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The goal of any vehicle scale service program should be to ensure that equipment stays in working order with minimal downtime between service visits or over the life of the product. The losses to revenue arising from a scale failure can exceed the cost of maintenance. Adopting a comprehensive preventive maintenance (PM) program ultimately saves money over the long run. Owners should opt for a program with the level that fits their specific needs. The highest level might include parts, service visits and calibrations. For those facing little exposure to significant repairs, a basic option covering only calibrations might be the best fit.

Preventive maintenance vs. general servicing

A general service visit is typically more specific in nature—a “tool in hand” service. PM includes this type of service but also more interaction with the customer to understand the business and the role the equipment plays in it.

Along with equipment upkeep, PM servicing considers such factors as heavy-use periods, the value of supplying bench stock on difficult-to-acquire parts (so as to limit downtime) and strategies for repair if a breakdown occurs. In other words, PM is a more holistic approach to service. It does not just look at the customer’s equipment in isolation from the operation but sees the wider picture, including how proper and efficient operation of the equipment (as well as breakdowns) affects the customer’s business.

One final way of looking at the difference: General servicing puts out fires. PM servicing prevents them.

The importance of PM

In effect, a scale is a company’s cash register. Preventive scale maintenance directly equates to bottom-line dollars. Neglecting to account for the longevity of equipment can result in significant future repairs. Problems generally do not stay static or improve over time—they usually get worse. When a small issue morphs into a significant problem, wholesale repairs must be performed. These often are not budgeted for, so they result in unanticipated downtime, and they often occur at a critical time.

Downtime can be minimized or eliminated almost entirely by doing proper PM service. In one case Fairbanks Scales recently worked on, a scale experienced significant structural damage from the rusting of critical components, resulting in the need for a $38,000 full rebuild. This customer had not regularly checked the scale; had maintenance visits been performed, the issue would have been caught, and small repairs could have been completed.

Selecting service programs

Two major types of service programs are offered: open end and closed end.

Open-end service is the type most often provided in the industrial weighing industry. Service is paid for as required, also known as “pay as you go.” The service typically consists of periodic inspections that are prescheduled to specific needs and requirements.

It is called open-end service because the total cost of repairs is not limited. When service is required, the customer contacts the service provider, the service provider requests a purchase order (as promise for payment for services) and, when satisfied with financial arrangements, the service provider sends a technician to make the repairs.

Once the service company determines the nature of the damage or failure, it might either give the customer an estimate for the total cost of the complete repair or repair the scale with the final cost of the repairs being unknown.

An advantage of open-end service is that actual service costs might not exceed the amount budgeted. Some scales have a history of near-perfect performance and the need to cover any risks that could occur can outweigh the concern about unscheduled costs.

A disadvantage of open-end service is that it is impossible to know what the costs will be. Although it might be possible to know the cost of scheduled calibrations, it is impossible to predict component failures. It also is impossible to prevent failure unless the cause is apparent at the time of an inspection. When a failure occurs, policies and processes (work order requisitions, approvals and purchase orders) could delay getting the equipment serviced. Open-end service could increase downtime because service providers might have to check credit history for past-due service payments or other problems.

Another disadvantage is that parts and service repairs are typically warranted for 90 days, so repeat failures could be financially catastrophic. Customers often postpone service for known problems with their scales because they do not want to spend the money during financially slow periods. This could result in additional failures, making the repair even more expensive. These decisions often are made without a complete understanding of the financial impact an inaccurate scale can have. The losses that arise from a failure can exceed the cost of maintenance, but because they are not seen on an invoice, these actual costs often are ignored.

Closed-end service plans are far less common in the industrial weighing market. They involve a fixed price for an annual agreement period. With a closed-end service plan, extra costs above the service contract amount are borne by the scale service provider. Large service providers are better able to take this risk, so this service plan type is less available with smaller companies.

With a closed-end service plan, when service is required, it can be ordered without a purchase order, requisition or approvals, so a technician can be on-site quickly. This is the fastest, simplest way to initiate service. The greatest benefit of a closed-end service agreement is reduced risk for the customer. Much like insurance, closed-end service agreements cover the cost of most failures. This allows the customer to spend less time making arrangements between purchasing and management when service is needed. It also builds a better relationship between the service provider and the end user of the scale because the service process is less cumbersome. Closed-end service can be tailored to provide various levels of service, so coverage is customized to the customer’s preferred risk level.

Technology has made closed-end service even more attractive. Some companies provide wireless monitoring of weighing system electronics’ accuracy, giving the service provider warning that proactive service repairs are required. Scale owners can receive notification on their smartphones that a scale error has occurred, but they do not need to call anyone because the service company already has dispatched a technician to fix the error.

In addition, because scale owners can choose monthly, quarterly or annual charges for the service, a closed-end agreement also could help them budget for maintenance costs more accurately.

Closed-end service offers a few disadvantages, though. It would not work well for a service provider with limited resources because the risk can be extreme and requires the company to have many closed-end service accounts to survive the bad scale scenario.

For example, the Fairbanks Scales Guardian Service Plan is a “no surprises” program with multiple levels to fit specific customer needs. The highest level of this service can be all-encompassing, including parts, service visits and calibrations. Customers with little exposure to significant repairs might choose a basic option covering calibrations.

Revenue loss from scale failure can exceed maintenance costs. Regardless of the service program type, PM ends up saving time and money in the long run.

Then author is a service manager for Fairbanks Scales Inc., Kansas City, Missouri. More information is available at www.fairbanks.com.