Management strives to reduce costs at all turns. This is not a bad idea, assuming it’s done in a manner that is safe, proper and sensible. In some cases, management will reduce costs by making fewer repairs, trimming the maintenance staff or cutting back on preventive maintenance. This is exactly what should not be done. With your vehicles receiving less care, it will be harder to generate revenue once failures begin to occur.
The following are nine suggestions to control costs and keep the maximum number of vehicles on the road.
1. Ready-line inspections
Appoint a person from the maintenance staff to walk along the ready line daily. This person should be trained on what to look for and how to report it. This task is very important in that it locates defects that may go unnoticed by an operator. Once these defects are found, they must be evaluated immediately. That is, should they be repaired now or can they wait until the vehicle returns?
Management needs to be in agreement with this procedure since this task may put a vehicle out of revenue service. The ready-line inspector should not be overridden by management for the sake of revenue. These inspections will prevent road failures, improve safety and allow for a predictable workload.
2. Planned maintenance
This technique is vital in the overall daily operation of any type of equipment. It allows maintenance coordinators to control and plan workloads, order parts and allow workers time off for vacation and personal time. Also, this will help in controlling costs since it can, in some cases, be budgeted for.
The idea is simply to prevent peaks and valleys in the workload. A straight line, or as straight as possible, of tasks is the objective here. Try to average out the work for every given day that you can. Trying to get as much done in a short period of time usually doesn’t work well and eventually costs more.
As for preventive maintenance, a formal check list should be used. This will eliminate any guesswork. Periodically add to this list as new vehicles and their systems enter your fleet.
3. Standardize equipment
Unification of vehicle equipment is a good method in controlling costs because it minimizes the number of unusual parts to be stocked. Additionally, it makes the jobs of operators and mechanics easier because they don’t need to become familiar with ever-changing models of buses.
4. Optimize the lifecycle
Optimizing lifecycles is a difficult task for most people. However, once you understand how to do this, it becomes second nature. The concept is to run the part or component to a predicted life that has been determined historically from your fleet.
Over-running parts and components to the point of absolute failure always costs more in the long run, not to mention the high cost of unexpected downtime. The main cost involved here is the return charges on component cores. If the core has completely failed, it usually costs more for the rebuilder to bring it back to standards. This charge is often charged back to the owner. Therefore, if the cores are in a better condition prior to rebuilding them, the costs can be limited.
5. Repair now, not later
Waiting to make repairs is not the way save money. The reason is that in many cases one symptom, waiting to be repaired, can manifest into an even more serious situation. Only the most trivial repairs should be delayed; otherwise, make the repairs as quickly as they arise.
Another reason for this aggressive approach is that other vehicles will experience the need for service along the way. If repairs are delayed, the failed vehicles begin to “stack up” and suddenly you have more problems than you can deal with. Repairing now will help maintenance coordinators keep more vehicles running, reducing the amount of follow up while controlling the flow of work.
6. Don’t just change parts
Proper diagnostics are the fastest and simplest way to make repairs. Parts changing is costly, time consuming and inefficient. Spend the time understanding how the component or system functions. If you know how it works, you will be able to diagnose and repair it faster.
If parts changing is what is going on, then you have to get the part, put it on, verify whether or not it solved the problem and then put the vehicle back into service. What if it did not resolve the failure? In some cases putting a “newer” part or component on the vehicle can mask the existing problem, making further diagnostics more difficult.
All of this has been silent on the point of multiple simultaneous problems. Diagnostics are the only way to navigate through a situation like this. Parts changing will almost never provide the correct answer during multiple simultaneous failures.
7. Review inspection sheets
Review of the daily vehicle-inspection sheets is critical in controlling maintenance costs. Simply stated, these are the only forms of communication that you have to alert you of a symptom or problem with a vehicle in your fleet. These should be reviewed at the beginning of each shift by a person qualified in determining the need for repairs of your vehicles.
Operators often do not use the correct terms in describing what is going on with the vehicle. This is where the difficulty comes in. These sheets need to be carefully read and, in some cases, deciphered. If comments cannot be understood, the staff member must contact the operator who filled out the sheet. Do not ignore the operators’ comments simply because they cannot be understood or are not legible.
8. Inventory control
With the high cost of parts today, you should try to limit your inventory to the parts that will keep the fleet going on a daily basis. All other parts can be ordered in advance or shipped by overnight freight. Usually, by the time the vehicle is out of service, it is too late to make a complicated repair with some rarely stocked part anyway. This is why overnight freight is attractive; only a small amount of time will be lost in waiting for the item.
Remember, keeping high-dollar, low-frequency parts on your shelves costs money. On the other hand, you should make every effort to have as many “go parts” on hand as you can afford. While saving money is always a good idea, you don’t want to inhibit daily operations.
Proper inventory control allows for more repairs to be made, prevents cannibalization of other vehicles and improves safety by eliminating unsafe “back-to-service” situations.
9. Reliable rebuilding
Component rebuilding is a major element of vehicle maintenance. Whether this is done in-house or sent out, the daily success of your operation depends on it. If done in-house, make sure your rebuilders understand that their task is important in the short and long term. Component failures are costly and cause logistical problems.
Rebuilt components should be expected to last almost the life of a factory component. Stress to the rebuilder that total rehabilitation of the component is necessary, not just repairing it and putting it into service.