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Tue 6 Nov 2007 04:00 AM

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Troubleshoot, fix and go

Whether it's a digger, hauler, or tower crane, any time not spent working because of a fault could mean dirhams down the drain for construction contractors.

Time is money and when high-value assets are lying idle, money is being wasted. With Dubai's construction and heavy industries working relentlessly all the vital machinery needs to be kept running, sometimes day and night, regardless of the tough environment they work in.

The need for speedy repairs to minimise downtime has made mobile maintenance teams an essential part of the construction industry for dealers and contractors alike.

If someone rings up and they’ve got a problem, we’ll get out there and we’ll fix it.

"Construction equipment operates in an aggressive environment, demanding the most rugged machinery, not only through excellent manufacturing, but backed by excellent service and maintenance," said Arif Chishti, divisional manager - Construction Equipment, Famco.

"Transporting construction equipment is not only time consuming but it is also expensive. In some cases heavy machinery can only be transported at specific times of the day. Famco recognises this constraint and offers on-site diagnostic, repair and maintenance services, increasing equipment up-time and offering the lowest cost per ton."

Having this kind of service available 24 hours a day, seven days a week is an essential part of the bargain. Constant availability of support services is something that is spreading to many dealers and agents in the region, with some using it to set themselves apart from the competition.

"We are from a construction background, we know how vital equipment is for contractors and the extent of the loss they may be exposed to during downtime, so seven months ago we launched a 24 hour service operation to cope with actual market demand, where many contractors work double shifts and operate almost 20 hours a day," said Waiel Manfalouti, general manager of House of Equipment.

"They expect support from us on all shifts and we're proud we are able to do it, especially the maintenance and repair work that does not require daylight. Many of the minor repairs can be done at night and the loss of efficiency is minimal."

Since speed of response, as well as repair, is of the essence, Gates Fleximak has opted to put customers in need of hoses, belts and hydraulic help in direct contact with its technicians.

"If someone rings up and they've got a problem, we'll get out there and we'll fix it," said Del Waiariki, manager for Gates Fleximak's Jebel Ali branch.

"They will go wherever the problem is, if the customer calls from the middle of the desert, we'll send the van out there, assess what the problem is, and if possible fix it on the spot. If they can't do that, they'll bring the hose back to the workshop, we'll fix it here and then return it, or organise something to get the machinery working again. That's the main objective, to get the customers machinery working again."

For construction machinery Gates Fleximak mainly deals with hydraulic hoses and fittings, but like any other mobile service it aims to have the vans be a one-stop shop for customer service.

"Our aim is to have 100% customer satisfaction, no customer will go without being serviced and getting their machinery back on the road," said Waiariki.

Gates Fleximak is making an effort to promote the idea of preventative maintenance, something Waiariki sees as reasonably new for the region.

"We are actually just starting to push that now," he said. "We can monitor equipment and give customers advice on when to change critical hoses. Each driver has a list of customers who they look after. They are familiar with every piece of equipment those customers have and can make maintenance suggestions.

"Preventative maintenance is something that a lot of contractors don't consider, they wait until something breaks. If we can get there and prevent the breakdown, we can give them maybe 15 minutes where the machine is out of commission, instead of a couple of hours, or a day. That way we're saving them money. It's a shift in the pattern for a lot of companies.

"I'd say one of the major problems for the construction industry is burst hoses, especially on heavy machinery. That's all tied in with preventative maintenance. Some of the hoses that come through here are in an absolutely shocking state. They'll have no rubber on the outside, or be completely corroded, I marvel at how they're still going."

"It's all very well replacing a hose on someone's digger, but there is obviously a reason it broke. Maybe it was something as simple as they routed it the wrong way and fixing this with our help will save them having to replace it again in another 6 months."
Driver training

A blown fuse or a cheap part could potentially be the cause of thousands of dollars worth of delay. These are things dealt with from the van door by the mobile mechanics and service technicians trained to troubleshoot problems as quickly as possible.

"Every time we get a new product, representatives from the manufacturer train our engineers and technicians how to diagnose and repair any problems," said Manfalouti.

Manfalouti says this approach allows the technicians to build up experience over time so they can make repairs more quickly, allowing them to get equipment running as soon as possible.

"It's not the cost of a part at issue, but the consequential losses," said Manfalouti.

"This is why we believe fast moving repairs should be done day and night. One advantage that adds serious value is the stocking of different categories of equipment based on expected projects to come. This meets the requirements of different customers and indirectly helps them to have equipment available at the time it's needed, saving a lot on delivery time."

Out on site the technicians can face any number of challenges. Their ability to deal with them depends on their skill and the equipment they have to hand. As Famco's Chishti explains, this means the mobile workshops have to be pretty self-sufficient.

"[Challenges on site] could vary depending on the extent to which a site is developed," he said. "For example, a remote site may be self-sufficient with all the basic requirements, whereas a site closer to the city may require special tooling, power, compressed air et cetera. Famco's mobile workshops are completely self-sufficient and our technicians highly knowledgeable, therefore challenges are kept to the minimum."

Famco extends the approach to offering training for the operators themselves.

"Without a properly trained operator, a piece of construction equipment can not be utilised to its full potential," said Chishti. "With this in mind, Famco organises operator training, both on site and in house, to ensure that all equipment features are clearly understood."

The guys doing the work out in the dust have a tough job, but it's a very sought after one.

"To become a driver is like the pinnacle of the job for our workers," said Waiariki. "It's where they make the most money and it's not easy for them to get in there. They must have a minimum of one year working in the workshop, we don't just hire someone off the street and say ‘here's the keys, go fix some stuff'.

"We have our own training schools here and most of our drivers have more than five years experience. Some of them have been with the company for 12-15 years, so there's a lot of experience. Any new technician going out to become a driver will spend 1-2 months with an existing driver doing the work, so they get a feel for it and get to know the customers. By the time they're in the van they're very valuable.

"It's imperative for us to get good people in the vans. Each one is stocked for that particular driver's customers. He stocks his van according to what his customers need. Customers like that because they know when the van turns up he'll be able to fix their problem."

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