Customized preventive maintenance vehicles

In the typical U.S. manufacturing plant, tens to thousands of gallons of oil, lubricant, hydraulic fluid, and other essential preventive maintenance products must be dispensed on a regular, if not daily, basis.

By Plant Engineering Staff June 23, 2003

In the typical U.S. manufacturing plant, tens to thousands of gallons of oil, lubricant, hydraulic fluid, and other essential preventive maintenance products must be dispensed on a regular, if not daily, basis to keep the gears, bearings, cylinders, dies, stamps, presses, and conveyor belts of industry operating.

However, the sheer size and complexity of today’s plants – often measured in millions of square feet, with up to 10,000 service points needing regular maintenance – make efficient delivery of these products by service personnel carrying cans of oil, or pushing buckets of lubricant on carts, nearly impossible.

In response, plant managers and industrial engineers are increasingly turning to customized preventive maintenance vehicles – decked out with specialized equipment designed to meet the specific needs of their plant. Designed to maneuver through aisles from one end of the plant to the other, these vehicles can be outfitted to handle just about any maintenance need imaginable – from lube and oil dispensing to welding and industrial vacuum cleaning.

For many, these customized vehicles are paying serious dividends in terms of keeping staff and equipment working at full capacity while avoiding costly downtime, contract penalties, voided warranties, and unnecessary capital outlays.

“A single piece of equipment may take several types of lubricant to be properly maintained,” says Dick Baker, Co-Owner of Baker Vehicle Systems, a Macedonia Ohio-based industrial equipment provider. “Multiply that out over a half-million sq. ft. plant, and it becomes prohibitively expensive to do preventive maintenance using traditional means. Hand-pushed carts can’t effectively contain the types or volumes of oil, lubricant, or fluid necessary for adequate preventive maintenance. Gravity-fed or hand-pump dispensing or removal is simply inefficient as well.”

In the past, to transport the many types of preventive maintenance products needed on the production line, plant engineers often called on available technicians to cobble together lube equipment using oil drums, carts, pumps, and other items on hand. However, it is unrealistic to expect the average worker to design and implement a reliable pump, tank, and filter system.

Moreover, the potential staggering cost and fallout of unscheduled production downtime makes this “penny-wise, pound-foolish” tactic dubious at best.

In addition, increasingly complex and expensive plant and production equipment must be efficiently and properly maintained according to stringent warranty requirements. Simply missing a maintenance interval, for example, could make a company liable for machinery replacement to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars, under certain circumstances.

Custom preventive maintenance vehicles maximize efficient production

The number of factors to consider in properly outfitting preventative maintenance vehicles for large but confined industrial settings is nearly endless: size; weight; horsepower; type of power; reel length; tank size and number; dispenser and vacuum pump capacity; storage areas for filters and waste products; as well as the need for hoists, cranes, air compressors, and other special gear.

To keep production running smoothly, preventive and reparative welding is also important in many plants. And, of course, plants must respond immediately and effectively to production emergencies. For example, the sudden failure or breakage of a hydraulic hose could require both vacuum recovery and dispensing capability, while catastrophic failure could even make industrial fire or rescue equipment necessary.

In short, haphazard maintenance methods have no place in manufacturing plants today. Each company has individual needs, and jury-rigged or “one-size-fits-all” solutions simply don’t address these unique needs. Instead, customized solutions designed specifically for each plant’s application are required to produce the best maintenance, and hence the best production results, at the lowest cost.

Customized vehicles in action

“We have so many different equipment manufacturers in the plant,” says Dave Znamirowski, Maintenance Planner Supervisor at GM’s Allison Transmission plant in Baltimore, Maryland. “After standardizing, the plant still requires 15 oils and lubes, three hydraulic fluids, and at least six greases for adequate preventive maintenance.”

“Hand-carting cans of oil is too slow and requires too many round trips to a supply depot,” continues Znamirowski. “Preventive maintenance done this way is labor-intensive, expensive, and prone to error. Scattered items have to be searched for, and containers are liable to be mislabeled and mistakenly put in the wrong machinery. This would require a system flush, and if not caught, could contaminate seals or damage pumps and cylinders, causing production downtime. As a just-in-time plant, we can’t afford any production downtime.”

The Allison plant also required mobile welding for preventive maintenance and the timely repair of conveyor leaks. Znamirowski, however, wanted to avoid the inefficiency of a cart-towed welder, which required high-voltage hook ups and high-amp safety switches, as well as welding receptacles installed throughout the plant every 50 to 100 feet.

