintenance people who are responsible for on-the-spot and preventative maintenance. We run low lead times, so if the machine goes down we have to get it up right away.”

“We must have more than 100 pieces of equipment that require some type of preventative maintenance,” says Alan Levin, president of Philadelphia-based Northeast Building Products. “We have a preventative maintenance program though in which we perform some sort of preventative maintenance done on some pieces of equipment every night. Some require weekly, some require monthly, some require every quarter; it depends on the piece of equipment.”

Why Train In-House
Low lead times and infrequent supplier availability are two reasons window manufacturers say having your own highly trained maintenance team is invaluable.

“It keeps the equipment in good shape and protects the investment; we also don’t lose any time in production if we have downtime on the equipment,” notes Barnes.

“Because of our low lead time we have to control the source,” he adds. “We have two buildings … it’s not a small facility. Stuff does break down; the machinery isn’t designed to work 24 hours a day continuously. Also, you have to maintain your equipment. You frequently have to change items such as blades and weld plates.”

According to Levin, “convenience and the speed of getting a machine up when something does go down” are key benefits to having a properly trained in-house maintenance team.

“A lot of times the equipment we buy comes from places out of the country, such as Germany or Austria and it’s hard to get good technicians to come over when things need maintenance,” states Levin.

“I believe it’s always better to be able to do it in-house. I don’t see any reason why it’s better to get the factory or manufacturing company to get their people to come in unless it’s something above and beyond what our people are trained on,” Levin says. “That only happens to us about once a year and we’ll pay to have a machinery manufacturer to come in and do what we’re unable to do but that’s more of a rarity.”

“In today’s world, a lot can be done over the phone or through a smart phone,” Barnes says. “I know over the years, we’d have someone walk us through and if they couldn’t they’d send someone out.”

From a financial perspective, in-house makes sense.

“It’s a little more expensive to go through suppliers,” Barnes says. “There aren’t many little- or middle-sized guys like me left. I can’t imagine not knowing how to fix the equipment that’s in your building.”

What Do Suppliers Say?
Machinery manufacturers agree; they want their customers to have the in-house maintenance staff necessary to repair the machinery and prevent major malfunctions.

“We can go out on a one-time basis and do some general preventative maintenance or we sometimes set up contracts where we’ll go out three or four times a year and do an audit of the machinery and correct anything that’s glaringly out of whack,” says Mike Biffl, national sales manager for Twinsburg, Ohio-based Stürtz Machinery. “Most of our customers have a maintenance department and they do most of the preventative and scheduled maintenance on their own. They’ll bring us in periodically to make sure things have been maintained properly.

“The downside of using the supplier obviously is the cost. You’re paying the technician to travel out and spend time on-site every time you need the machine maintained,” he says. “With good training, though, an on-site maintenance staff can do a good job if they’re conscientious people.

“A lot of people don’t realize you have to maintain the equipment properly to keep it running for a long period of time,” adds Biffl. “You don’t just plug it in and forget about it, so to speak. The preventative maintenance has to be done on a regular basis. Greasing bearings and cleaning vinyl dust out of the machine has to be done regularly or the machine won’t last; it doesn’t matter whose machine it is. One of the most critical investments you can make is to have a properly trained maintenance staff to make sure those machines are taken care of properly.”

Biffl says window manufacturers typically “have their own maintenance people and when someone buys a machine they can come to us for advanced maintenance training as part of the deal with the purchase of the machine and we also periodically have classes people can pay to come to.”

Learning the Ropes
Kevin Felix, vice president of operations for GED Integrated Solutions in Twinsburg, Ohio, says his company also offers training courses for customers. “It’s usually broken into about three-and-a-half to four days of [on-site] training with travel. We would go through both classroom training as well as hands-on training at the equipment we keep and/or cycle through our facility.

“Generally it’s the maintenance personnel or operators from the various customers or window manufacturers,” says Felix. “To supplement those [classes] geared toward the equipment, we’ve offered an IG supervisor workshop training, which is really geared more toward an overview of IG production as a holistic event and then we would have either on-site training at a customer facility or we would host that here at GED … the discussion is best practice or generalized how do you run an IG plant and those as up to a three-day event as well.”

Felix touts many of the same benefits window manufacturers have noticed from using their own staff, saying it helps improve the overall functionality of the plant.

“If there is an issue that happens with the equipment their response time is short and quick so they can keep that product line up and running,” states Felix. “The inner-sub process is the heart and soul of the IG plant. If the inner-sub goes down there are very few options that customers have as alternative sources. If they’re committed to the inner-sub process they are committed fully and therefore they need that line running. If that line goes down, they basically shut that plant down, or at least the IG portion of the plant down. If it was an ancillary piece of equipment, an IG assembly tank or something like that generally they have some options on how they could hand top the units … What we’ve found on the inner-sub side especially, the maintenance training and the ability for that maintenance … they have to keep that machine up and running at all times.”

Felix also stresses that companies should “really focus on a ‘train-the-trainer’ approach so you get more tenured, experienced maintenance staff and really utilize them to be trained proficiently on the equipment and then use that and leverage that to train the rest of the staff.”

The type of employee you train also matters, according to Levin.

“You have to make sure you have a quality maintenance tech,” Levin says. “You have to get a top-notch mechanic who understands what he’s learning. You can’t get a foreman or a leadman who runs the piece of equipment and think they’re going to understand all of the maintenance issues that can arise.”

Training staff at the supplier’s location also offers advantages to on-site training.

“It takes them out of the environment of their own plant and puts them in an environment where they can really focus on training and learning, and that’s what we have found as a benefit to having the training center here … especially maintenance staff,” says Felix. “It offers the ability to get them out of their environment [to a place] where they’re not called away and distracted. They can focus strictly on the training and really absorb what they’re learning. It keeps the equipment up and running and keeps them as a self-sufficient operation.”

Whether or not companies choose to train in-house or externally, Felix says window manufacturers need to “focus on taking advantage of the programs out there and make sure there is a consistency in how that operator and maintenance staff are trained … so they have consistency between maintenance staff over shifts.”

Levin agrees, saying, “Usually when we get a new piece of equipment we do an initial training of the heads of our maintenance department; we’ll send them either to the factory to learn how to maintain the equipment or we’ll have the installing technicians for the company spend extra time to train our people how to do it properly,” he says.

Levin also notes that there are additional steps window manufacturers can take to stay on top of machinery maintenance.

“We have a software program [eMaint X3 Maintenance Management System] that tracks our preventative maintenance and when parts are changed so you can better predict when and where items are going to fail,” he says. “I believe having a good software system to help predict these types of failures and remind you when you should do your preventative maintenance is very important.”

Casey Neeley is the assistant editor of DWM magazine. She can be reached at cneeley@glass.com.

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