Can we help

Can we help?

The old divide where manufacturers made machines and customers maintained them is changing. As Brian O'Sullivan discovers, manufacturers and dealers are embracing a much greater responsibility in the lifetime support of equipment.

Customers of construction equipment are becoming more assertive in demanding maximimum machine uptime - and are prepared to switch manufacturers if their equipment falls below expectations. But the worry here for manufacturers is that many machine failures result from incorrect maintenance, too little maintenance, or the use of low quality spare parts - all of which are out of the manufacturers' control if they are not involved in the maintenance process. So manufacturers hope that by offering tailored customer support packages through their distribution partners they will be able to keep their machines running at optimal performance, creating happy customers who will at the time of replacement buy another one of their machines. Simple but beautiful logic.

Keep on running…

But what's in it for the customer? In terms of effective customer support, the number one critical factor is parts - and lack of availability is the main reason why customers defect to other brands. Therefore, having the right parts in the right places is vital. This not only involves dealers accepting an appropriate stockholding, it also means manufacturers providing dealers with rapid parts delivery and designing machines with more parts commonality, where this doesn't adversely impact on product quality.

While the availability of parts is important when maximizing uptime, their quality is just as crucial. With the proliferation in the market of 'grey' spare parts made by third party suppliers, original equipment manufacturers are keen to highlight the benefits of using genuine branded parts. With their exact fit and function, manufacturers claim that the only way to keep a machine's original characteristics when it comes to reliability, comfort, performance and operating economy is to use original parts. This argument has some substance, as genuine parts have been designed and developed with the machine itself to act as a system of parts, rather than individual parts operating in isolation.

Branded parts are genuinely superior to cheaper 'grey', or non-official parts. Of course you may find some grey market parts that are close to 'genuine parts' quality, but grey products are sold on price; to do that you have to cut corners and the vast majority are low quality - sometimes dangerously so.

It's not just genuine components that are an issue for maximizing machine uptime - lubricants are equally important. While one oil may look very much like another and seem to have the same composition, genuine manufacturer oils contain protective additives that reduce wear, bind water, carbon, sludge and metal particles - as well as neutralizing acids. What this means in practical terms is that the engine operates more freely, reducing fuel consumption. Even hydraulic oils matter, with approved oils coping better with high temperatures, and transmission oils reducing noise and friction. And when using recommended oils, dealers can provide oil analysis services to ensure that performance is being maintained.

Filters - oil, fuel and air - are areas where short cuts are often made, either by not replacing them, or by buying non-genuine replacements. This can be a huge false economy, as these relatively inexpensive components are crucially important parts in construction equipment: they have to clean fluids and air from dirt and impurities. An inferior oil filter, for instance, can become clogged, obstructing the oil circulation and leading to 'oil stop' and an - expensive - engine failure. Even fuel is never completely clean - particles can easily blow in when filling, which can then, if not effectively filtered, damage the injection pump and cause corrosion. The cab filter is probably one of the easiest filters to forget to replace, and yet an operator's comfort levels and alertness are largely affected by the work environment - which in turn affects machine productivity. Manufacturers can also offer special filters that offer protection in hazardous areas, such as where the air is polluted with asbestos.

Worry free working

Despite its ability to work in harsh environments, construction equipment's 'Achilles heel' is its sensitivity to incorrect maintenance and componentry. And as construction equipment becomes increasingly complex, it is also getting more difficult for users' technicians to know how best to support the machines. Fortunately, as stated earlier, leading brands' dealers are increasingly keen to offer services whereby an element of control is maintained throughout the machine's lifetime, thereby ensuring the equipment is in optimal condition and achieving maximized uptime. Customer Support Agreements (CSAs) come in several forms, depending on client preferences, budget and the work environment the machine operates in. With a complete CSA the manufacturer offers the complete repair and maintenance package, where the dealer, on behalf of the manufacturer, takes responsibility for the equipment for a determined number of hours for an agreed fee.

Factory remanufactured components are also now a rapidly growing area. Operated on an exchange basis, worn parts are replaced with completely overhauled units. Not only are the parts reconditioned like new, they are modified to incorporate any technical improvement that has happened since they were made. This is an area where grey parts suppliers cannot compete. Components range from complete engines to starter motors, turbos, fuel injector pumps and air conditioning compressors.

For a long and happy life…

With construction equipment users becoming increasingly aware that almost a fifth (17%) of hourly running costs are attributed to maintenance, the issue of lifetime product support is gaining significance. There is a growing willingness to work with the leading brands and their dealer network in order to achieve the twin ambitions of long operating life with maximum performance and minimal downtime. The construction equipment industry is now taking its responsibilities in this area seriously and is producing a range of products and services in order to meet customers' expectations and budgets.