Guest column

'Replace with new’ is a reactive strategy; repairing makes factories run more efficiently

By Eric Martin

- Last updated on GMT

Eric Martin
Eric Martin

Related tags Maintenance

People always want new things. The latest gadget, the hottest car, the latest fashion, the trendiest diet. Sometimes that bias can even spill over to the factory floor. When something breaks down, why not replace it with something new? New is always better, right? Not necessarily, says Eric Martin.

In fact, repairing key components versus replacement can be one of the most important decisions in factory maintenance. Especially in the bakery industry, thousands if not millions of dollars can be wasted, either directly or indirectly, when manufacturing parts are blindly swapped upon failure. 

Incorrect equipment

Buying new can seem like a no-brainer - but there are advantages to carefully thinking through repair/replace alternatives. Data has shown repaired and/or re-engineered components can save 40%-60% versus the cost of buying new. 

Selecting new without looking at the larger operational context can also obscure issues like improper maintenance practices, environmental impact and incorrect equipment operation. 

It’s a fact that repaired and/or upgraded components can extend the life of bakery equipment. Up to 20% of plant operating expense is maintenance related; for example, most food-grade electronic cabinets are exposed to water during sanitary plant wash-downs, which is why they have watertight seals. 

Over time, however, the seals wear out and water seeps in, causing circuit boards to fail. Replacing the board is expensive - but a proper repair protocol would include replacing the chip that caused the failure of the board, followed by replacement of the cabinet seal so wash-downs don’t cause similar problems in the future. 

Food manufacturers, due to strict industry regulations, can benefit from repair versus replace analysis. Federal and state standards have had the effect of shifting maintenance practices from reactive to predictive in nature. “Replace with new” is a reactive strategy; repairing, by contrast, can reveal issues that support predictive maintenance, not only making compliance easier but causing factories to run more efficiently. 

The secret is in the data

The secret to an effective repair-versus-replace decision is in the data. Traditional risk-based approaches reduce downtime by keeping lots of parts on hand and replacing them quickly. A more sophisticated component-level approach, built around root cause analysis, asks the question: “Why did the part fail?” Perhaps the part wasn’t designed properly or it is vulnerable to heat; a motor with inadequate wire windings, for instance, will fail quickly if it’s installed next to a 400-degree oven. 

Recording all kinds of metrics, from mean time between failure to warranty tracking, inventory turns, last price paid and more, is critical. The discipline supports GMPs (Good Manufacturing Practices) by documenting performance and identifying problems before they occur. And from a maintenance standpoint, if the same part fails multiple times in the same place or across similar units, data is available to determine the cause. 

Information, of course, can only take a parts repair program so far. When a core or component fails, it can’t go into the trash. Maintenance techs must be instructed to collect failed parts and return them for possible improvement instead of routinely tossing them into the dumpster. There is a story behind every failed component. Don’t let that story get away in the scrap bin. 

To best serve the repair/replace equation, it pays to work with a service partner who understands not only repairs, but best practices in data collection and root cause analysis. Most manufacturers don’t have such expertise in-house - and while any repair depot can swap a failed component, only some are equipped to determine why the part failed. 

The best partners offer both transactual and RPM (Repairable Parts Management) options. Transactual services offer offsite repair along with failure reports, reverse engineering, commercial calibration, warranties and more. RPM is a more robust onsite solution that captures more information and helps ensure the fastest turnaround time. Administered by a full-time team, it also includes complete asset management services, preventive maintenance programs and process improvement efforts. 

There will always be an appeal - and yes, sometimes an advantage - to fast, easy replacement of worn-out parts with new. The real point, however, is to determine not what is expedient, but what is most beneficial to the business. By taking a more enlightened approach to parts management, it’s possible to make not only one piece of equipment run better - but your entire factory as well.’ 

Eric Martin is director of operations, Industrial Parts Services, Advanced Technology Services. 

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