Investment in preventing machine downtime offers big payoffs.

Gear manufacturers of all types and sizes must consider preventative maintenance as fundamental to their operations. Manufacturers too often learn a hard lesson from easily avoidable machine downtime, and considering the investment of gear equipment, such lost production outweighs the cost of a simple preventative maintenance program. The following strategies offer gear manufacturers financial returns by ensuring reliable machine tools and forecasting issues before they become serious problems.

Compared to many other types of machine tools, gear manufacturing equipment such as hobbing, shaping, and grinding machines demand significant capital investment. Consequently, when such machines break down, the manufacturer suffers. Consider, too, that such machines rarely process single-operation workpieces, which means that downtime often impacts the productivity of other operations for the manufacturer in a “domino-like” effect. Moreover, machine downtime will drain personnel resources as an urgent fix detracts attention from mission-focused efforts. Put in simpler terms, a broken machine will not fix itself, so the real cost is not simply lost machine hours but the labor spent juggling and correcting the problem and its ripple effects within the company. Such situations can be catastrophic to production and customer relationships.

    Manufacturers that use older gear machines without a preventative maintenance program will find that these problems can lead to even longer downtimes, keeping the cost high.

    Troy Kutz

    Service Manager, Helios Gear Products

    At first thought, one may consider aged machines outside the topic of preventative maintenance. However, while new equipment likely has easily sourced replacement parts, older machines often use obsolete components, especially their electrical systems. Therefore, locating replacement parts may take additional time, and the delivery of such items may be long. Said Troy Kutz, service manager for Helios Gear Products, “Manufacturers that use older gear machines without a preventative maintenance program will find that these problems can lead to even longer downtimes, keeping the cost high.”

    Simple causes can compound over time and create severe problems. For example, poor chip management is a frequent source for costly machine issues. If not remedied, metal chips may penetrate and aggravate delicate internal machine systems. This often results in mechanical wear or damage to elements such as precision bearing surfaces; consequently, spindles may seize, alignments may degrade, and gear quality will suffer. Another simple source of headache may be lubrication failure. In this case, simply confirming lube levels and system performance can prevent severe surface wear, burning, damaged bearings, and other complications. Similarly, confirming correct oil may avoid premature wear of critical machine systems such as drive trains. Changing filters will keep oil performing as intended, which prevents shortened tool life and ensures better cutting quality and productivity.

    It is not uncommon for manufacturing personnel to “just live” with machine challenges. Over time, however, minor headaches turn into big problems. A preventative maintenance program supports consistent gear quality by checking, confirming, and correcting axis alignments. Otherwise, such problems will likely magnify over time. When an outside “set of eyes” performs preventative maintenance, the service expert may catch strange machine behavior that in-house personnel take for granted. Such minor effects of a machine can be the canary in the coal mine, such as bad fittings, frayed electrical lines, or leaking hoses, which may trigger a catastrophic failure or machine crash.

    How does a gear manufacturer implement preventative maintenance? First, the machine tool manufacturer should offer detailed maintenance instructions. This is often found in a machine’s operator’s manual. Typically, daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual steps comprise the program, so assigning someone with expertise who will dedicate time and appreciate the seriousness of the effort pays dividends. Alternatively, gear manufacturers can hire the machine tool manufacturer or its qualified representatives to manage and execute the preventative maintenance program. This choice ensures trained personnel perform critical checks correctly and on schedule. Furthermore, hiring the machine tool vendor has positive side effects in that a regular, open communication channel is established for technical assistance as needed. Additionally, the machine tool vendor brings experience from all machines in the field and can keep up-to-date with a manufacturer’s individual machine, which can provide advance notice for future maintenance needs.

    Regardless of how gear manufacturers implement their preventative maintenance programs, the reasons above illustrate the necessity of simply doing so, provided the effort is performed by trained personnel on schedule according to the machine tool manufacturer’s guidelines. This will maintain machine quality well into the future, which results in maintained quality gear production, too. Most importantly, however, gear manufactures can prevent unexpected and costly downtime. Investment in a robust preventative maintenance program offers big payoffs in consistent, reliable, excellent machine tools.

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