Remember “Pay Me Now, or Pay Me Later”?

Lee Gross, FYP Consulting

Lee Gross FYP Consulting [email protected] or www.fypconsulting.com

Do you remember the Fram oil filter brand’s advertising campaign in the 1970s that used the catch phrase, “You Can Pay Me Now, or Pay Me Later”?  The idea was that you could pay a small amount of money to replace your engine oil and filter now, or run the risk of ruining the motor costing a lot more, later.  Fram’s slogan still applies to a dairy’s large financial investment in expensive machinery and equipment.  Missed or neglected maintenance impacts profit and sometimes more importantly, increases stress, frustration, and chance of accidents when breakdowns occur.  Corey Gross ([email protected]) is our machinery and equipment coach at FYP Consulting and helps farmers with machinery management decisions.  I had a conversation with Corey about opportunities to maximize the returns of machinery ownership and reduce equipment downtime. We also talked about how to implement a preventative maintenance plan on dairies.

A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.

 

 

Lee Gross

You’ve been involved with machinery and equipment on farms and construction sites for many years.  What’s the biggest missed opportunity for dairy producers as they manage their equipment fleet?

Corey Gross

Corey Gross

Typically, the missed opportunity lies in maximizing machinery life without exposing the operation to unexpected failures that often cause major downtime and expense.

Lee Gross

I get that – everyone wants to use a piece of machinery as long as possible but not get hit with big repair bills.  We do that with our personal vehicles.  Our main vehicle has 171,000 miles on it and I’m shooting for 250,000 or more.  But I get nervous sometimes about a breakdown in the middle of Utah or the cost of a new motor.

Corey Gross

That’s where a solid preventative maintenance plan comes in, supported by good record keeping.  In your case, I hope you’re following the manufacturer’s service schedule.

Lee Gross

Well, sort of.  Yes, on the big items like engine, transfer case, and transmission oil.  Yes, to the air filter and spark plugs.  No on coolant changes, serpentine belt, and no doubt a few other things.  I’ve also been putting off other preventative steps like replacing the water pump – which is not in the service schedule but recommended by the shop that does our work.

 

 

Corey Gross

I’ll give your efforts a grade of “C”.  You’re doing well on the big items but missing others that can leave you just as stranded, and maybe cost just as much in repairs.  The service schedule items are listed for a reason.  Skipping some because of cost or convenience increases the risk of a breakdown.  And I’ll remind you that maintenance costs are less than a new motor, which is less than trading vehicles.

Lee Gross

I’ll make sure I have good walking shoes along on our next long trip.  Just kidding!  I do take your point.  It’s probably $1,000 to perform my missed maintenance versus $8,000 for a new motor versus $35,000 to trade vehicles.  So, I’ll pay now, reluctantly, realizing that I’m mitigating the risk of walking or paying out bigger bucks with a major breakdown.

What else is affected on a dairy when maintenance is missed?

Corey Gross

Resale and trade-in values suffer with continued deferred maintenance.  Dealers aren’t interested in a machine with serious issues and their lack of interest will be obvious at trade-in time.  Maintenance with today’s machines may include updating onboard electronics that impact machinery efficiency and feeding operations.  Also, at times, updated technologies can make machine operators more efficient and consistent.  The machine may perform better improving the return on investment.

Lee Gross

Dairies are notoriously short of labor.  How’s that impact preventative maintenance?

Corey Gross

Machinery as a whole tends to land on or near the bottom of most dairies’ priority list. One could argue most dairies probably don’t want the machinery fleet in that position but it’s really a matter of risk.  For most operations, equipment breakdowns are one of the easiest risks to overcome. Equipment is typically mobile with many quick solutions in the case of a breakdown (rent, borrow, substitute). While none of these are cheap or optimal, they can quickly make the pain go away for short durations.

Lee Gross

Regardin everyday practices, what are the simple things that are often missed?

