August On The Floor Services

For On The Floor: Repair Services — Room To Improve

EP Editorial Staff | August 20, 2013

rick carterBy Rick Carter, Executive Editor

Repair or replace? When the answer is “repair,” today’s maintenance pros usually know right away if the work can be done on-site with in-house staff or if an outside service contractor is needed. When contractors get the nod (as they increasingly do) maintenance teams like to think their equipment is in good hands. But is it? Sometimes yes, often no, say MT’s Reader Panelists, most of whom see room for improvement. 

Panelists listed their top send-outs as follows (in alpha order): boards; CNC servo controllers; CPUs; drives; gearboxes; meters and other test equipment; motors, especially large-capacity and ECM motors; power supplies; power tools and pumps. Here’s what they told us about their repair-service experiences:

Q: How has your use of outside repair services changed in the past five years?


“We used to do our repairs in-house, but we send out almost everything now.”
… PM Leader, Midwest

  “Five years ago we repaired about 85% of our equipment in-house. Now our administration says in-house repairs are too costly.”
…Former Sr. Maintenance Engineer, now a Teacher, West

Q: Why do you use outside repair services?

“Cost and because delivery is often better than the OEM.”
… Reliability/Maintenance Engineer, South 

“When our trades were downsized, we were left with a staff that worked on machinery only.”
… PM Leader, Midwest

“Because they have equipment we don’t or they can do the job more cost-effectively.”
… Maintenance Supervisor, South

“Our accounting department said a maintenance engineer at $28/hr plus benefits costs us more to repair equipment than to use outside vendors.”
…Former Senior Maintenance Engineer, now a Teacher, West

Q: How do you rate the service level you receive from outside repair providers?

“With few exceptions, most of my experiences with outside repair services (other than OEM) have been disappointing. The level of service and quality of repair is almost always substantially lower than promised.”
…Reliability/Maintenance Engineer, South 

“The service we get now is like a crapshoot. The success rate for our main repair house is about 60/40. We get back repairs that are incorrect or fail in a short period of time. Our tradesmen are very unhappy with anything that has been repaired there.”
… PM Leader, Midwest

“Our [main] vendor has always been open and responsive to our needs.”
… Maintenance Coordinator, Mid-Atlantic

“The primary machine shop we use has served us over 20 years, and although they are an hour away, they offer pickup and delivery. They do quality work at a fair cost, and are available 24/7. However, we have been unimpressed with electronic repair services we’ve used in the last five years. Many parts are returned as ‘repaired’ that did not pass incoming inspection.”
… Maintenance Supervisor, South 

“Rating outside vendors seems to depend on the service contract we have with that organization. Sometimes they are average and other times they are real bad. The vendors we use today come from a “Vendor Approved” list set up by Purchasing. This is a problem because many of these vendors are not local, costs are high, repairs are slow and quality is poor. It is difficult to add vendors we would like on the list.”
…Former Sr. Maintenance Engineer, now a Teacher, West

“The service level has dropped off in recent years.”
…Production Support Manager, Midwest

Q: How could your provider(s) improve their service, if necessary?

“Many service companies will take on work they are not equipped to repair. They often lack knowledge of the component, necessary test equipment or are unable to obtain the right parts. When these situations occur, the outcome is almost always negative for the customer.”
…Reliability/Maintenance Engineer, South 

“They should do what they promise and not tell the customer they can provide a service or meet a deadline if they can’t. When they lose my trust, I will no longer do business with them, no matter the cost.”
… Maintenance Supervisor, South

“Service should be done right the first time. Too many times, service is not done correctly and repeat visits are needed.”
… Production Support Manager, Midwest

“Providers should become better partners to understand what customers need, and treat all customers the same, regardless of size.”
…Former Sr. Maintenance Engineer, now a Teacher, West

Q: What are the best and worst experiences you have had with outside service providers?

“The worst was having to send a circuit board out for repair more than four times to get it repaired correctly.”
… Production Support Manager, Midwest

“Best: After-hours we needed a part that was not available anywhere. [Our provider] fabbed a new part overnight from our specification, and helped us avoid what could have been a significant loss of materials. The worst: We sent a critical pump to a vendor who returned it improperly assembled and it failed on startup. The repair cost was high, the pump was not delivered on time and it resulted in two days lost production.”
…Maintenance Supervisor, South 

“The best experiences I have had seem to be with small, well-established family-run companies. These companies are local and take interest in our success as well as theirs. The worst experiences are with large, out-of-the-area, companies. Their techs often speak little English, do not listen to our need and blame our operators or maintenance staff for problems.”
…Former Sr. Maintenance Engineer, now a Teacher, West

Be clear about everything
Communication and follow-up take on added importance when dealing with repair services. Clear instructions are necessary, backed by the ability to ensure that providers follow them. “Holding them contractually responsible for their work” is key, says a Panelist who has learned the hard way. His site put an end to questionable rebuilds and sloppy workmanship by enhancing contract language and reminding providers what was expected of them. “Once they realized they would have to absorb the cost for inferior work,” he says, “they improved their Q.C. and management oversight, and the problems went away.”

Another Panelist recommends a dose of skepticism coupled with standard monitoring metrics. “There are some great repair companies out there,” he notes, “but don’t believe everything they tell you. Track your repair success and failure data for six months or a year, and you will have no problem identifying the good or bad ones.”

In the meantime, to make better repair/ replace decisions, consider using a decision tree. One Panelist shared those his operation uses with AC and DC motors. Based on guidelines from the U.S. Department of Energy’s MotorMaster Program, they’re available for download hereMT

Interested in joining our Reader Panel? Visit for details.  






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