Read the Manual!

So there you are with your flat pack Ikea® bookcase (probably called Schpolt), you get all the bits out and attempt to assemble it totally ignoring the multi-page assembly instructions. After several hours it’s finally assembled – well sort of – and guess what, there are bits left over! Ironically as a child you probably spent hours lovingly creating a Spitfire from a plastic kit, meticulously following every instruction to ensure you had the authentic look right down to painting the glint in the pilot’s goggles. 

 

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We used to read the instructions so what’s changed?

The other week I watched two operators – one a mechanic – attempt to commission a new air compressor and I was astounded when they came to me saying that it was broken and would have to go back.  Upon investigation I eventually found the instruction manual buried at the bottom of the box it had been delivered in and you’ve guessed it, there was an extra part – only it wasn’t extra, it was the drain plug. You can guess the rest but now at least the compressor is up and running and holding air.

This failure to follow the basic instructions supplied by the manufacturer not only wasted time on the day but could have resulted in the return of a perfectly serviceable machine. I know I’m not alone in suffering from this aversion to instructions, but what has changed? Machines have always been supplied with operator and service manuals and if anything, these are even more comprehensive now to cover all eventualities. So it’s a pity they end up covered in dust on a shelf or buried at the bottom of a filing cabinet (probably still in the plastic wrapper).  Don’t just take my word for it, check for yourself.

Manufacturers have worked hard to lower the running costs of their machines by reducing service intervals and fitting low maintenance, long life components. This is all well and good but it still relies on the operator/manager/owner to adhere to service schedules and carry out daily preventative maintenance. Information detailed in the instruction book is supplied with the machine in a variety of languages, but despite this, important first services are missed, warranties voided, bearings fail, cooling systems become clogged leading to catastrophic engine failures… the list is endless but in all cases, preventable. I could put this down to inexperience, lack of skills, lack of training, pressure of work… but none of this adds up when you consider the cost of the downtime from not following basic, simple instructions. I implore anyone reading this to check where the operator manuals are for their machines and review their preventative maintenance program.

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Comprehensive operator manuals available with all machines so use them!

There a simple answer to this problem which starts with setting standards, sticking to them and regularly sense checking them. Don’t wait for an expensive repair to highlight a system failure. You might consider using the operator manuals from a variety of machines as a guide to form your own maintenance and service program specific to the operational use of your machines and the conditions they work in. Many people are still happy with a major winter service coupled with a minor in-season service, but what does the machine’s hour clock tell you? This may suffice if your machine has a skilled operator who regularly maintains it and it completes around 400 hours in a season, but what if it does double those hours cutting highway verges or housing sites in the hands of a seasonal employee? You may need to think again. As to getting operators to read the instruction books, you could always buy them an Airfix® kit and see how they get on!

Angus Lindsay

Angus Lindsay

Group Head of Assets and Fleet