They perform the thankless duties in a facility. They go largely unnoticed — unless, of course, they are not being used. When a floor’s sparkling shine is replaced by a dull, scratched surface, it is obvious the building’s floor machine is out of commission. Indeed, these machines are great assets to facilities — as long as they are properly maintained.

In order to keep these machines running without a glitch, distributors must keep end users abreast on proper maintenance.

Training The Trainer
Jan/san distributors who take time to learn about the floor machines they sell can be beneficial to their customers. “There is a big difference between being an order taker and understanding the machine,” says Keith Willey, marketing manager for Clarke, Springdale, Ark. “A knowledgeable sales staff can teach routine maintenance of the machines to customers.”

Richard Carr, president of Onyx Environmental Services, Monroe, N.C., says although many workers may overlook routine maintenance, it is the smaller preventative maintenance checks that save time and money in the long run.

Depending on the volume of floor machine sales, distributors may find it rewarding to have their sales staff attend a manufacturer-sponsored service training seminar.

“Sending sales staff to a manufacturer’s service training makes a lot of sense if a distributor sells a high volume of floor machines from a single manufacturer,” says William Koeppel, director of corporate education for Minuteman Intl., Addison, Ill.

Manufacturers recognize that machine operators often are not very sophisticated. If a distributor reinforces manufacturer recommendations for regular maintenance of floor machines, it will increase the likelihood that the customer will follow the recommendations.

“Floor machines are like cars,” says Lance Hartmann, product manager for Nilfisk-Advance, Plymouth, Minn. “If you get the oil changed when you are supposed to, the car will run better longer. The same goes for floor machines — take care of them, get them serviced when the manual says you should and the floor machine will perform better with less down-time.”

Maintenance Overhaul
In a perfect world, every customer that purchases a floor machine would review the manual and follow the manufacturer-recommended maintenance schedule.

“We know a lot of the people who buy our machines probably never look at the manual, but they should know that our preventative maintenance schedule is in there,” says Marcus Blount, commercial service trainer for North American service at Tennant Co., Minneapolis.

Most manufacturers have specific recommendations regarding scheduled maintenance with trained technicians.

“A good way to make sure your floor machines and burnishers are getting the service they need is to have them checked out when your other machines are in for periodic servicing,” Hartmann explains.

Often times the operator doesn’t know something isn’t working properly. “A trained service technician will spot any problems and be able to get the machine back in proper working order,” says Koeppel.

“Following the manufacturer’s maintenance schedule can keep the machine from breaking down altogether,” adds Willey.

Floor machines and burnishers are generally not complicated machines. “There are not many things that can ruin a floor machine, but if the carbon brushes go, the engine will be destroyed,” Koeppel explains.

Following a preventative maintenance schedule will help avoid such catastrophes. Fortunately for the distributor and customer, routine maintenance of floor machines and burnishers is fairly simple.

The first step is keeping the machine clean. “A clean machine is a happy machine,” adds Koeppel. “Operators tend to respect a clean machine more than a dirty one and will be more careful when operating a clean machine.”

Keeping the machine clean is especially important for smooth burnishers without dust control. Failing to clean the dust build-up on a burnisher can significantly wear down the life of the motor. “Simply keeping a machine clean can prevent problems with motors, belts, wheels, and especially with air-cooled engines that need air so they don’t overheat,” Carr says.

Pad and pad holder maintenance is another critical aspect of floor machine operation that the operator can and should perform. “Maintaining the pads is the most overlooked and easiest way to make these machines run smoother longer,” Blount offers.

Hartmann recommends that pad maintenance be done on a daily basis. “After each shift, the pads should be washed and hung up according to the manufacturer’s recommendations or they can warp,” says Hartmann.

A warped pad will cause vibration, which is hard on the machine’s components and on the operator.

Primary Concerns
Since power supply is critical to corded electric floor machines and burnishers, cord maintenance is vital to proper operation.

“At the beginning of each shift, the operator should examine the cord and the plug to make sure there is no excessive wear or fraying,” Blount explains. “An excessively worn or damaged cord needs prompt attention and should be repaired before it is used.”

Only trained and experienced service personnel should be making electrical repairs on any cord-operated piece of machinery.

To keep the cord from prematurely wearing, a few simple steps can be taken. First of all, operators should never place tension on the cords. When finished using the machine, the cord should be unplugged and coiled around the handle of the machine. The cord should be unplugged before coiling because the tension from a plugged in cord can damage the wires inside the cord. Finally, the operator should re-examine the cord at the end of the shift for damage.

The same holds true for electrical components. “If a plug does not have the proper grounding or the cord is damaged, the machine must be repaired immediately” says Koeppel.

Distributors should remind customers of the hazards and liability that can arise if a machine’s safety mechanisms are not functioning properly.

Power sources are another area of concern, especially for burnishers. “Burnishers generally should have a dedicated 20-amp circuit to avoid tripping circuit breakers,” Hartmann says.

To the extent possible, “distributors should question the customer on whether enough dedicated 20-amp circuits will be available to enable full coverage without use of an extension cord,” says Blount. If the requisite circuits are not available the distributor may need to recommend purchase of a battery or propane-powered machine.

Also, using the correct pad can minimize the amp draw of a cord-electric burnisher and is an area where distributors can help their clients.

Manufacturers generally advise against using extension cords. “The added cord length can change the amperage available to power the machines which causes the motors to operate under greater strain and causes premature wearing of the motor,” Blount says.

Most manufacturers offer battery or propane-powered machines that help solve inadequate power source problems.

Leave It To The Techs
It’s easy to determine what maintenance and repairs should be left for trained service technicians: “Leave electrical and chassis concerns to the trained professionals,” Blount advises.

Typically these areas of the machine require a higher level of skill and have the potential to create hazardous situations if not handled properly.

The most common major repair job on floor machines is replacing worn carbon brushes.

“Many machines now have carbon brush indicator lights that alert the operator when the brushes need to be checked,” says Willey. “A machine should always be serviced by a trained technician when the carbon brush indicator light comes on.”

For all other problems, following the manufacturer’s guidelines for service is the smart way to go.

The Death Rattle
It is inevitable that, at some point, the customer will simply need a new machine. Distributors should know what factors the customer needs to consider to replace a machine because this will help them make the right decision.

Manufacturers agree there is only one point when a distributor needs to advise their customers it is time for a new machine: when the engine needs to be replaced.

Distributors often tell the customer to do a quick cost-benefit analysis. “Determining when to replace a machine comes down to whether the cost of repair plus the cost of down-time exceeds the cost of a new machine,” says Willey.

Manufacturers agree that this calculation will vary by user need and that the distributor who is most familiar with the customer will be able to give the best advice.

Following manufacturer-recommended preventative maintenance will help customers determine the better option. “They will have a better grasp on how the machine is supposed to operate and when it is wearing out,” Willey explains.

Over the long run, keeping a clean machine, changing pads at the appropriate time, and following the manual for preventative maintenance will improve the customer’s bottom line.

Patrick Callahan is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer.