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Tue 25 May 2004 04:00 AM

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Product support makes plant productive

Construction machines are not cheap, but that investment is well worth it if it lets you to get the job done. Price, as always in the UAE is an important factor, but reliability and product support are also important considerations Construction Week investigates.

Product support makes plant productive|~|Plant body.jpg|~|Reliability is crucial for construction equipment.|~|Construction machines are not cheap, but that investment is well worth it if it lets you to get the job done. Price, as always in the UAE is an important factor, but reliability and product support are also important considerations Construction Week investigates.

Reliability is a crucial consideration when it comes to purchasing construction equipment. Every hour that a machine stands idle for is wasted time and ultimately wasted money. As the market for construction equipment becomes more sophisticated an increasing number of operators now realise how important it is to keep machines running. OEMs can develop the actual products to make them more reliable, but this alone is not enough. Good service is equally important, as machines operating in the toughest of environments need regular maintenance to ensure they maintain a satisfactory level of performance. “The main aim of product support is to support the customer so that he can use his machines as efficiently and as effectively as possible,” says Raafat Irshan Abadir, product support marketing manager, Mohamed Abdulrahman Al-Bahar.

This is important because customers invest a great deal in the machines they buy. “It is important to let the customer know that his investment in equipment is in secure hands. You can’t just leave the customer stranded,” says Abdul Salam A. Aziz, sales manager, Galdari Trucks & Heavy Equipment. One area where product support is of particular importance is the crushing business. “Product support for the crushing business is very important because they can work up to 24 hours a day. Almost all of them work at least 15 hours each day and it is a very difficult environment to work in, it is very dusty so the oil and filters need to be changed continuously,” says Abdul Qader A. Mohamed Al Ali, president, Al Wasit Machinery.

For product support to be effective, technicians require full training so that they can deal with any problem that a machine may have. This is a continuous process as new products are constantly introduced to the market place to meet customer needs. For example a great deal of training was required to bring Caterpillar technicians up to speed with its recently introduced Classic Parts range.

Most major dealers boast impressive facilities capable of dealing with almost any problem that a machine may be experiencing. These facilities include testing grounds, warehouses, and workshops.

Although some of the most serious repairs do need to be done in a workshop many can be performed in the field. “We have a fleet of field service vans because many repairs can be done in the field, which is a great saving for customers,” says Matthew Zacharia, parts manager, Kanoo Group. Work in the field is not strictly limited to repairs as preventative maintenance is also crucially important. “Inspection is important so that the customers unplanned downtime can be minimised. They may still have down time but it will be planned, scheduled and expected and it will minimise failure repairs and save money,” says Abadir. This involves inspecting machines physically to identify any actual or potential problems. Laptops can also be used to diagnose any problems from the machine. With the data generated by the machine a series of procedure then find out the root cause of a problem by eliminating all other possibilities. “All the data generate by the machine is stored, it is like the black box in an aircraft,” says Arif Chishti, divisional manager, Famco.

Some OEMs have now developed more sophisticated technological solutions so eliminating the need for technicians to actually visit the machines. Caterpillar’s Product Link helps the operator minimise his operating costs by continually measuring the performance of the machine and transmitting the information, via satellite back to Caterpillar. If the machine is having a problem, Caterpillar determines the appropriate solution and informs the local dealer who can visit the machine and make the necessary repairs. “This system is not yet available in the UAE, but as the market becomes more sophisticated it is just a matter of time before it is. The system is ideal for the crushing business because for them it comes down to how much a machine costs per hour and it’s the production cost per tonne,” says Abadir. This is not always the case in the UAE, although many do monitor costs closely, few do to that extent.

Despite offering a range of benefits, high tech components do have disadvantages. “Some machines are now very advanced and include high tech components, but there are disadvantages when using them in this area. If the machine is computerised or has a lot of electronics it is not easy to maintain on site and the operators are often not sufficiently skilled to drive such complex machine,” says Abdul Qader. Operators therefore prefer something that is simple and easy to operate, maintain, and repair. “The main priority for operators is simplicity and ease of maintenance,” says Abdul Salam.

Climate is also a major issue. “Although we don’t come across to many reliability issues, one issue we have found is that electronic components tend to be a little less reliable there mechanical counterparts. They have other advantages, but on sheer reliability, they tend to fail more often especially in the local climate. When electronic components are exposed to great heat they may fail,” says Zacharia.

The problem is compounded when the machines are bought second hand. “Customers some time complain about the newer machines because servicing is not as readily available as it is often only available with the dealers,” Says Abdul Qader. “The more complex machines tend not to have any problems for the first two years because the machine is new. But when the machine is a bit older problems can occur and if the machine has already been sold on the new owner will have problems because he not the dealer’s direct customer,” he adds.

One less high tech feature that has improved reliability greatly is the introduction of air-conditioned cabins. Apart from improving operator comfort, the enclosed cabin prevents dust from affecting the dashboard and equipment inside the cabin.

Preventative maintenance is important because machines in the UAE can experience a wide range of problems. “Many of the problems that machines encounter stem from the fact that the machines receive improper preventative maintenance. If proper maintenance is in place these faults would not occur,” says Abadir. “For example, we did an oil sample for one machine and the aluminium content was quite high, so we brought it in to the workshop and we discovered the bearings on the crank shaft were causing the problem so they were replaced. This job may cost about Dhs15 000, but if the customer had waited for a few days it may have cost Dhs60-70 000,” he adds.

Parts availability is another important factor because if the parts are not available the repairs cannot be done. The larger dealers maintain parts availability rates of 85-95% to ensure that the vast majority of repairs can be done quickly. Our workshop holds some Dhs50 million of spare parts, and this is authenticated by Komatsu,” says Aziz.

For the parts that are not immediately available they can be ordered from the OEMs, and with modern freight services can reach the workshop within 72 hours. Modern technology has also made the ordering of part much more efficient. “The Internet has improved communication greatly. We can check availability and order parts online from the manufacturer even at the weekend. We can also trace a shipment for a customer once it has been placed,” says Zacharia.||**||

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