Richard Turner, service co-ordinator, at baler specialist Middleton Engineering explains the issues and top tips for minimising downtime
The recycling sector is a tough environment so essential plant machinery such as channel balers and feed conveyors, tying heads and other MRF plant have to be built to last. But with machines in constant use and so many abrasive materials often breakdowns and malfunctions can occur.
Margins in the sector are slim so any downtime can be very costly with men and machines idle and your yard quickly filling up. Malfunctioning machinery is dangerous too and in an industry considered to be one of the most dangerous to work in according to the Health and Safety Executive, maintenance should never be ignored.
A properly qualified onsite maintenance manager, with responsibility to implement and manage safe PPM (planned preventative maintenance) programmes will certainly help. The same person will be able to carry out essential servicing, liaise with suppliers to purchase and stock spare parts, and even recommend appropriate modifications and improvements to support productivity and safety.
Not everyone has this luxury as many smaller firms are unable to justify a full-time maintenance engineer, so here are some tips to ensure a trouble free operation. Combine these with regular servicing and you should experience better performance and fewer costly surprises throughout the year.
Correct operation is one way to ensure machinery isn’t abused or over stressed. Overfilling the baler, for example, will eventually cause problems. Cylinders, rods, hydraulics, electric motors and other components are likely to wear much faster if operational procedures for different waste streams aren’t followed. Common sense really, but it means that operator training is important. This also has a direct bearing on productivity and operator safety.
Baler training, when the machine is first installed, is crucial. Operators should also be given refresher training at regular intervals. This is particularly useful to address issues, correct bad habits and where staff turnover is fluid.
Cleaning is another easy way to ensure good performance. In fact it’s the best preventative maintenance that you can carry out. Moreover it’s simple. Dust and debris are the culprits here and it’s important to remove these from air filters, motors and other areas that can be susceptible to overheating. On balers, tying heads are susceptible to jamming if they aren’t regularly cleaned with compressed air and it’s important that sensors controlling fill levels and other aspects of the machine’s operation aren’t obstructed. A regular cleaning regime with good site practice will always deliver improved long term performance and fewer unexpected breakdowns.
Another trick when you are buying a new machine is to check the likely availability of spare parts and the manufacturer’s policy on spares. This can be especially problematic if you buy from abroad and need to wait for specialist parts to be shipped before repairs can be carried out. Parts may not be readily available and they might be unique to your machine. Middleton’s policy is to build a set of spares specifically matched for each baler we manufacture and for the life of the machine. This means we can normally rectify issues within 24hrs or less for a Middleton supplied machine.
Simple servicing and safety checks, between maintenance intervals, are something else you can easily carry out to ensure optimal performance. Moving parts should be lubricated at manufacturer specified intervals and operators should be able to carry out visual checks for obvious signs of wear, especially leaking hydraulics or seals.
Take care – any work you carry out to inspect your machine, conduct cleaning or to clear a jam should be carried out following set procedures. Crucially machinery should be switched off and locked off, so that it can’t be inadvertently started. Buddy systems should also be considered, especially if you need to enter the machine.
To maximise your investment and deliver lasting performance, a professional maintenance regime will help spot potential issues before they become problems, lower the cost of ownership and ensure higher resale values too. Planned preventative maintenance can also be scheduled at shut downs or convenient times for your operation, so minimising disruption. But do check what’s covered as not all contracts are the same. If you are buying new, choose machines with remote logistics, as we can often spot malfunctions before processes are halted and provide support to reset the machine over the phone.
Written by Gaye Spencer