Keep the uptimes rolling

Simon Eccles
Wednesday, June 29, 2022

When it comes to machinery maintenance, it’s advisable to have a service plan in place to keep the wheels well oiled and costs down

How do you look after your car? Do you clean it inside and out regularly, and take it for regular services when the mileage or the instruments tell you to? Modern cars are mainly sealed-box computers on wheels, but if you have an older, maybe classic model, can you service and repair it yourself?

Now, do you look after your print production equipment the same way? Or do you wait until something breaks, invariably in the middle of a rush job, then ring up your supplier in a panic?

As Paul Stead at digital press supplier ASL points out, breakdowns always seem to come at the worst possible time. “Murphy never sleeps, he works three shifts, seven-day weeks,” he says.

Remember, emergency repairs are not just costly, the delays may cost you customers, compared with timely preventative or planned maintenance. “Reactive maintenance is more costly, as a failure may break more parts than would have been the case from a preventative replacement,” says Patricia Baudron, global sales development manager – service products at Bobst. “The highest cost is in the dissatisfied customers. You can miss deadlines, lose customers and market share, and some work may have penalties for late deliveries.”

Backups and fixers
Companies that have the resources will make sure that they have alternative production routes if something breaks, usually by spare capacity on other machines. Larger companies will also tend to have in-house departments with dedicated technicians who can do routine maintenance and sometimes quite major repairs. Smaller companies may not have those luxuries. The least attractive option is sending work out to another printer until the fault is fixed.

Steve Giddins is a partner at Perfect Bindery Solutions in Carterton, Oxfordshire, a supplier of new and used book binding and luxury packaging equipment from a variety of manufacturers. “To get people to agree to planned maintenance is hard work,” he says. “Then if something breaks, there’s a panic and they’ll pay more money than if they’d maintained it properly in the first place.

“Adopting a flexible service agreement always pays off. If you spend X on servicing, there will be fewer nasty surprises and you keep running. Even just oiling a chain and keeping it in tension may prevent a
breakdown. Or for more modern timing belts, you can check for splits, because if it breaks you’re in big trouble. A lot of people have learned valuable lessons to their cost – the question is how important is your productivity or quality?”

Most manufacturers, or their distributors and agents, will offer planned maintenance packages on new or used equipment. For instance, Duplo’s UK service manager Kevin Nicholls redesigned the service contracts to be more transparent, with three levels. The basic one is a discount on parts and call-outs. Next one up covers a set number of call-outs per year for servicing and preventative maintenance, plus a larger parts discount. The top level is an all-in contract with four-hour call-out service.

“We have different maintenance programmes for different machines,” says Giddins at PBS. “Some customers do not have their own engineers and will need extra support – that’s where we come in. Our aim is to minimise interruptions to production wherever we can.”

Maintenance to keep going
Uptake is another matter, says Kevin Ramsbotham, service business driver at Heidelberg UK. “What we find these days is mainly maintenance to keep going or insurance policies that stipulate that machines need a level of servicing to be covered.

“We offer tailored preventative maintenance packages – for example, one or two services per year depending on usage. We put together service packs for things like lubrication, special parts for compressors etc, made up in advance. We send these packs in with the service engineers and they go through the lot – lubrication, pumps, compressors, all ancillaries checked and serviced. The customer gets a complete report with advance warnings of anything that may be needed, and they can follow up on this if they want to.”

“We have customers who are planning their maintenance, so that is preventive, but others go for reactive maintenance, after failures,” says Baudron at Bobst. “Corrective/reactive is not a maintenance
programme. But the machine may be remotely connected and we can analyse it and sometimes correct it remotely too, or we will send a technician.”

This can really pay off, says Baudron. “I looked at the plans in place at our customers, and it shows that planned maintenance can reduce unplanned downtime by up to 60% – that’s huge. Adjusting machines means they are more productive and produce better quality work with less waste. With the price of paper and board so high, UK customers are saying this is important.

“There is also improved operator safety – our technicians always look for safety issues first. If a machine is not maintained, it may need replacement earlier. One of our UK customers is very proud of having a 50-year-old Bobst machine.”

Remote diagnostics and predictions
Almost anything with computerised controls will have a port that you can plug a computer into and run analysis. Many of them have an online facility that allows the same thing from a distance by the supplier, allowing a fault to be diagnosed so the correct parts can be packed for a call-out.

Sometimes an adjustment can be made remotely, or the engineer may be able to talk to the operator to make a fix without a call-out. The idea of a few years ago that operators or engineers would be able to use augmented reality glasses has largely failed to take off, but Bobst is now using smartphones and tablets to do much the same thing, more easily and cheaply.

Machinery that is networked to its manufacturer can in principle be constantly monitored. Some manufacturers talk about collecting all this data to aggregate it, with smart software comparing results across many machines detecting patterns and suggesting more efficient usage, as well as picking up minor faults before they become actual failures. That way call-outs can be booked and parts ordered before they fail, not after.

The manufacturers will always say that the data is anonymised, but Marie Bergfelt, head of marketing portfolio and communications at Bobst, says this is problematic. “There is no constant connection or monitoring by us, only when the customer asks for it. This is a GDPR issue. We can do remote monitoring as part of the helpline service. The Bobst technician closest to the customers will do remote diagnostics.”

This is only for electrical issues at present, she says. “We are collating data for the past few years to monitor production. We are not yet at the stage of saying it is predictive maintenance. Other companies say they have it, but it is only in some parts, not the whole.”

Operators can help
Even where machinery has been designed for operator adjustment and routine servicing, this might not always happen. “Operators need to do some things as a duty of care, but due to high work volumes they may not do them as they are too busy,” says Ramsbotham at Heidelberg. “They tend not to be good on cleaning, which isn’t our task either, as we do the lubrication. We do clean the delivery up to a point with vacuums, brushes etc. But not the ink fly and so on that’s good housekeeping for the operator.

“Customers should do routine maintenance and cleaning themselves,” says Stead at ASL. “For example, yesterday a customer said they had a split plastic pipe. He sent a picture and it was absolutely covered in glue. Two months ago it had been serviced and our own engineer cleaned it. Now it’s a mess.”

Keeping oldies going
Jonathan Dance, UK director of the Holland-based used finishing machinery specialist Mekes, says that older machines may need specialist independent engineers, especially if a manufacturer has gone out of business. “We have our own people and a pool of independent specialists in particular presses or finishing machines – you can’t cover everything.”

One of the independents he works with is Aidan Scott, who went freelance in 2020 after 22 years with another used specialist, Nyland Graphics. “Print finishing doesn’t do much planning worldwide,” he finds. “When the machine breaks down, they expect you to go in. I see finishing machines that haven’t seen a drop of grease for years. Printers tend to think it’s their presses that make the money, so they care for them more.”

John Worsley, director of used machinery company BBR Graphic Sales, says: “I would recommend that any printer installing a used press should at the very least consider taking the basic remote support
package option from the manufacturer once the press is installed. We insist on this with the presses we install, it’s part of our contracts and we’ve been proven right to do so on many occasions.” He adds: “The latest dial-in diagnostics from manufacturers are reducing downtime by around 60%, especially with software and electrical issues.”

Times have changed, but lack of maintenance is still false economy, he says. “You would be surprised how many machines I’ve seen worldwide on inspections, machines under 10 years old that are in poor condition, service has been done to the minimum and they just run them round the clock.

“Costs are escalating for the printer and profits reduced – however, no doubt they get their fair share of large bills for spare parts/breakdowns because of the lack of pre-maintenance. Even small print shops I would still encourage to include a preventative maintenance plan into their schedule – long-term they will only benefit in this most challenging market.”


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