June 21, 1999
Prevention paysEquipment never fails when it's standing idle, just when you need it working If it's not broke, don't fix it, the saying goes. But running your planter, combine or other equipment until it breaks will cost more than a little preventative medicine.
Equipment never fails when it's standing idle, only right in the middle of an important job. So there's not only the cost of repair or replacement, but also the added loss of not having the equipment when it's needed - downtime.
"The machines that I'm servicing in the field because of a breakdown are the ones that weren't serviced before the season started," says Don Carper, farm equipment service manager for C.B. Hoober & Son, a Pennsylvania farm equipment dealer.
Carper's shop inspected 102 rotary combines and six corn planters in the field last year. "Sometimes there was a need for minor field adjustments to some machines that had been inspected," he says. "But there were no major teardowns."
Equipment manufacturers recommend inspections and preventative maintenance, which not only help ensure long life for equipment, but also maximize productivity.
Necessary before-failure repairs should be performed when they're most economical - when a component has provided a full, useful life but has not deteriorated to the point of complete failure or impaired performance.
Repair decisions should be made on the basis of component condition rather than hours or months of use.
Since most components will signal impending problems, repairs can be planned and carried out before failure. "When we see that a left-hand bushing is failing, we usually find that the right-hand bushing isn't far behind. So the smartest thing a farmer can do is have us replace them both at the same time and perhaps save himself some downtime during a critical part of the season," says Carper.
The ability to plan for major repairs also gives a farmer more control of maintenance scheduling and budgeting. Pre-failure repair also eliminates the possibility of damage to related systems caused by component failure.
"We give our customers discounts for having their maintenance performed during the off season," says Carper. "In fact, if the farmer has a heated facility for us to use during the hard winter months, he gets a discount for that, too."
Signals that service is needed include: component leaks, looseness in mechanical joints, change in oil pressure or consumption, debris in oil filter, overheating, change in coolant level, excessive blow-by, wear of external components or loss of power.
A complete machine history - maintenance and repair data - is a good source of signals. Information on the age of the machine, hours of operation, repairs previously performed, fluid consumption patterns and oil sample reports will indicate where closer attention is needed.
When signals develop, the farmer and the dealer should isolate the cause and determine if it is serious enough to require immediate repair. "Some farmers are willing to take their chances with a frayed belt or some other problem they think is minor. And sometimes it pays off," says Carper. "But then again, sometimes it doesn't."
Case Corporation's Customized Maintenance Inspection (CMI) program helps owners get the most from their equipment.
The CMI program includes routine inspections by trained technicians, for both Case and other makes of equipment. The goal is to improve machine reliability and extend its service life by identifying components that are candidates for pre-failure repair.
"First we perform the inspection and send the farmer a typewritten copy of the checklist. I then call the farmer and go over the list. This is where the farmer gets to exercise his 'line-item veto,' telling us what he wants done and what he doesn't," says Carper. "We make sure the farmer's in touch with what he's spending at all times.
"Once a farmer has gone through a preventive maintenance check and finds he can run a full season without a breakdown, he comes back," he says. - Staff
© copyright 1999 Agricultural Publishing Company Limited.
The ongoing dilemma: Replace or repair?I have many interesting discussions with the apprentice mechanics who pass through our facility, stemming from our requirement that they disassemble and rebuild components as part of their in-school practical training.
Almost universally their war cry is, "Why do we have to learn to rebuild them when all we do is replace them in the field?" Traditionally, my answer is that to properly understand how things operate and how to diagnose problems related to them, mechanics need to pull components apart and inspect and test the inner workings. The conversation often then leads to their voicing their - and their employer's - dissatisfaction with the quality of many of the rebuilt components that are sold and that they install. Poor fit, improper operation after installation, unsatisfactory performance and premature failure are the problems mentioned most.
