Best Practices for Preventive Maintenance
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No matter how you slice it, preventive maintenance is about paying now or paying more later. The real driver of vehicle cost efficiency, as well as safety impacts and even fuel economy, is leveraging PM inspections to deliver the biggest bang for your buck down the road.
Getting there requires applying best practices to track, schedule and complete PM inspections. Last but not least, gaining insights from the resulting data – to improve PM compliance, driver and technician performance, and fleet specs – can be its own rich reward.
By adhering to PM best practices, utility fleets can expect to gain improved vehicle reliability and reduced breakdowns for greater utilization; increased driver safety and job satisfaction; fewer violations, fines and liability risk; and higher resale values.
“For us, best practices for preventive maintenance are pretty simple. All completing and tracking of PM inspections is through our fleet management software,” said Jeff Schneider, manager of transportation for Louisville Gas & Electric and Kentucky Utilities. LG&E serves 333,000 natural gas and 429,000 electric customers in Louisville and 16 surrounding counties. KU serves 566,000 electric customers in 77 Kentucky counties and five counties in Virginia.
“We haven’t quite mastered end-user scheduling through the software, but that’s next on our bucket list,” Schneider continued. “Our fleet software does trigger the upcoming need for a PM, and it lands on a ‘PM soon due’ report, which is run weekly. The shop supervisors open a multi-asset work order and each vehicle due is added to that PM work order list. The emailing and calling then begin for the scheduling. This is done at each garage throughout our service territory.
“Currently,” he explained, “the garage supervisors send the initial scheduling email to each department’s group leader. Generally, there are several PMs due for each department. If there’s no response, we follow up with a call to ensure contact has been made. If that doesn’t do the trick, the process is escalated up to the manager of the department by someone from transportation management.”
Schneider pointed out that this contact process “has been hampered by the change in work practices due to COVID. We’re seeing a lot of our vehicles reporting to the job from home. That makes the process of getting the vehicle to the shop/operational center a little more challenging.”
In terms of metrics used to trigger scheduled maintenance inspections at LG&E and KU, “it really depends on what class of vehicle and its operational use. We currently use time and miles on our light-duty vehicles, and time, miles and hours for our heavy-duty fleet. And we continue to redefine our triggers to match current manufacturer specifications,” Schneider said.
Reactionary vs. Preventive
If vehicles are only coming into the shop when they need something looked at or fixed, that’s not preventive maintenance. It’s reactionary maintenance, contends J.J. Keller (www.jjkeller.com), a leading provider of regulation-compliance products and services.
The problem with reactionary maintenance programs is that they are based on failure; you find out something has failed and then you fix it. Keller said this type of maintenance program is destined to lead where you don’t want to go: “to downtime and the resulting costs of idle equipment.”
The key distinction is that a PM program gets vehicles in for inspection and maintenance on a schedule and “repairs any items that are at, or even approaching, an established cutoff point. This allows you to make repairs on your schedule, prevent violations and accidents, and keep the vehicles rolling,” Keller pointed out.
In terms of why to pursue best practices for PM, consider Keller’s holistic view: “Preventive maintenance is also an attitude, a commitment. It means being constantly on the lookout for things that might go wrong. It means getting the best, most cost-effective equipment for the truck and then taking care of it.”
The result is saving money. “No one can argue with the bottom line,” Keller stated. “As PM takes hold, the standard of excellence for a maintenance shop changes from getting the fastest repairs to getting the fewest repairs.”
About the Author: David Cullen is an award-winning journalist who specializes in covering the trucking industry. Based in Connecticut, he writes for several business publications.