Prevention is Better than Cure

At last we’ve had what I’d call “a proper summer” albeit with a cold spring, so at least there was a gradual start to the grass cutting season – let’s hope for the same in 2014. This season has however not been without its problems, some of which, frustratingly, stem from a failure to carry out basic preventative maintenance. This results in expensive and avoidable machine failures – ironic when you consider that what we do is maintenance based.

The general definition of preventative maintenance is as follows – The care and servicing by personnel for the purpose of maintaining equipment and facilities in satisfactory operating condition by providing for systematic inspection, detection, and correction of incipient failures either before they occur or before they develop into major defects. Put in layman’s terms; making sure machines have the necessary fluids, lubricants, airflow, protection and are in a fit state to operate before being put to work – much like the person operating them.

Manufacturers are moving towards reduced maintenance systems and smart technology (such as maintenance free bearings and engine management systems) that tell us when servicing is due and protect expensive components by shutting systems down when there is a problem.  But this means that we seem to have forgotten the basics! Machines still need to be inspected prior to being put to work, radiators need to be cleaned, oil levels need to be checked, bearings need to be greased, air filters need to be blown out, all to avoid catastrophic and costly mechanical failures.

First sign there could be something wrong

First sign there could be something wrong

Prevention - second obvious warning

Second obvious warning

Machines are not that different to humans when it comes to their basic needs.  All need fuel, fresh air, protection, warming up, flexibility in joints and muscles so we can remain active. Simple basic body maintenance – if we don’t look after ourselves we become ill.  So what makes us think that we can jump on a machine on a Monday morning, start it up on full throttle, fill it with diesel and expect it to cut grass for eight hours, five days a week (with perhaps a 15 minute introduction to a grease gun air line and if it’s lucky a pressure washer) and for it not to complain?  We expect these machines to work like this without breaking down – I think not. If we treated our bodies this way we’d all look like Keith Richards (sorry Keith), come to think of it he’s still going strong which somewhat defeats my argument, but at what cost?

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Third even more obvious warning

Whilst technology is moving in the right direction by making things easier and more efficient, there is still a basic need to look after machinery and to not assume that things will continue to operate unaided. There is no such thing as a maintenance free machine; from a trowel to a tractor, everything needs a certain amount of looking after. The warnings are always there but are usually noted too late when the damage has been done. That rumbling bearing, reduction in power, or strange burning smell can all lead to failures that could be avoided if investigated early. Spending a bit more time at the start of the day checking those ‘insignificant leaks’ can help you to avoid a more catastrophic failure. The same is true of ourselves, the warnings are there and normally we tend to act on anything out of the ordinary. The machine unfortunately needs a bit of help, it only makes a noise (usually an expensive one) when it’s too late.

Prevention - the costly outcome

The inevitable and costly outcome!

Angus Lindsay

Group Head of Assets and Fleet

Angus Lindsay