Equipment makers have re-engineered their machines to help
cut maintenance costs.
Wholesale bakery equipment manufacturers have stepped up their efforts in recent years to ensure maintenance issues play little part in equipment malfunction and costly unscheduled downtime.
At the request of wholesale bakers faced with budget cuts and stepped-up production schedules, equipment makers for the past several years have been driving up efforts to ensure their machines can be easily maintained, says Ken Hagedorn, vice president, sales and marketing at bakery equipment supplier Naegele Inc., Orland Park, Ill.
Hagedorn keeps his ear to the ground in the industry as a Food Processing Suppliers Association board member. He also regularly attends conferences, such as PackExpo, to glean customer feedback.
“When you hear the same things come up again and again and again, we know we have to do something about them,” he says. And he hears that regularly scheduled equipment maintenance is the first thing to go at wholesale bakeries in the face of cost cutting.
So, wherever possible, Naegele makes equipment more user friendly, so bakers can get by with fewer people and less maintenance on the machine, Hagedorn notes.
Maintenance also lags as bakeries step up production schedules, says Steve Miller, technical service manager at Empire Bakery Equipment, Hicksville, N.Y. “When they're running production 24 hours, six days a week it doesn't give them time to maintain the equipment,” he says.
To speed equipment maintenance and changeover times for these production schedules, many equipment makers have minimized tools needed for equipment changeover, Miller notes. “So instead of a mechanic pulling out a wrench, it's a tool-free changeover,” he adds.
That particular practice works successfully with bakery equipment, such as conveyors or pick-and-pack systems, where frequent product line changeovers occur, Miller notes.
In another bid to save time, many manufacturers now make sure machine parts that get the most wear can be accessed easily, Hagedorn says. Bearings may be mounted behind a small door that can be opened when it comes time to grease them. Other equipment makers may install central greasing systems capable of lubricating all the machine bearings from one central point.
Manufacturers also are looking to engineer their machines to ensure the most frequently-replaced moving parts can be removed with simple tools, such as a wrench or screwdriver, Hagedorn adds. Easy removal ensures speedy repair and aids maintenance workers who often don't have time to be trained on the intricate ins and outs of each machine.
To further aid maintenance efforts, computerized equipment-monitoring systems are becoming standard on many types of wholesale bakery equipment, Hagedorn notes. Computers automatically track machine functioning and alert managers to potential equipment problems. They also alert managers when it's time to perform regularly scheduled maintenance. Computerized systems can track downtime and note the reason for it, which helps with troubleshooting efforts in the future.
In many cases, the equipment manufacturers themselves can tap into the computerized systems from their own headquarters to troubleshoot equipment problems from afar, Hagedorn notes. “That way, if you don't have the maintenance guys on your own staff, you can still monitor the oven yourself then get the manufacturer to do diagnostics, even across the ocean,” he adds.
Even with a slimmed-down maintenance schedule, wholesale bakers can't forget preventative maintenance. That's why many equipment makers now offer preventative maintenance programs that wholesale bakers can buy along with the machines.
“The manufacturer will keep a record of what needs to be done on the machine based on hours or months and then they come in at that time to perform preventative maintenance,” Hagedorn says. “They can get in there before something happens.”
Still, for a company looking to shave costs, the fees for such programs can be hard to justify, he adds. To help train bakery employees in-house, some manufacturers-Naegele, for instance-offer training classes on how to maintain the equipment they sell. “When staff turnover at a place is pretty high, maintenance information isn't handed down,” Hagedorn says. “So the manufacturer will come out and install the machine and then as a sidelight, offer training and refresher courses.”
But parts and labor are only a part of the equipment-maintenance equation. Miller cautions wholesale bakers looking to trim maintenance costs begin by looking at the machines themselves, well before installation. Seek out equipment that won't need a lot of upkeep from the get go. For instance, equipment made to sanitary standards has a secondary benefit: longer life with fewer part failures, he adds.
“You may be looking for a machine that's easy to wash down, but those easy-clean machines have a secondary effect,” Miller says. “They're more durable because they're made to withstand the rigors of water and detergents.”
By tweaking their machines to make them easier to clean, manufacturers also make them more maintenance friendly. For instance, bakery machines increasingly feature buttons and knobs that lie flat against the machine. This is intended to minimize the amount of flour and dough caught under the buttons and to make small parts easy to clean. But it also means these parts don't malfunction as often as their raised counterparts, which can get clogged with debris, Miller notes.
Recent efforts on behalf of equipment makers don't mean wholesale bakers can forget about maintenance altogether. Unscheduled downtime is only a machine malfunction away.
Empire Bakery Equipment has seen a sharp uptick in the number of customers hoping to prevent that type of downtime by keeping spare parts on hand for quick repairs. When the practice was new, customers would request nearly every spare part available for their particular machine. But as they log repairs and study maintenance records, requests have been scaled back to those parts replaced most frequently, Miller adds.
Though equipment manufacturers have implemented a number of maintenance-saving mechanisms in recent years, no machine will ever be maintenance-free, equipment makers say. Still, manufacturers continue to seek ways to further ease machine maintenance for wholesale bakers.
“It's a continuous process of listening to the customer, studying the equipment, then making the improvements,” Hagedorn says.