Proper maintenance can extend equipment life
Building service contractors always are looking for ways to cut costs and save on the bottom line. But those companies that fail to invest time, money and energy into keeping their floor-cleaning equipment — their most expensive cleaning tools — in good working order may end up shortchanging their profits.

Although equipment maintenance carries a considerable up-front investment, it often pays big dividends later.

"Inadequate equipment lowers performance, threatens safety, may result in hefty replacement or other expenses and increases labor outlay," says Allen Rathey, owner of Rathey Communications, a Boise, Idaho-based industry consulting firm.

"When you factor in the cost to fix the machine, as well as productivity lost in the down-time that’s created while the equipment can’t be used, it pays to invest some money in preventative equipment maintenance," agrees Bill Hughes, marketing manager for equipment manufacturer Powr-Flite, Fort Worth, Texas.

But investing in equipment maintenance isn’t just about money. It also involves time, training and proper performance. For example, time pressures may cause supervisors who don’t appreciate the need for preventative maintenance to allow employees only enough time to clean the building, not to service the equipment. Or the company may not train its employees in basic maintenance procedures.
Preventative maintenance involves four steps: Using equipment properly; cleaning equipment after each use; adopting a regular inspection schedule; and performing basic repairs.

Use with caution
The most basic step in caring for floor equipment is to use it correctly. If it’s not used properly, the machine can wear excessively.

"Don’t try to use your equipment in ways it wasn’t intended for," warns Tony Pottinger, marketing manager for Tornado Industries, a Chicago manufacturer. "For example, if you use your vacuum cleaner to remove debris that is too large, the belts could wear out prematurely, or the hoses could become clogged."

Cleaning equipment
Just like buildings, equipment needs frequent cleaning. For vacuum cleaners, this is as basic as changing a full bag. Although this simple task often is overlooked, it is a critical one. A full vacuum bag causes wear and tear on the motor. Likewise, cleaners should fully empty carpet-extractor tanks after each use to prevent mildew and clogging.

Cleaning is essential because machines that accumulate dirt are at risk for overheating, explains Michael Savidge, chief engineer and technical advisor for NSS Enterprises Inc., a Toledo, Ohio, manufacturer. "Hair, string or other debris can get wrapped inside the machine and cause wear in the bearings."

Inspect your gadget
Regularly inspecting equipment helps keep minor problems from snowballing into major repairs.

"Make sure the fasteners are tightened, and inspect all belts and wires," advises Savidge. "Look for accumulation of dust or dirt that would clog ventilation, and remove any hair or string that has gotten lodged around moving parts. Finally, look carefully for any damage in the machine."

Keeping a daily maintenance log for each piece of equipment is an excellent way to record regular cleaning and inspections. This procedure also helps supervisors, who can check the log entries to ensure regular maintenance is performed in a timely manner.

Repair guidelines
The best advice for basic equipment maintenance usually comes from the machine’s manufacturer or distributor, according to Rathey. Read the owner’s manual carefully; for example, it will give information about how often to replace a vacuum cleaner bag or belt.

Other information can be supplied by the manufacturer’s or distributor’s technical support, or by on-site visits from maintenance specialists employed by the companies.

Trained employees can do some basic repairs in-house. However, technical maintenance and expert repairs are best left to qualified service professionals. Check your equipment warranty carefully; some warranties become void if someone other than a service professional attempts complex repairs.

Some BSCs, rather than spending a lot of time, energy and money on in-house equipment-repair departments, choose to outsource their equipment repairs. This way, contractors can focus on their core business — cleaning buildings — rather than becoming sidetracked by repair problems.

Equipment maintenance also can be handled by maintenance contracts or agreements, which some manufacturers, distributors or independent providers offer. Maintenance agreements may include regular preventative maintenance training for custodial staff; on-site inspection visits; repairs; or temporary replacement equipment during extensive repairs. However, these maintenance agreements require a financial commitment up-front, beyond the cost of purchasing the equipment.

A good preventative maintenance program pairs a cleaning staff that is trained and accountable for routine equipment maintenance with an outside troubleshooting and repair source. Working together with their suppliers to properly maintain their equipment helps BSCs operate at peak performance.

Lynne Knobloch is a business writer based in Mishawaka, Ind.