How to align rental equipment with plant project needs

To remain competitive, companies must pursue equipment partnerships that help them cut through the complexities and provide resources to get the job done safely, on time and within budget

By Troy Underwood November 20, 2020

For plant professionals, renting equipment can be a pivotal part of projects impacting plant systems and facilities. If a vital piece of equipment is not available, workers and machines can sit idle and an entire project to improve plant production or maintenance could fall behind schedule or go beyond budget.

Many companies operate with mixed fleets, leveraging owned and rented equipment. Supplementing or scaling fleet with rented machines give plants and facilities the option to pay for the equipment when — and only when — they need it. The flexibility to get the right tools for the exact duration of any given project allows for agility in terms of capital (see Figure 1). Firms don’t need to invest in assets that may sit idle for a significant portion of the year.

When a plant or facility has fluid handling — holding, pumping or filtering — needs, companies should consider their current equipment fleet and also explore how their rental providers can not only accommodate but advance the project productivity beyond equipment (see Figure 2).

Look at equipment needs

Any assessment of a rental provider should be able to answer the following questions:

  • Can the rental company provide equipment most likely to be needed for core projects?
  • How deep is their fleet; will availability be an issue?
  • Do they have the expertise to provide the right solution for the application?
  • Does the provider have a culture that places safety at the forefront?
  • Can they address other miscellaneous services of value?

The right access to a robust inventory of equipment could have a major impact on project success. Leading rental equipment providers specialize in selecting a broader, and often more specialized, fleet than any one firm would consider owning. Typically, companies scale their general equipment fleet like scissor lifts, skid steers and booms, but specialty units like containment pumps and filters aren’t as common in a fully owned fleet (see Figure 3). Plus, owned fleets may not have those ancillary items like attachments and additions that make it even easier to tailor solutions to a project’s unique situation and desired outcome. Some rental portfolios also include onsite services such as setup and operational labor, engineering services, remote monitoring services and onsite diesel fueling, making it easier to consolidate vendor networks and keep budgets on track.

Another benefit of infusing rental equipment into an existing fleet strategy is the access to newer and more advanced fleets. Rental companies upgrade their fleets on a regular basis, giving customers access to the most advanced gear and latest in control and operational technologies. Teams get to work with the latest equipment while familiarizing themselves with the machines before deciding whether to purchase or continue renting.

To guide plant professionals, rental companies should be able to offer a single point of contact to provide ongoing advice on the selecting the right equipment to address their needs, and best practices to ensure optimal return on rentals and project productivity. In addition to dedicated support personnel, rental providers are offering digital commerce platforms that make it easy for companies to evaluate, price and procure rental equipment and services online.

Address emergency situations

A rental provider’s core mission is to deliver quality equipment on schedule and according to a project plan. While that is useful, there is so much more to project success, and rental companies can play a big role in the outcome. Project managers are expected to maintain productivity regardless of the situation but can increasingly rely on rental companies to boost productivity in other aspects outside of just equipment.

Planned, unplanned and other events must be handled with efficiency. Company planning processes typically address the cost of emergency situations, in terms of production disruption, lost labor hours, supply chain disruption and potentially environmental cleanup. The heightened stress levels of these events also can increase the potential for an accident or injury.

As part of their planning, plants need to explore whether they can depend on their rental providers when they need them to meet unexpected needs such as disaster response and unforeseen emergency situations. In these instances, time is in short supply and personnel need to understand who they can call and depend on to support them. They need an established partner in the wings with a single point of contact they can trust to deliver in any situation, one who can help put in place contingency plans for these unfortunate but inevitable events.

The rental provider of choice needs to have qualified, inhouse experts available on demand who specialize in the area of the plant in need of contingent plans. These experts can assist in the design of contingency plans that may help mitigate emergency situations and ensure redundant systems are in place or locally available when needed.

Plants need to be able to rely on onsite consultation and forward planning for the inevitable to understand before any event:

  • Who to call in the event of an emergency?
  • What equipment and support will be needed?
  • What are the costs going to be?

The provider needs to have a track record of expeditiously delivering quality equipment available 24/7/365.

Equipment rental is no longer purely transactional. The leading equipment rental companies have become the ultimate support vendors for plants with a litany of professional consultants who are available at a customer’s disposal at virtually no cost. From equipment and process failures to support through natural disasters and serious emergencies, these companies provide far beyond what was available merely a decade ago.

Looking beyond equipment

Rental companies need to provide ways to contribute to a plant’s productivity beyond equipment. When further assessing rental providers, companies should include a review of services of value in their evaluations. This includes services such as a complementary staff of consultants for site visits, offering digital tools to optimize equipment management, benchmarking key performance metrics and advanced training and safety capabilities. Rental provider safety rating is a key indicator, providing an important measure of the provider’s culture.

Optimize equipment management. Every minute equipment sits idle at a plant, it costs a company money and impacts the bottom line. Optimizing equipment utilization is key to staying within budget and even lowering costs over time. Leveraging digital tools, including low-cost sensors, GPS technology and telematics and a new generation of high-powered, cloud-based fleet management software and services make it possible to manage owned and rental equipment. These tools create a digital system of record, providing valuable information such as location, use and performance.

Benchmark key performance metrics. While the insights gained from digital equipment fleet management are incredibly helpful, they are largely inward looking. Benchmarking performance enables the gains generated by fleet management efficiencies to be taken to the next level. Any rental supplier that a company uses should be able to provide how its equipment is used and consumed by market segment, job type and equipment specification. Benchmarking uncovers opportunities to understand where utilization problems are and can lead to corrective actions that change operational behaviors and result in stronger positive financial results.

Advance operator and safety training. The challenges of plant safety and productivity are something companies face every day. Lectures with minimal classroom engagement are not enough. Companies need to look to dedicated resources that offer operator and safety training along with support outside the classroom — like worksite consultation, engineered designs and safety equipment.

Aligning equipment with project needs

Today’s plants and facilities are demanding, complex, dynamic and potentially dangerous environments. To remain competitive, companies must pursue equipment partnerships that help them cut through some of the complexities and provide resources to get the job done safely, on time and within budget. Aligning equipment with these important organizational goals is the ultimate business advantage.

Author Bio: Troy Underwood is district sales manager at United Rentals. He is a specialized rental equipment industry veteran with more than two decades of experience in the construction and specialized equipment industries.