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Long term lift truck maintenance

Tired of throwing good money after bad, fleet managers are turning to training, technology, and dealer support to better understand when to replace, repair or retire.
By Josh Bond, Senior Editor
June 01, 2011

Technology’s role
Gaskell shared a story about a manager who saw an unused lift truck parked in an odd corner of the warehouse. He fired it up, saw nothing immediately wrong, and drove the truck over to the loading bay only to find out it had an oil leak, leaving an oil slick on the loading bay.

Truck-mounted technology can now allow managers to quickly assess which trucks are down and why, saving time that might have been wasted investigating on the warehouse floor. And while the fleet maintenance person might only be concerned with the status of the trucks, the same technology can enable operator tracking as well, providing further assurances that the right operator is using the right truck in the right way.

“If you find you’re using one truck at 3,000 hours per year and another truck at 1,000 hours per year, you’ve got a problem,” says Flanagan.

But while data can illustrate utilization and efficiency with more clarity, it must be coupled with action.

“Today’s managers do not want more data,” says Gaskell. “Instead they want information that is delivered in a simple format, that is easy to understand and that can be quickly acted upon. This way management can change operations before it’s too late.”

Data collection might lead managers on the path to make better use of their existing equipment, or reveal that they have been a bit too successful at right-sizing their fleet.

“A fleet that just barely meets utilization will not make it into the shop,” says Shephard. “They’ll need them on the floor. They’re hamstrung to solve their maintenance problems.”

Often, the picture that emerges is a need for improvements on an overwhelming scale. If the changes needed and the resources available don’t add up, a company might consider a maintenance agreement with a dealer or other service provider.

Maintenance agreements
Companies are increasingly relying on contracted maintenance services in an effort to control costs and make them more predictable. Unlike many dealers, in-house facilities often lack the ongoing training to keep mechanics up-to-date with rapidly changing lift truck technology, says Shephard. A company might also lack the perspective to know when a facility’s maintenance costs are in a good place when compared to other sites or the industry average.

“Thirty years ago, each facility had it’s own security department, maintenance department, they did everything,” says Michael McKean, fleet management sales and marketing manager for Toyota Material Handling.

“Companies have since focused on core business and have outsourced all they can. It’s driven the maintenance business back to where it should be, which is at the dealership.”

In recent years, more and more companies are pursuing this option, says Shephard. There are plenty of choices for outsourced maintenance agreements, but dealers are frequently best prepared to offer a full range of services and reporting tools. One reason is simple, says Shephard: No one knows the trucks like the people who made them.

At one end of the maintenance agreement spectrum, the company need only grease the truck every so often and perform pre-shift inspections, with a dealer handling all other maintenance needs. The dealer might run a full-time, on-site maintenance bay, or make visits as needed. Somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, a dealer might handle major repairs only, and leave PMs and other routine maintenance to the company staff.

The key to fleet maintenance, says McKean, is the agreement between the company and the maintenance service provider. “It’s checks and balances,” he says. “It can not only lock in business for the dealer, but it also results in predictable costs for the company.”

Any good maintenance agreement requires good communication, he says, with a clear understanding of what the customer needs and what the dealer can offer. A good outsourced maintenance proposal, according to Flanagan, should aim for at least 15 percent reduction in maintenance costs.

Following an asset survey, says Flanagan, a dealer might confer with managers to identify an appropriate core fleet as well as a standby fleet. “So, if the truck is down, you aren’t down,” he adds. They might also identify a swing fleet suitable for use in two or more applications, says Flanagan. This avoids the likelihood of a dedicated fleet being over- or under-worked.

By becoming involved in all aspects of fleet maintenance, a dealer agreement can also allow a company to bridge the natural gap between fleet managers and staff managers. “Outsourcing in-house maintenance requires time to understand what is best for the company,” says McKean. “In the end, a company might find that unnecessary fleet maintenance staff can be redirected to other areas of facility maintenance, resulting in optimized resources instead of layoffs.”

And instead of parts languishing in a maintenance bay or disappearing onto the warehouse floor, the dealer can assume responsibility for tracking each and every item.

“They don’t get paid unless they keep good records, whereas an in-house program might not have such an incentive,” says Gaskell.

According to Gaskell, the most important thing to consider when selecting a service provider is uptime, not the cost of each repair.

“If I had 100 percent uptime, I’d gladly pay twice as much for the service,” says Gaskell. “That said, you also need robust reporting to benchmark company costs against industry averages.”

Flanagan agrees. For companies with sites across multiple states or countries, how do you know what’s world class? How do you benchmark costs internally from site to site? You might have a site that has a lower cost per hour than the others, so you decide to benchmark to that site. But what if that cost is still above industry average?

With a targeted goal and the support to reach it, companies can replace waste and reactive maintenance with confidence and efficient resource management.

“That’s long-term thinking,” says McKean. “If you don’t have that mentality, that’s where a competitor will come in and get that contract.”

About the Author

Josh Bond
Senior Editor

Josh Bond is Senior Editor for Modern, and was formerly Modern’s lift truck columnist and associate editor. He has a degree in Journalism from Keene State College and has studied business management at Franklin Pierce University.

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About the Author

Josh Bond, Contributing Editor
Josh Bond is Senior Editor for Modern, and was formerly Modern’s lift truck columnist and associate editor. He has a degree in Journalism from Keene State College and has studied business management at Franklin Pierce University.