Although it may seem like a good way of saving money, cutting back on service or maintenance contracts for weighing equipment would be counter-productive in today’s economic climate warns Dave Webb, service director for Avery Weigh-Tronix

Accurate data helps you make informed decisions. In the face of the credit crunch, food processors must strive to become more efficient. The principles of lean operating and supply chain efficiency are now more important than ever.

It may be tempting to cut costs, but be careful. Accurate and reliable data is crucial to drive through both efficiency improvements and cost down programmes. It is a mistake to reduce the reliability and accuracy of this data through false cost savings.

Process efficiency improvements apply across all points of the supply chain. From raw materials, through production and processing to final product, the aim must be to achieve zero waste or product give-away through accurate data and traceability.

Close scrutiny

Implementing changes requires management to take informed decisions based on the best possible data. For a process operation, this will mean close scrutiny of yields, throughput rates, wastage, remedial work, downtime and maintenance costs and the trends of these values over time.

Weighing machines, dynamic checkweighers, metal detectors, laboratory scales and even weighbridges are all able to gather and record such information. To make sure that the information you are getting is accurate and reliable, such equipment must be properly serviced. The cost of servicing, particularly if it is part of a regular service agreement, is always more cost effective than an emergency repair.

If, for example, a checkweigher breaks down, then an entire production line may have to be closed down. The cost of such downtime can run into several thousands of pounds a day. If a part needs replacing, then this downtime may run into a second or third day.

Also if you are trading by weight, then your equipment must be regularly maintained and calibrated. Failure to do so will contravene trading standards and will be non compliant with the requirements of ISO 9001.

Finally, regular servicing will make equipment last longer and be more reliable. This means it is less likely that you will need to make a significant capital investment.

While you want your service organisation to be efficient, you must also make sure that they spend enough time on site to do the job properly. The service package that you opt for must be appropriate for the needs of your company and the equipment that is installed.

How many service visits and recalibrations per year you need depends on several factors. How much weighing equipment do you have? How old is the equipment? How aggressive is the environment in which it operates? And if your equipment does breakdown, what emergency response time do you need – four hours, eight hours or next day?

A good place to start is with the manufacturer of the equipment, who can help you decide on the best approach. If you have several suppliers then you may decide to choose just one to keep things simple and cost effective. It’s worth checking that the chosen supplier can service, verify and calibrate other manufacturer’s equipment in addition to their own.

Flexibility and resource

Check also that the organisation has the flexibility and resource to meet your needs, both for preventative maintenance and for emergency call-outs. Do they hold comprehensive spare parts in stock for both their own equipment and for a wide range of other manufacturers? You do not want to wait for a third party to deliver parts before maintenance is possible.

There should also be enough human resources to meet your needs. Ask your provider how many technicians they have and how many are based within a reasonable distance – say 50 miles from each site. They should also have enough time to complete all of the maintenance needed, you do not want them to leave your site to attend a more pressing need.

Check also that the service technicians are fully trained and equipped to do the job in hand. Ask about the supplier’s training programme, and remember there is a shortage of trained engineers in the UK.

In conclusion, do not skimp on service or maintenance of weighing equipment, it is a false economy. Equally make sure that you know what you are buying in a service agreement and ask some searching questions. In the long run it will save you money.