Gates Roundtable: Helping plant managers fix the break-fix mentality

At a recent supplier group meeting in Louisville sponsored by Gates Corp., PLANT ENGINEERING editor Bob Vavra moderated a Roundtable discussion on the role suppliers play in helping plant managers achieve optimal performance. The Roundtable panelists included: The full text of the discussion is now available at www.

By Bob Vavra July 15, 2007

At a recent supplier group meeting in Louisville sponsored by Gates Corp., PLANT ENGINEERING editor Bob Vavra moderated a Roundtable discussion on the role suppliers play in helping plant managers achieve optimal performance. The Roundtable panelists included:

  • Justin Aschenbrenner, vice-president of industrial power transmission business development for Gates Corp.

  • Ken Miko, vice-president of the Midwest division of BDI

  • Tollie Roberts, senior manager for indirect spending for the Bremner Food Group.

    • The full text of the discussion is now available at and covers a wide range of areas related to the supplier-manufacturer relationship. The discussion began with a look at how maintenance issues affect that relationship:

      VAVRA: I had a very provocative discussion with a gentleman earlier this week. We write about predictive maintenance, preventive maintenance in the magazine constantly: we’ve got a whole section of the magazine devoted to maintenance. And he said to me that the primary mode of maintenance in a lot of facilities is break-fix: you run it till it breaks; you call the supplier; they come on in and fix it or put in a new one; and you’re back up and running again.

      That seems kind of contrary to everything that we talk about in maintenance and manufacturing, and I’d like to get your thoughts as to whether, A, you are willing to support that premise; and, B, to what extent it’s true.

      ROBERTS: We have some plants that have various issues. They have some good maintenance groups. But, like any other company, we also have some where they’re a little weaker, and maintenance, really, is more firefighting.

      VAVRA: And how do you approach the ones that aren’t doing as well?

      ROBERTS: Change comes from the top down, not the bottom up. So the leadership teams in those facilities have to see the value in maintenance. They have to see that for every $1 you spend in preventive or predictive maintenance, there is a $2, $3, $4 return. They have to become the leaders.

      MIKO: I think, as a distributor, we see a couple of different things. We see the break-fix. We also see, depending on the company and the industry we’re calling on, people that really do try to predict and prevent.

      Some of the food industries seem to be better at diagnosing. They know what their history has been. They’re prepared to schedule some downtime. They’re prepared to work with the distributor to make sure the products are available so, when they are down, they can take advantage of the time.

      VAVRA: The place we have to start with is that the idea of break-fix is a flawed theory. And yet it seems to be prevalent out on the plant floors.

      ASCHENBRENNER: That’s the worst possible scenario. For our manufacturing facilities, we’re moving aggressively towards total productive management, which moves you away from the break-fix. And it’s really a change in thinking in many facilities from fixing it when it breaks to understanding the value of the production that you’re losing when that piece of machinery is down. It becomes a much higher value than how much you paid for a given belt to replace the one that’s broken, because you’re losing so many more dollars’ worth of goods as a result of that machine being down. That’s where we want to move the equation — to liability.

      VAVRA: How does a distributor or a supplier become more than just a commodities broker or a manufacturer? How do you become a business partner, and what kind of business relationship do you guys want to try and foster as that gets developed?

      ASCHENBRENNER: We feel like, as a manufacturer for our distribution, we should play the role of the expert in that product family. When our distributions’ customers end up with shop floor problems, we have the resources to come in, troubleshoot, fix the problems and provide some input on either preventive or predictive maintenance cycles that those pieces of equipment should be on.

      VAVRA: Ken, you’re very much of an expert for your end users in terms of how can you provide those right solutions for them. How do you solve their specific problem?

      MIKO: Solving the problem is getting to know your customer. And to Justin’s point: our distributors have many different types of solutions to offer. Each distributor figures out which one is going to be best for that particular project that’s come up. The distributor today needs to get the problem fixed, but then make sure they follow up with the engineer and say, “This has broken 12 times. How about we really fix your problem?” That’s where we can show some value.

      ROBERTS: We have to have a supply chain manager for your key things in plant maintenance; we have to have partners. I don’t need more vendors; I need more partners, people who take an interest, not just in selling us things, but in our business, in our people, in understanding the plant, the leadership team, what goes on, how it goes on, why it goes on. They take a bigger world view of us as a customer.

      VAVRA: And is the optimal relationship you’re looking for at your end — someone who would come in and provide you more than just a catalog and a laundry list?

      ROBERTS: It has to be. You don’t have any choice, really. We have younger people coming into the maintenance force. We have people who are at the other end who are going to retire; you have your group in between who are stable, but you have back shifts and front shifts that need more support sometimes.

      VAVRA: Ken, do you have to get your distributor group to think more along the lines of, “I need to be a consultant, I need to be a problem solver for my end user as opposed to just a catalog salesman?”

      MIKO: Absolutely. There are many distributors represented here. We are all competitors. We all have our strengths, and the people who continue to be successful are the ones that go after providing that solution.

      We have a bunch of people who are getting on in age, and then we have a gap, and then we have some younger people that have just come in. So to continue to get that value to our customers, we have to make sure we start training people and, maybe even more important is trying to attract good young people to do industrial distribution. Having worked with it for a number of years and trying to promote it, it’s amazing how many college people, high school people, that don’t even know what it is.

      VAVRA: Justin, what’s the optimal relationship you’re looking for all the way down the supply chain?

      ASCHENBRENNER: We’re looking to fulfill demand for our product through distribution to the end users. Our field guys are focused on doing cold calls with our distribution and providing the specific expertise to the end user that they need, going specifically after problems, and providing the solution to fix the break-fix issue that these guys are struggling with.