Maintenace Matters

Forklifts are a considerable investment. However, creating an efficient maintenance procedure can help increase the lifecycle of the vehicle and save money in the long term.

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By  Robeel Haq Published  January 1, 2006

Maintenace Matters|~|forklift2.jpg|~|Binny Alex (Silver Star Machinery Maintenance)|~|Warehouse managers in the Middle East are covering an increasingly wide range of responsibilities. Their attention is normally focused on high priority matters, which can result in less time being spent on more routine tasks, such as forklift maintenance. However, spending a little time on creating a simple maintenance programme can result in considerable long term benefits. “Many companies are failing to place enough importance on forklift maintenance because the benefits are not immediate,” explains Ian Bell, field service manager, Yale. “However, preventative maintenance should always be considered a value-added activity. In comparison, reactive repair is a more expensive alternative.” In addition to saving money in the long term, preventative maintenance also helps to keep a warehouse running smoothly. Regular service checks allow an engineer to fix potential problems before a breakdown occurs, meaning that downtime is either reduced or eliminated altogether. “A lot of companies in the Middle East ignore preventative maintenance and wait until the breakdown occurs before taking action,” says Vinay Beedu, workshop manager, Famco. “This results in a last minute panic to fix the problem, even though the situation could have easily been prevented.” Regularly servicing of forklift trucks is not necessarily time consuming. Manufacturers always provide written recommendations on quick maintenance practices in the vehicle’s manual, which provide a vital foundation for any company’s overall maintenance procedure. “Manufacturers of forklifts are obliged by law to provide an operating manual, which contains useful maintenance information” says Bell. “This is written in the language of the country or a language that is widely understood in that country.” The manual covers a variety of quick procedures to conduct on a daily basis. These usually include pre-drive checks on air pressure, battery charge, fluid leaks and overhead obstructions, amongst other tasks. The responsibility for these daily checks is normally assigned to the forklift operator. Therefore, each driver should be familiar with the contents of the manual and they should also regularly follow the recommendations it includes. On average, reading the manual takes around ten minutes, which is a valuable use of time, but one that does not always happen in the Middle East. “Anyone operating a forklift truck should be fully trained,” says Binny Alex, workshop manager, Silver Star Machinery Maintenance. “There are too many companies in the Middle East willing to hire people without the right qualifications and training. This attitude is very risky.” Hiring untrained staff has obvious repercussions in terms of health and safety. In addition, this practice normally results in higher maintenance costs and lower lifecycles for the forklift truck. However, training is not just a one-time event. Even experienced forklift operators can benefit from keeping their skills up to date, particularly when a new forklift arrives. “When a new truck is introduced into a fleet, the experienced driver will already know the majority of features,” says Bell. “However, new specifications are constantly being introduced in the market. Therefore a quick overview, lasting ten minutes, will bring immediate benefits.” By giving the manual and training to the operators, the company can also create a sense of ownership between the forklift drivers and the vehicles. This results in the drivers feeling more responsible for the general upkeep of the forklifts, which means they are more likely to drive carefully and thereby avoid costly accidents. Such an approach is common overseas, especially in America and Europe. However, local companies have not adopted this practice in large numbers yet. “One of Yale’s customers, based in the UK, has a very focused approached towards forklift maintenance,” says Bell. “They create a sense of responsibility with the driver, by explaining the financial investment required for the forklift and outlining the expectations in terms of maintenance. As a result, their operators normally feel more motivated and take more pride in the vehicles.” The importance of driving carefully and ensuring the general upkeep of forklifts can be reinforced with set guidelines, detailing the procedure if damage occurs to the vehicle. In addition, some companies have introduced careful monitoring of drivers, which are backed by warning systems and repercussions for negligent driving. “There are logistics companies in the Middle East with complete control over the operators,” says Beedu. “The warehouse manager will maintain logbooks with details on the forklift being driven, the name of the driver, the number of hours being used. Therefore, if anything goes wrong, they can quickly pinpoint the cause and avoid a repeat incident in the future.” While ensuring that the operator undertakes daily checks is important, the more detailed maintenance work requires a greater level of expertise. Instead of trying to do the job internally, warehouse managers in the Middle East are increasing outsourcing this role and signing maintenance contracts with external companies. Onsite services are normally offered by the manufacturer or its Middle East distributor, as well as by specialised forklift maintenance companies. There are various options available in the region, so researching the market is advisable before making the final selection. “Many customers are suspicious of maintenance companies,” says Alex. “There are sometimes concerns regarding over-charging and poor workmanship. To avoid these things happening, it is advisable to visit different maintenance companies and analyse their offerings before signing a contract.” Traditionally, companies in the Middle East have waited until a vehicle breaks down, before flicking through the yellow pages to select a maintenance company. However, this normally increases costs and downtime. As such, companies are now increasingly selecting one service provider to handle all maintenance requirements. This means that the customer creates a long term relationship with the service provider, which results in a better understanding of its needs. “Floating customers suffer a lot in terms of maintenance by choosing different companies for different maintenance tasks,” says Alex. “The majority of companies exclusively use one service provider. They enjoy more benefits because the maintenance company will become familiar with the forklifts and the operating environment.” Most forklift manufacturers recommend periodic servicing to be completed after every 250 hours of work. There are various service levels available in the Middle East, depending on a number of factors. For example, if a company uses the forklift for short periods of time, the maintenance requirements are obviously less. If the forklift is used consistently for longer periods of time, then maintenance should take place more frequently. “Factors such as the warehouse environment and the usage help determine whether the servicing should be weekly, monthly or something else,” says Bell. “Even the manufacturer and model of forklift plays a part in the decision.” The service company will focus on the more complicated areas of forklift maintenance. This could include components that require special protective measures, such as lubricating the chains, or cleaning operations, including clearing dust from the engine and radiator. The company will also check the forklift for general wear and tear caused by driving practices, ground conditions or because of the environment in which the vehicle is operated. “Forklifts are becoming more and more sophisticated,” says Bell. “There are countless components being introduced in new models. This changes the whole maintenance procedure, making it different today, compared to ten years ago. However the maintenance company will have the necessary expertise to notice any faults that the customer has missed.” The regular servicing by a maintenance company, together with daily checks conducted by the driver, should ensure the vehicle runs efficiently, whilst also increasing its lifecycle. Setting up such a programme does not cost much or take a lot of time, and the end result will be a lot less headaches. LME||**||

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