Increasing Uptime – Don’t wait for a breakdown

We’ve all experienced the effects of equipment failure, breakdowns, or major malfunctions, downtime, which can lead to delays in order fulfillment and worst of all major expenses. With the fear of major malfunctions in mind, the upkeep of the machines, particularly older machines, often ends up taking the form of compromising output speed and volume, and simply dreading the day when the machine breaks down without warning and throws the whole facility into a state of chaos. And by the time a technician has to be called to the facility, it’s safe to assume that margins are already being compromised. What you may not realize is that there is an alternative to this cycle. Long before breakdowns and emergency calls to techs, there are simple routine checks and changes that can be made to stop problems before they start. Here are some tips and advice beyond the routine, planned maintenance that can make a difference in your bottom line, and in the overall health and longevity of your machines.

Little ‘Annoyances’ Cost Big

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is a mantra that has long been the motto of corrugated plant managers. Although this may sound like it’s aimed at saving money on repairs and upgrades that are not yet an immediate need, it really may be a short-sighted approach that saves money in the short term, but ends up costing more in the long run. Just because machines are still running does not mean that they’re running efficiently. Chances are that some of your machines may be a little finicky, or maybe they are still functioning, but not at maximum capacity. While this may seem minor, it may be the harbinger of bigger, and preventable problems to come.

What To Look For

Here are some common indicators of seemingly innocuous problems that could be an indication that minor service is needed:

  • Voids are showing up in the print. Easy Fix? check the doctor blade. A new blade is cheap, and easy to install, whereas the 200+ boards lost from ink splatter, plus downtime for the repair could cost much more.
  • Jams are occurring but the plant isn’t receiving notifications of the jam. Easy Fix? It is likely an issue with a sensor.
  • Boards aren’t being pulled down the way they should be, or the water gauge is reading low on the blower. Easy Fix? There may be an issue with the doors inside the vacuum transfer not setting up correctly, which hurts the speed and efficiency of production.
  • Feed is experiencing skewing issues. Easy Fix? There may be an issue with the feed gates, parallelism of feed roll nip, or issues with the feed table itself.

Just because machines are still running does not mean that they’re running efficiently.

While the above examples are common problems, the approach in many plants is to find workarounds. But as we say time and time again, small, persistent problems can cost big in the long run.

Read the Manual

The challenging part about routine maintenance is that the naked eye, even of an experienced operator, is not always enough to know when some component is nearing the end of its life span. A machine could seem to be running smoothly one day and then break the next day. But in this instance, there is a very simple yet often overlooked solution to stop these catastrophic failures before they start: the manual. The manual is more than just instructions for operation and troubleshooting when something goes wrong – it also provides recommendations of when to replace components before they wear out or break from the natural wear and tear of daily use. The best analogy for this is to liken your machine to your car. Everyone who owns a car knows about the recommended maintenance intervals in the owner’s manual. There are routine maintenance recommendations every 30,000 miles for consumables like rubber hoses, wiper blades, and tires that wear out at regular intervals. And then there are other known maintenance intervals, like oil changes every 5000 miles, brakes and battery every 50,000 miles, and a new timing belt every 75,000 miles. No responsible vehicle owner simply drives their car until it breaks down, and they’re willing to pay the moderate but ultimately tolerable fees here and there to protect themselves from having to buy a new engine after a catastrophic failure. And as a car gets older, it becomes even more critical to stay on top of routine maintenance. But just like in a motor vehicle, the key to these maintenance schedules can be found in the owner’s manual, and it becomes even more important to stay up to date as the machine ages. And while skipping some of these component replacements may seem like an easy way to save a few thousand dollars, just like in a motor vehicle, failing to pay attention to them can ultimately cost exponentially more when something major fails.

Mark Peyton is the Director of Aftermarket at  SUN Automation Group. He brings decades of industry experience and expertise to SUN where he has held many customer-focused positions. Prior to his 20-year career with SUN, he worked from Langston and United. He can be reached at mpeyton@sunautomation.com or 410-472-2900

Originally published in Corrugated Today, March/April 2021 Issue