PRB Articles


Preventative Maintenance

Warning: If you love equipment breakdowns, unnecessary equipment expenses and technician downtime, stop reading now!

You take a personal vehicle in for an oil change because this preventative maintenance will save time, money and aggravation. As with a personal vehicle, a little preventative maintenance on spray equipment will go a long way.

Unfortunately, too many people wait for power spray equipment to break down before providing service. Regardless of what was spent on the equipment--whether it is the newest top-of-the-line gear, or a 20-year-old hand-me-down--a good preventative maintenance (PM) program can make life easier. Even the best equipment will require maintenance when exposed to typical operating conditions, such as harsh chemicals, extreme temperatures, long operating hours and less-than-gentle handling by technicians.

In this article, power spray equipment generally refers to equipment used for:

· Weed control

· Pest control

· Landscaping and tree care

· Golf course maintenance

· Power washing

First, some general guidelines:

1. Consult the equipment owner’s manual, or contact the equipment provider for proper operating conditions, maintenance schedules, etc. Lack of proper maintenance can void manufacturers’ warranties.

2. Train your staff on the proper use of equipment. In an effort to finish a job quickly, technicians will often set operating speeds and pressures too high for continuous use. Running a pump or motor at maximum speeds is all right for short periods, but running full-out for extended periods will reduce equipment life.

3. Sometimes technicians do not check equipment before starting it up. Instruct them to check line strainers (filters), belts, hoses, etc., before starting equipment. Teach them to identify problems before they occur.

4. Train technicians to report problems instead of just ignoring them. If the pump sounds like it has a problem, it probably does. This should be reported, rather than returning the equipment for the next user to have a problem.

5. Track damage/repairs/problems by truck, technician and part to identify problems and training opportunities. A little tracking can go a long way toward understanding the causes of breakdowns. Track equipment failures to determine which items you should consider replacing or servicing more frequently, and which technicians require additional training.

6. Instruct the equipment provider to install the equipment so that it is easily accessible for maintenance and repairs. If equipment isn’t easy to service, it is less likely to be serviced. For example, if a technician cannot easily reach the line strainer, it is unlikely the strainer will be checked for problems. If your mechanic has to remove the sprayer from the vehicle to change the oil, it won’t get done as often.

Next, create a PM program based on equipment, technicians, use and the organization’s operating philosophy. For example, if maintaining productivity and avoiding service failures are top priorities, your program may call for replacing certain components at specified intervals, rather than merely checking the parts for wear.

To ensure you don’t miss anything, take a structured approach to developing the PM program. For example, suggestions below follow the flow of material from tank through filter, pump, hose and gun.

Here are some ideas to get you started. Please visit www.sprayequipmentblog.com for more information.

Tank

Clean the tank periodically to eliminate buildup, debris and contamination. Debris will clog lines and starve the pump. Most pumps will sustain serious damage if run dry for more than a very brief time.

You may be surprised at what finds its way into the tank. In customers’ tanks, I have found rocks, rope, beer cans, trash and men’s underwear. Flush the system periodically with fresh water to prevent problems.

Line Strainer

Check and clean the line strainer (filter) to ensure that only water and chemicals get to the pump. Foreign material should be filtered to reduce the chance of pump damage. A filter that is too coarse may allow debris to pass to the pump. A filter that is too fine may clog quickly and starve the pump. Most pumps will sustain serious damage if not fed properly.

If the water is not debris-free, consider additional filtration. Installation of a filter basket in the tank fill well, or two filters (first a coarse strainer, then a fine one) before the pump may be appropriate.

When the filter can no longer be rinsed, replace it. Chemicals such as herbicides cause rubber O-rings to swell. Replace the filter O-ring periodically before it swells and no longer creates an airtight seal. Install a gate valve between the tank and strainer so that the strainer can be checked even when the tank is full.

Pump

Service the pump according to the manufacturer’s specifications. You may want to rebuild a pump periodically to prevent problems. Most pumps have repair kits to replace worn parts. It is a good idea to service a pump just before or just after the busy season to be sure it is ready for next season.

If you wait for a pump to fail before servicing it, expect longer downtime and more costly repairs. Be sure spray technicians and mechanics know the signs that a pump requires service. For example, roller pumps and gear pumps require attention when they begin dripping water. Diaphragm pumps require immediate attention when the oil-sight glass contains white or milky-colored material, or serious pump damage will occur.

Engine

Service the engine according to the manufacturer’s specifications. As with an engine in a personal vehicle, changing engine oil is the best thing you can do to extend engine life. Periodic tune-ups (change oil, filter, spark plug, clean carburetor, etc.) can keep an engine running and technicians productive. Inspect pull cord and belts for wear, and replace as necessary. Train technicians to check oil and gas levels before leaving the shop.

Hose Reel

Most hose reels have a swivel on the input side of the reel. The swivel contains parts that should be replaced periodically to prevent leaks. Check the reel-tensioner or locking brake for wear. Servicing the reel can help reduce chemical spills.

Hoses

Check the main spray hose and all feeder and connector hoses for excessive wear or damage. Check clamps and connections to ensure good fit and an airtight seal. Be sure to check any O-rings, gaskets, washers, etc., that are used to create airtight seals. Failure to do so can result in large spills, especially if the technician is at the far end of 200 feet of hose when the leak occurs.

Spray Gun

Most spray guns can be rebuilt with repair kits available from the equipment provider. Servicing the spray gun can help reduce chemical spills and chemical exposure to technicians.

Dollars spent on preventative maintenance will reduce time lost due to unplanned equipment downtime, help keep parks looking great, and keep the boss happy.

Andrew Greess is owner of Quality Equipment and Spray, an Arizona-based company that designs and builds spray rigs for safety, productivity and ease of maintenance. For more information, visit www.qspray.com or e-mail him at andrew@qspray.com

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