Corey Gross

Unfortunately, there are no radical breakthroughs in everyday practices. The basics that have been around for the last one hundred years still apply.  Fluid levels and grease go a long way in getting any maintenance plan established.  Greasing has an additional function – it’s essentially a vehicle walk around.  Most of the time, panels must be removed and mud and debris cleared to grease bearings, shafts and critical joints.  The amount of parts you can see in early failure is really astounding, i.e. discolored paint, metal shavings, stretched chains, and cracked belts, just to name a few.   When these are missed early in the failure cycle, they become the catalyst for major failures.

Lee Gross

What’s an effective preventative maintenance schedule consist of?

Corey Gross

It’s best to start with the manufacturer’s schedule.  They have a reputation to protect and of course, decades of testing and field experience guiding their recommendations.  In addition, add good records – dates, hours of operation, person performing the service, as well as notes on things to keep an eye on.   It’s also helpful to add knowledge gained about an individual machine – like the water pump replacement for your vehicle suggested by your shop.  This is also the place to list things that need future attention, like the beginning of an oil leak.

Lee Gross

How do you suggest a dairy producer keep track of everything?  How do they ensure that hour meters are being watched for something like an engine oil change?  Look at them once a week or once a month or what?

Corey Gross

The first thing is to assign responsibility for machinery maintenance to one person.  Otherwise, Person A thinks Person B is checking and vice-versa.  A simple spreadsheet listing each piece of equipment can work well to keep track of needed and completed service.  A computer folder with PDFs of maintenance schedules for each piece of equipment is helpful.  I believe the person responsible for maintenance needs an easy to observe calendar with commitments posted and alerts set.  It’s easy to lose track of maintenance needs once the wheels start turning.

One trick widely used is marking replaceable filters with paint sticks.  Write the date and hours right on the filter so it’s visible during everyday use.  Use a bright and contrasting paint color.

On newer equipment, built-in software can provide automatic monitoring of scheduled service and alert the operator when service is required.  That’s a great feature but must be setup correctly and operators must be trained to take the proper action when an alert is generated.

Lee Gross

I realize that we’re asking dairy producers to add another significant task to their to-do list.  Is it reasonable to expect a dairy producer to create and manage a machinery management plan or should they commit to getting outside help?

Corey Gross

The big thing is to commit to a plan that will get done.  If there is someone on the dairy with time and skill available to execute the plan, go with that.  If not, hire the work done.   Dairy producers are familiar with hiring expertise when that’s the best way to get the job done.

I expect that most dairies can handle preventative maintenance with internal help.  A comprehensive machinery management plan involves decisions like buying vs leasing and knowing when repair costs exceed the price of trading machines.  Hiring help with those kinds of decisions can save time and money.

Lee Gross

To wrap up, walk us through how you’d help a dairy producer get started with a preventative management plan.

Corey Gross

At this time of year, we’ll wait for a rainy day!

First, I’d decide if I have a person on the dairy with the time and ability to get the job done.  If so, I’ll make that assignment and train the person properly.  If not, I’d start shopping for someone off the dairy to do the work.

Second, I’d build a spreadsheet or logbook listing for each major piece of equipment, with service dates recorded.

Third, I’d gather maintenance schedules for the listed equipment and put them in one folder, either as computer files or hard copies.

Last thing, I’d buy a few paint pens at the hardware store and mark dates and hours on every filter on every machine.  But start with finding the right person for the job.

Lee Gross

Where can producers go for more information?

Corey Gross

The owner’s and/or operator’s manuals contain just about everything needed.  Most manufacturers also have detailed preventative maintenance information on their websites.  Contact FYP if you’d like to talk through how to get started.  We don’t charge to help producers get pointed in the right direction.

Lee Gross

What are your closing words of wisdom for dairy producers as they consider machinery management in 2019?

Corey Gross

We are nearing the beginning of a new decade – machinery costs have exploded since the beginning of the last decade.  Emissions regulation and onboard technology drove a large percentage of the price increases during this period.  Like it or not, these higher prices are here to stay.  Preventative maintenance is one of the few variables that can offset these higher costs by prolonging machine life and ensuring that cost of ownership is minimized.

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