The transition to replacement rather than repair of components such as alternators, starters, hydraulic pumps and cylinders, injectors and even engines was largely driven by economics, both in labour intensity and parts inventory. Further, most rebuilt components are offered with a limited replacement warranty, thereby relieving the installer of some labour liability. Rebuilders and distributors of rebuilt components have historically been ableto provide equipment owners and repair shops with significant savings, particularly on high-volume, fast-moving items.
However, there are some considerations to make before plunking down the cash for a rebuilt component.
First, mechanics working in the field report that some rebuilt parts frequently do not provide the same service life as the OEM (original equipment manufacture) part that they replaced. And even if the failure occurs within warranty, there is still additional labour, down time and customer dissatisfaction. This could be the result of some rebuilts being assembled with offshore, minimum standard parts, as well as the fact that major castings and other sub-parts of components are frequently not replaced during the rebuilding process, but are cleaned and inspected.
While they appear good at the time, they may fail shortly after going back into service. In fact, the equipment owner may have bought "someone else's problem" in purchasing a rebuilt component.
Second, increasingly, OEM replacement or, in some cases, after-market new replacement parts are available for only a small additional cost - or sometimes for equal or lower cost - than the rebuilt part. Give some thought as to how long that old alternator or engine lasted before it finally wore out. A quick calculation will usually confirm that it did, in fact, do its job for a remarkable number of hours. Sometimes replacement rebuilts don't stand up well by comparison. A new component is all new.
A third consideration is technology. Most of us in the repair and operating ends of the equipment field are constantly scrambling to keep up with technological changes as they are introduced, as well as the ever-increasing sophistication (read complexity) of some of the new tractors and accessories. This is compounded by the rapidness with which change occurs, both on the assembly line and among the manufacturers as they dissolve and re-evolve. No less so with the components on the equipment. Modern starter motors are a good example - compact, low amps, high torque. Efficient? Yes. Cheap? Definitely not!
So now I have a second good reason to have students learn how to overhaul components while they're in school and not in the field, where time can be at a premium. With the diversity and cost of components in the specialized field of farm equipment, it's starting to make good sense to repair and rebuild in-house, rather than exchange. We certainly advocate this at Kemptville, and suggest to our apprentices that they discuss the feasibility of this with their employers when they return to work. It's unfortunate when a perfectly good starter gets replaced for want of a solenoid or a set of brushes. Besides, repairing is interesting and a learning experience.
Nonetheless, repair shops and home mechanics alike will continue to opt for replacement rather than repair of components, in which case a little research will be time well spent. My suggestions? * Compare the price quoted by your aftermarket supplier of rebuilt components with the price of an OEM new part.
* Check with the dealership to see if the equipment manufacturer has a rebuild program that includes that component. They frequently do now and may provide an OEM-type warranty with their rebuilt parts, sometimes including remove-and-replace labour. OEM-supplied rebuilts, while costing a little more, generally are high quality.As a teacher, I like to challenge our new mechanics to find out how things work, to perform a large variety of tasks and to become expert diagnosticians. As a former service manager, I understand that time is money, but still maintain that if repair work is your business you should strive to do as much as is economically possible in your own shop.
* Clarify the terms of the warranty provided on the rebuilt component with your supplier. Are you required to register the warranty by sending in a card? Do you have to retain an invoice copy in order to have the warranty honored?
* Do thorough diagnosis, or ensure that it is done, before replacing any parts. Do you need a complete alternator or, in fact, does the problem lie with the regulator bolted to the alternator case?
* Consider how long you intend to keep, for example, the tractor on which the component has failed. If the alternator on your car stops working after, say, five years, there's a pretty good chance that you won't own that car in two more years, so the life expectancy of the replacement alternator isn't a major concern. When the alternator on your 10-year-old tractor packs up, though, you may very well be looking for another 10 years of service, both from the tractor and the replacement part. Service life is now a high priority.
Nick Bray is training co-ordinator of the University of Guelph's Kemptville College power and equipment program
© copyright 1999 Agricultural Publishing Company Limited.