• Dennis McCraw posted a photo 5 months, 2 weeks ago

    I often get questioned about why I think a company’s preventive maintenance program isn’t working. Or why after spending x amount of dollars extra, or making various changes to the program, it just doesn’t work. That’s when I suggest it may be time for an outside prospective.

    My father was a hard man to work for at times, but often, it was to drive home the point, the lesson learned. It was only after his passing that I became enlightened. This important lesson, I had learned from him.

    For many years, I’ve performed and managed preventive maintenance (PM) on every type of equipment. I’ve always asked myself why the equipment still fails, even after we’ve performed a PM. Thanks to my Father, I never stop questioning. So, I’d like to share some important lessons with you, which may just help eliminate some organization’s trouble spots.

    One of the questions I’ve been asked is how do we know if our PM program is working? Three of the most important answers to that question are breakdowns/on road service calls, road side inspection failures and pre and post trip inspection reports. These incidents can be costly, and will add significant costs to your maintenance expenses. That’s why it’s important to have a pm program that works for your operation.

    Unfortunately, one cost cutting measure of some organizations is to cut preventive maintenance programs. I’m not against cutting costs, but fleets need to ensure, it’s done with out cutting proper maintenance.

    One practice that I preach as a fleet manager is to run a predictive preventive maintenance program. We’ll get into that a little later. First, I feel it’s important to look at the concept of a pm program a bit closer. PM, as many of you know, stands for preventive maintenance. You’ll notice that I didn’t refer to it as, fix what’s broke maintenance. With cost cutting, this is sometimes the trap many companies fall into. Let’s get this inspection done as quickly as possible, and get the unit back on the road. If this sounds familiar, you might as well take your unit to a quick lube to be serviced. Because you’re not getting any value, for the money you’re spending on your preventive maintenance program. Preventive maintenance should be exactly that, PREVENTIVE.

    Preventive maintenance is the responsibility of the entire company, and that is something that every member has to take ownership of. Not just the shop personnel. This has been a failure in many organizations. Fleets feel that it falls solely on the shoulders of their maintenance department to handle preventive maintenance. But, maintaining a commercial vehicle is the responsibility of every department.

    I sometimes have a habit of telling stories to explain myself and this seems like a perfect opportunity for one. I recall once talking with the maintenance supervisor of a container chassis fleet. Their operation was suffering from after hour’s service calls. They were experiencing day time calls as well, but the expense of the night calls was what caught managements attention. That is a red flag right there.

    When I was given a tour of the shop, the supervisor was very proud of the fact that they performed PM’s every 30 days. Quite impressive, that the fleet was willing to go to that expense to try and cut down on after hours calls. After hearing their issues, I made the suggestion that they should consider extending the intervals on their fleet. That they could use the cost savings to do a more thorough PM inspection and train their drivers to perform better pre/post trip inspections and to use a closed loop system to ensure driver reports are being repaired and signed off on.

    The result was a bunch of stunned faces. How could I suggest such a thing? Well, their service calls were mostly for light issues and air leaks, usually blown chambers, signs of a poor preventive maintenance program. They were spending on average $300 to 400 a call, depending where the unit was located.

    First off, I reassured them, I hadn’t lost my mind. They were attempting to counter the many break downs by increasing the frequency of PM inspections. How is it, you can predict when a light will burn out? The answer was obvious, they could not. You can predict brake and tire wear from visual inspections during a PM service, you can find worn and defective parts, but you can’t predict when a light will burn out, or a diaphragm will fail. If you bring a unit in for service and find lights burned out, missing or broken, that’s a failure of the system in my books. Those things didn’t happen on the way in for service. The fact that they were found in a PM inspection is a result of improper pre and post trips. In other words, those broken, burned out and missing lights should have been reported by the driver when the unit was dropped. I explained if the drivers took ownership of the concept of proper pre and post trips, these types of items would be reported right away. Again, I reminded them, there is no way to predict when a light is going to burn out, so how’s doing more frequent PM inspections going to help them eliminate the issue.

    We were standing in a bay where a tech had just finished a PM inspection on a unit. That’s how this conversation came to being. The unit was perhaps 5 years old; I asked the tech if he’d remove the RF seal beam for us from the chassis, when he popped the light out, the ground pin broke due to corrosion and stayed in he light. I commented that I had just saved them $300. The unit had just had a PM, and this light was doomed to fail. The tech looked at me like I had just predicted the winning lottery numbers, in all honestly, it was just dumb luck. I did expect to find a light on the unit that would likely fail due to corrosion, but not the first one that we removed.