Znamirowski turned to Elliott Machine Works. Based in Galion, Ohio, Elliott Machine Works specializes in providing custom solutions based on individual consultations with each client. These consultations are designed to elicit exactly what is needed and wanted for each specific application, so the final product matches the needs of its owner.

Elliott Machine Works consulted with the Allison plant to determine how much oil, grease, lubricant, and hydraulic fluid was specifically needed for each maintenance shift. Three electric vehicles were custom-fitted with the proper tanks, fluids, air-driven pumps, and equipment. To allow more storage capacity, the vehicles were designed as one-seaters with extra tanks and shelf space. This was to maintain prescribed preventive maintenance and keep production machinery running at peak capacity, without wasteful return trips to the supply depot.

When a large number of tanks are necessary to meet a plant’s maintenance needs, Elliott Machine Works offers modular tanks and pumps that can be interchangeably swapped out as needed. When used with a hoist and quick mounting system, this allows a single vehicle to effectively do preventive maintenance throughout an entire plant, if necessary.

Moreover, to accurately forecast maintenance needs and prevent costly
production breakdowns, intelligent fluid metering is available. When fill
amounts are measured by machine over time, using bar coding, plant managers can forecast and respond to impending equipment failure before it’s a problem.

For example, if a press usually consumes ten gallons of hydraulic fluid a day, but suddenly begins using 20 gallons a day, it could indicate that a hose, bearing, or cylinder leak needs repair.

“Elliott’s attention to detail has served our needs well,” says Znamirowski. “The vehicles have cut our labor for preventive maintenance in half, and virtually eliminated the possibility of cross-contaminating fluids in our machinery. We can place the skid-mounted lube service pack on another vehicle if necessary, to keep preventive maintenance going even if the original vehicle needs repair work.”

In addition, to speed fluid recovery and emergency spill clean-up, a propane-driven vehicle was outfitted with a 500-gallon vacuum.

“The vacuum truck empties a 55-gallon drum in about 20 seconds,” says Znamirowski. “Now we can simply drive up, empty a container of old fluid, drive off, open a valve, and dump the load. It’s tremendously more efficient than pushing around air vacs or 55-gallon drums to be disposed of.”

Elliott Machine Works also provided the Allison plant with a custom mobile welding vehicle, outfitted not only with arc and tig welders but also with burning rig, 480 V lines for receptacles and switches, and a rack for hauling up to 20-foot steel bar stock.

Znamirowski estimates the self-contained mobile welding unit is at least a third more efficient than traditional mobile welding methods.

“Our ROI on the Elliott equipment has been amazingly quick compared to the typical labor-intensive means of maintaining industrial equipment,” says Znamirowski. “We’ve improved our labor efficiency greatly, which has helped the plant earn GM’s phase three preventive maintenance rating, the highest rating in its quality plant maintenance network.”

Dave Reed, Facilities Manager at Premier Manufacturing Support Services, L.P., in Columbus, Ohio, found similar efficiency in the self-propelled vacuum vehicles provided by Elliott Machine Works. Reed had previously used 55-gallon, push-air vacuums for years to remove industrial oils, coolants, sludge, and the like until he switched to two 300-gallon, self-contained, vacuum vehicles. He now uses these in a variety of applications, both indoor and out, including fuel spills in parking lots.

One of the self-propelled vacuums used at an Ohio automotive plant reduced the labor in emptying a 400-gallon, rolling mill, lubricant reservoir almost ten-fold. Previously, one man was taking ten trips and over three hours to pump out the reservoir using standard 55-gallon, air vacs pulled by hand.

Using a self-propelled vacuum vehicle, the same job took just two trips and was done in 20 minutes.

“With no need to connect air hoses, electric connections, or any other remote energy sources, these vehicles typically empty a tank in seconds, and allow operators to pump, empty, and get back to a work site in minutes,” says Reed. “The vehicles allow me to do preventive maintenance with less labor, with extremely high reliability. With the vehicles, one person can do the job of many using standard vacs. Efficiency goes up hundreds of percent, effectively reducing maintenance overhead as a cost center.”

Productivity and competitiveness through customized preventive maintenance

In today’s soft economy, manufacturers need every advantage at their disposal to keep productive and profitable, despite ever tighter margins. Toward these purposes, the customization of preventive maintenance vehicles, such as that offered by Elliott Machine Works, will be a necessary ingredient in maximizing staff and equipment productivity as well as business profitability, especially in just-in-time manufacturing environments.

For more information, write to Elliott Machine Works, Inc. at 146 Rensch Ave., PO Box 955, Galion, OH 44833; ; or visit .