One Hour of Maintenance will Save Eight Hours of Down Time
When it comes to equipment, it is very important to keep a solid maintenance program. Well cared for and maintained equipment will give you worry free use for many years. It will also generate revenue for your business and hold its trade-in value when you wish to upgrade your equipment in the future.
Many years ago I was a lab manager for a very busy retail store in a large company. Lab managers in this situation are usually managed by a store manager, who is micro-managed by a district manager, who is micro-managed by a territory manager, who has to answer to a vice president somewhere in another state.
I am not going to say there is anything wrong with this system. In fact, we were quite successful. What usually happens in this situation is the lab manager has to delegate responsibility between themselves and the lab technicians under them. They end up with a very low budget, and very slim payroll hours available. They have been micro managed down to squeeze every possible penny and labor minute they are allowed. In the end the salaried lab manager will realize that lab management is not a 40-hour a week job.
The first thing that suffers in this environment is maintenance. When you have customers staring through the glass looking for their new eyeglasses, and everyone’s paycheck depends on customer service scores and jobs per man hour, it becomes very easy to just check off the maintenance list without actually doing any maintenance. The problem is, this practice will eventually blow up in your face.
One day a new territory manager came to town. He had extensive management experience in other industries, but no optical experience whatsoever. This guy was a robotic mold of a man with no outward sign of a personality, he was strictly business only. He had all the catch phrases and buzz words, was very tough, and expected results without question. I would receive emails from him at two or three o clock in the morning on a regular basis. I don’t think the guy needed sleep and I wondered if he was actually human.
I think he was impressed with my numbers and customer service scores, but he was very irritated by little things like a spot of polish on my lab floor way out of view from our customers. When I complained that our floor was 15 years old and needed to be replaced, he grabbed a putty knife from my toolbox, got down on his knees, scraped a two-inch section of the floor behind my cylinder machines, polished it with a damp cloth, and said, “No, it needs to be cleaned, not replaced.” I must admit that two-inch section he cleaned looked great. I was convinced this guy hated me and yet for some reason, I was starving for this guy’s approval. I thought I was a great lab manager, and I was not going to let him destroy that.
When we were discussing my maintenance calendar he said to me, “One hour of maintenance will save you eight hours of down time.” As I nodded in agreement I was silently thinking to myself that this guy was crazy, and I knew he did not know a thing about my lab equipment or the optical industry in general. Still, I did everything he requested me to do. I worked seven days a week for months at a time. My lab equipment was immaculate inside and out and my numbers were absolutely perfect. While taking his orders, my customer service scores rose to an all time high and I became one of the highest rated managers in the entire company. I started winning awards and I held these numbers for a very long time. It became impossible for me to question my territory managers’ authority. He knew exactly what he was doing and he brought our entire territory up from worst to first in only one year almost to the day.
Shortly after his one year anniversary the inevitable happened. I became aware of a plan that was months in the making. I got a call from a senior vice president of the company. On the line with him was my territory manager who was just promoted to a vice president position in the company. He was leaving our territory and moving on to greener pastures. They were coming to introduce a new territory manager but not before offering me my own district position in another state. The manager who I thought hated me just nominated me for promotion. I gladly accepted and let the company move me 1,500 miles from home. My only regret is that I was never able to get this man to crack a smile in an entire year. I think I heard him smile over the phone as he congratulated me. And I never did get to see or hear from him again.
Many months later in a territory far away, I was mimicking everything I learned from my old territory manager with great success. My new territory was actually an acquired chain of stores, which had to be assimilated into the company. This situation offered many more challenges and of course, a lot of resistance. It is very difficult to get a large group of employees in several stores to completely change the way they have been doing things for years. I had become the mold of my old manager.
One day the lab manager from the busiest store in my district called me with an emergency. His Gerber SGX generator was down and the lab was getting backed up with work. I was pretty good with this machine so I traveled to the store to help. The SGX appeared clean inside and out but was having power issues. We quickly determined the fuses and power connections were good and all signs pointed to a faulty power supply. I had never replaced a power supply at that time and was quick to find out that this was no easy task. I ordered up a new power supply for early AM delivery and called it a night.
I met the lab manager the next morning to disassemble the machine to prepare for the new part coming in a few hours. Since we did not have a service tech manual and had very limited advice from the manufacturer over the phone, we had to basically disassemble the entire machine on our own to get to the power supply. I must tell you that it was very overwhelming to see almost the entire SGX generator in parts spread out across the lab floor. I was in fear that I would never get that machine to work again. If there was an easy way to do the job, we sure did not know about it. I was nervously trying to think of how I was going to request 30K for a replacement machine.
When we finally reached and removed the power supply the true problem reared its ugly head. Although the machine appeared clean, the inside of the power supply was packed solid with plastic and polycarbonate debris. It was packed in there so tight that it had turned dark yellow from the heat generated from the power supply. This machine looked clean, but obviously was not properly maintained. I think they only made it look clean for my visits and only checked off the maintenance calendar without actually doing the job. I know this because I was forced to do the same thing a long time ago.
Since my part delivery was late I decided to clean out the debris and try to reassemble the machine. It was a long process but we did finally get it back together. By the end of the day we were able to power up the generator and it ran like a brand new machine. I then proceeded to start moving the 100 surface jobs that were stacked in the lab from the two days we were down. Even though the store was closing and the hourly techs had punched out, there was no way that lab manager dared to take his lab coat off. I ran around that lab pumping out work like he had never seen before. I knew he was dead tired but I refused to stop. We ended up clearing out the lab by 3:00AM. The lab techs came in the next morning with nothing to do except maintenance. And believe me, they did it properly.
I never did take any disciplinary action against the lab manager. I only had him promise me that I would never have to spend the night in his lab again. I think that alone and the fact that I surfaced all of his work gave him a lesson he will never forget. On my drive home I remembered my old managers’ quote to me. “One hour of maintenance will save eight hours of down time.” The math may not be perfect, but it is really close. The lab was down for almost 16 hours. That means that two hours of vacuuming the hard to reach places in the generator could have saved all that work. The truth is, not only did we lose 16 hours of production time, but we also had the extra cost of shipping overnight. We also had countless broken promises to the customers who were expecting glasses we could not deliver on time. I am sure that cost us a hit on our customer service scores, which in turn affected the employees’ bonuses.
My story is geared towards the retail store lab manager who is fighting to keep all the bosses and customers happy, but it applies to everyone. Even if you are in a small office doing five jobs a day, you must keep your equipment properly maintained. It can cost a smaller office even more if you do not. Small offices cannot make the same profits as a high production lab. Down time and service calls can be extremely costly in a smaller environment. It is important that you learn how to maintain your equipment. Talk to your equipment vendors and service technicians. Learn how to take off the covers and clean all the hard to reach areas. Many years later your well-maintained equipment can be worth top dollar on trade-in value.
One Hour of Maintenance…
One hour of maintenance will save eight hours of down time. In all my years in the optical business I could never guess how many times I proved those words. I do not know whatever happened to the manager who said those words to me, but I hope to pass them on to someone else. I would imagine he is back in the factory he came from schooling a new army of perfect managers, in perfect suits, looking over someone else’s numbers. If this article reaches him, I hope he understands how much I appreciated him for catapulting my career in the right direction, and pushing me to be the best. Maybe reading this article will make him finally crack a smile.
– Leo Hadley Jr.
Marketing Director / Technical Support
Vision Systems Inc.