You probably hate to admit it but you need machines. Without equipment you’d be washing clothes in the river and hanging them on a bush to dry. Production costs would be less but it might be hard to do at –30°C.
So you have machines in your plant. What is your relationship like? How do you get along? Do you see this relationship working out in the long term?
Every customer has a different way of dealing with their machines. Some people hate their machines and some are even afraid of them. Some plants are like the Terminator movies where the humans tremble at the back of the plant waiting to see what the machines will do next.
Plant owners (operators) fall into a few categories. Let me list them and you see what category you represent. (Names have been changed to protect the guilty parties.)
We have had several customers who say they are afraid to go into the boiler room. It is too hot, too loud, and the floor shakes when I blow the boiler down. I’m scared! Sorry – you’ve been watching too many movies. Boilers are quite safe. Just be careful you don’t get burned. That is the only real hazard.
You have to get comfortable enough that you recognize what sounds, smells and sights are normal. Then you will be in control.
This customer doesn’t have a clue how his machines work. What he does understand is the special sequence of things he needs to follow to keep his machine running. Maybe it relates back to a previous time when the machine was broken.
The way to make the machine work is to stand on one foot. Push the left button once. Push the right button two times. Slide the lever this way and give the buck a little push. Then, when it doesn’t finish the cycle on time, you turn the power off and reset the machine. Then you can start the process all over again.
We shake our heads when we see one of these customers. The things they are doing have nothing to do with the successful operation of the machine. And they get angry when we don’t follow their magic sequence.
Every machine’s manual lists the correct procedure. If your silly sequence actually works, it is because there is something broken on the machine. Fix the machine and get your production up to speed. Machines are mechanical devices that don’t know whether you are standing on one foot or not. Stop being silly.
This owner knows ‘everything’. They have learned the names of a few parts and they parrot them as if they knew what they were talking about. One customer always told us her pump was cavitating. Another customer always blamed his problems on an air lock. Those can both be valid diagnoses but not for every problem.
Some customers call and tell us what part they want us to change. We usually try to ask a few questions to confirm the diagnosis.
My guys are trained to ask, “Do you want me to do what you say? Or do you want me to fix the problem? Those may not be the same thing.”
A better approach would be to say, “These are the symptoms. Last time it was this part. Can you check it out and fix whatever is wrong?”
I will do whatever you tell me to, as long as you understand that parts and labour are expensive, and you are responsible for the outcome of your diagnosis.
Damsel in Distress
In reality, this is usually a gentleman rather than a lady. He calls and says he is desperate. No, he couldn’t possibly open a valve. No, he doesn’t know the error code (or he makes one up, which is even worse). The whole plant is falling apart.
“You have to come and rescue me right now! I have tons of work and this is a big problem.”
Your mechanic is probably not sitting at the office hoping for someone to call. He is busy and the customer sometimes needs to follow instructions over the phone. That is why they invented FaceTime. If you can’t follow instructions, you may just have to wait till tomorrow.
Friday Afternoon Freddy
This customer hopes all week that the problem will go away. He most often phones on a Friday afternoon. “Yes, it has been acting up all week. I need to make sure it is going to work on Monday. You have to come right now.”
Most Fridays we are installing equipment, so you are probably out of luck. When a machine acts up a few times, something is wrong. It probably will not fix itself. Those minor problems are warning signs. Ignore them at your risk.
This is my favourite. Beat on it till it starts to work. If that doesn’t fix it, hit it harder. If it happens to break in pieces – well it had to be fixed anyway, right?
Don’t get me wrong, there are a few things that we may smack once in a while, but most things are not fixed with a hammer. If any fool with a hammer could fix things, I wouldn’t have a job.
Put down the hammer, pick up the phone. Let’s get it fixed right the first time.
“I know nothing!” This customer plays dumb. He doesn’t tell us the whole story. When I look at a machine, I know what you have been doing. Give us all the facts right from the start. We will find out eventually.
If you give us good information to start with, we will get you fixed sooner and maybe even save you some money. If you really don’t know anything, you need to get to work and learn about this part of your business.
This customer often asks for more information or endless quotes on a variety of equipment. “What about this or that? Should I repair it or should I replace the machine?” And even after they get the information, they still can’t make a decision.
Sometimes even the wrong decision is better than no decision. Deal with knowledgeable people and trust their advice. Make a decision and move on. Get the part or the machine ordered. It will take a while to get it here. You don’t want to be stuck.
So who do I feel are the perfect owners? Someone who is willing to learn enough about their machines to operate them correctly. Someone who can observe the normal sounds/smells and appearance of their equipment. You don’t need to understand everything about how the machine functions. You just need to be able to accurately observe the symptoms and describe the problem.
The perfect owner recognizes that machines do not last forever. He or she has a plan for future replacements and is actually saving towards those purchases. This owner is educating himself or herself on what equipment is available and what options should be considered.
A proper owner is able to open or close a valve and make some minor adjustments. This person is proud of the equipment and keeps it clean and functioning properly.
Does it sound like I am complaining? I probably am. I like this work and the people we deal with. I’m just trying to help you look at things so your business will run better, and so you can save some money in the long run.
You need to take control of this area of your business. If you don’t understand things, someone else has the power and is making decisions for you. They may not make the decisions that you would make if you understood things.
I hope you’ll take a moment to think about your machines. Who is in control?