You can't eliminate all downtime, but you can keep it under control
By John H. Hansen
Only two types of people need breakdowns--psychiatrists and tow truck operators. If you don't fit into either of those categories, spare your carwash and yourself needless pain and suffering (not to mention lost revenue) with logical preparation and a little preventive medicine.
The famous Saturday afternoon equipment failure will happen sooner or later unless attention is paid to the "little" things as well as the obvious "big" potential failures.
In a conveyorized carwash the "big" failures that can cause your cash register to stop ringing involve the conveyor, air dryer, and for full-service operations, the vacuum. A number of "little" parts in these "big" things as well as the failure of a few other critical pieces of equipment can also cause cash register paralysis.
Here is a brief list of the critical systems and components where a malfunction is most capable of halting production along with recommended steps to minimize your vulnerability:
Conveyor roller up system
Failure of the roller up fork bearings or bushings, air cylinder, air solenoid valve, compressed air poly tubing, or air pressure regulator could stop your operation. Stock spare bearings and bushings, an air cylinder repair kit, a replacement solenoid valve coil, poly tubing and fittings, and a spare air regulator.
Conveyor chain and rollers
"Stuff" happens! Conveyor chains can break. Pusher roller shafts can bend, wear flat spots on the rollers and jam. Have spare chains and complete roller assemblies on hand. Also, rehearse the removal and installation of chain and rollers. These training sessions will prove to be invaluable when the real thing happens.
You always have enough soap and wax on hand for washing cars. Why don't you have hydraulic fluid, gear box oil and grease immediately available? Because it doesn't smack us in the mouth as an operational necessity, that's why! You need to have these lubricants at your carwash. A hydraulic power pack won't run your conveyor without oil. A mitter gearbox will become junk in no time without oil, and bearings have a funny way of tearing themselves apart without grease.
Hose and fittings
Leaking or rusted fittings and hose breaks account for the vast majority of unexpected equipment failures. Have hydraulic hose sections with couplers and fittings attached pre-assembled for quick replacement. Make sure you have replacement water hose with fittings and clamps available for that gut wrenching time when water is spraying everywhere except from the spray nozzles.
A whisk broom does not quite cut it for cleaning the inside of a customer's car. For your vacuum system, spare parts should include a motor to impeller shaft coupler, replacement filter bags and impeller shaft bearings.
Whenever you detect any vibration in your vacuum producer assembly you should disassemble the impellers from the shaft (always mark their sequence and shaft position), clean dirt from the impellers, inspect the impellers for damage and re-assemble properly. The usual cause of built-up dirt in vacuum impellers is one--or more--filter bags with rips in them, which allows dirt to pass through to the producer assembly.
Your conveyor, brush retracts, foaming arches and some air dryer controls need compressed air. We don't need to detail your anguish if the air compressor quits. Instead, some reasonable care can keep this critical piece of equipment operating:
- Check compressor head oil weekly. Drain and refill with ISO grade 68 oil once each year.
- Drain the air compressor tank each night at closing time.
- Repair leaking air lines and fittings immediately.
- Make sure the pressure switch turns the compressor on and off at the pre-set pressures.
- Compare actual electric motor current readings to the motor nameplate. Have a spare motor available if the current readings rise above nameplate standard.
When this piece of equipment goes on strike it is usually extremely difficult to find a nearby creek in which to wash towels. Perform regular inspections of the motor, agitator, timer and switches. Make sure you know where to get replacement parts--fast!
Reclaim water system
Obviously, without water we don't wash cars. If any part in your reclaim system fails you are in shutdown condition.
To help prevent this from happening, have your fresh water line plumbed as a bypass around the reclaim system with ball type shutoff valves. This will allow you to operate your carwash with fresh water whenever the reclaim system fails.
If any equipment at your location uses a fuse always have exact size spares available for the likely event that you will have an electrical situation that will cause a fuse to open.
The right medicine
To help prevent any of these breakdowns use a preventive maintenance chart with the requirement that the person performing each preventive maintenance function place their initials in each scheduled maintenance block.
Items to keep in your "breakdown kit" include:
- Duct tape
- PVC pipe glue
- Hand tools
- Teflon pipe tape
- Electrical wire nuts and tape
- Wooden stepladder
- "Ty-Rap" fasteners
Now, if you feel comfortable that your preventive maintenance can prevent virtually every Saturday afternoon equipment breakdown you are entitled to have a nervous breakdown. You've worked hard for it, so go ahead, have one!
John H. Hansen, one of the industry's leading authorities on equipment of all types, is an executive with Sonny's Enterprises Inc. in Fort Lauderdale, FL.