The Changing Attitude Toward Basic Maintenance

By Chris Fisk, President Acculube

Lowest cost is no longer top criteria


In my 15 years of providing manufacturers with the latest lubricants and industrial cleaners, one thing has always been consistent, the customer usually wanted whatever was the cheapest product to get the job done. But in the past year, more and more customers are changing their ways. Now manufacturers want to drive down maintenance costs by buying better and smarter products.


Why the sudden change? And how can manufacturers buy smarter? Let me explain.


Strong Labor Market


Google search "manufacturing news" and you will inevitably see at least one article on the shortage of skilled U.S. manufacturing workers. This skill shortage is compounded in maintenance professionals. During the recession of 2008-2010, many skilled maintenance workers were no longer needed. Plenty of these maintenance workers would go through government-sponsored retraining programs for different types of jobs. Those employees have moved on and aren't likely to come back.


More Complexity Driving Higher Maintenance Costs


Meanwhile, manufacturing equipment is becoming more complex, technical, and computerized. Companies need maintenance personnel who understand basic mechanical engineering.


That said, it's no surprise that salaries are rising. Two years ago the most recent data showed that the average industrial machinery mechanic in the United States earned a little less than $21 an hour. Today, it's $24.75 an hour. It's no wonder companies are strategizing how to keep maintenance personnel working on more significant work that will keep machines running and less on basic maintenance.


Rising costs and limited maintenance personnel are sweeping changes to how manufacturers make plant decisions. The question now becomes:


How can we operate at full capacity with less maintenance labor?


Here are some ideas I share with my clients.


Look for equipment with longer service intervals.  


Obviously, you'll need to do a proper return on investment analysis. These machines are often purchased brand-new and, thus, more expensive. However, you may find the time savings, warranty protections, and lower maintenance costs worth it, not to mention the increased functionality and programming capabilities.


Consider an automatic lubrication system.


An automatic lubrication system greases or lubricates multiple points on a machine on a time interval that you program into it. It uses small cartridges that can last up to a year. Maintenance personnel are only needed to swap out the dispensing unit or in the rare occurrence of a system failure.


Look for lubricants that last longer than three years or fill for life applications.  


Cheaper, more basic lubricants often must be changed every couple of months or require a machine to be greased quarterly. New lubricant technologies, on the other hand, can be tested once a year and changed only when required. For example with synthetics and high-performance lubricants, you only have to dispose of the old and buy new every three years. They can take as little as 15 minutes to test and only a couple of hours to drain and refill. New technology lubricants can also better protect machines from oxidation and high temp damage as well as wear protection. 


Quality maintenance personnel are a valuable asset to any manufacturing operation. Regrettably, there simply aren't enough of them to go around. New maintenance strategies and new product technologies can help these skilled professionals complete more maintenance work in less time.


Ask us today how we can help you get maintenance work done faster and more effectively!