    This is where I emphasis the PREVENTIVE maintenance. It’s not meant to be a fix what’s broken inspection, but preventive maintenance. That means dig a little deeper and investigate, take the necessary time to do inspections and repairs, which will prevent breakdowns between services. PREVENTIVE is the key term. Remove seal beams, use and reuse dialectic grease on connections, check wiring for corrosion, when it’s found, repair it. Properly inspect chambers for broken springs, ensure there’s dust plugs in the chambers so abrasive dirt and stones are not getting into the diaphragm area to cause problems down the road. Don’t just adjust auto slacks, if they’re out of spec, investigate why. Remove ECM plugs, and check for corrosion. Again, re-apply dialectic grease. You’d be surprised to find the difference that proper electrical maintenance done during repairs and annually will even make.

    Another short story to bring home my point, a customer of mine, had an older fleet of dump trucks. He kept having breakdowns, and had to keep towing units in to his vendors shop for electrical faults. He complained that he had changed vendors, and still his units kept breaking down after being serviced.

    I asked if I could open the hood on a recently serviced unit. He obliged and I took a quick look. I suggested it would be a good idea to use a quick lube and he could save himself some money on labour. The electrical harness had multiple areas where the green monster had taken over. I guess they just assumed that the corrosion would just get better with time. Even the battery connections were not cleaned. Corrosion is the enemy of all electrical systems, so why wouldn’t it be part of a PM program to remove connections and inspect for it and protect them with dialectic grease is beyond me, especially if you are experiencing breakdowns. I recommended they take the time to audit their trucks occasionally after PM inspections. Likely their service provider would appreciate having their supervisor go over the truck with them to find missed faults before the unit is returned to service. It would only improve their service standards.

    Preventive maintenance is exactly that, PREVENTIVE. It’s about identifying deficiencies or potential deficiencies and having them repaired before they become bigger problems or breakdowns. PM programs are flawed because they are essentially reactive maintenance programs that rely mainly on time-based PM tasks following manufacturers’ suggestions. I can usually get no technical justification for any task other than “we always do it this way,” or “that’s the recommended time line we use to change the oil. Again, try coordinating a mileage based pm program with when a brake chamber diaphragm will blow. Not possible. Drivers are the tip of the sword; they do pre and post trips everyday on your equipment, and need to be the ones to identify vehicle defects when they occur. Quit trying to predict when lights will burn out, and chambers will blow, because it can’t be done. Your maintenance department’s job is to try to prevent units from breaking down between services. By utilizing best practices in maintenance, you’ll be able to extend service intervals.

    Finally, that brings me to predictive maintenance. Breakdowns have little to do with the age of equipment, but are more due to poor preventive maintenance practices.There’s a saying in the fleet management business, if you don’t track and analysis data, then you’re just another guy with an opinion. It’s a little crass, but I like it.

    Predictive maintenance is just that, using technology to track, analysis and predict failures. By tracking maintenance occurrences you’ll be able to do preemptive repairs before your unit breaks down in Bismark ND, nothing against North Dakota. Can you imagine if I could predict that your truck would blow a water pump at 500,000 miles. You’d likely want to get it into your shop before that number and get that pump changed avoiding a service call on the road, costing you three times as much to repair. That’s what predictive maintenance is all about, doing an analysis of your data, to find trends that will help you with preventive maintenance. But there’s one more key to predictive maintenance, detective work. It’s not just data; it’s also following up on failures, and investigating the cause to find the early signs of equipment failure. What were the early signs of specific failures excessive engine temperature or excessive pressure fluctuations? Using predictive technologies to catch early signs of specific failures, an example would be oil sampling for a specific particle types.

    Running a predictive maintenance program produces far better asset reliability. The business impact of a well-defined proactive maintenance program is considerable. You’ll increase equipment reliability, reduce capital replacement cost, achieve higher equipment availability and reduce maintenance costs.

    By allowing management, drivers and maintenance staff to work with you to develop the plan. They’ll feel some ownership of the process. With such a huge potential to improve business competitiveness, companies can’t rely on time-based maintenance alone. The properly balanced use of predictive and time-based maintenance forms a successful proactive maintenance program.


    I often get questioned about why I think a company’s preventive maintenance program isn’