Improving your composting operation’s maintenance practices.
By Ted Dirkx

It is no secret that equipment maintenance is essential to a composting operation’s overall success. It is hard to compost when machinery is not working, which is why it is crucial to create a proactive maintenance culture inside your organization. Proactive means taking a “predict-and-prevent” approach instead of a passive “fail-and-fix” view on maintenance.

Many composting operations initially take good care of new machinery, but complacency can set in after a few years of ownership. I spend a lot of time training composting crews on how to use and perform routine maintenance on machinery, and I know everyone wants to keep their fleet working efficiently. Unfortunately, as time passes, priorities can shift, the level of training that new crew members receive may not be as extensive or maintenance may be sacrificed in the name of production. These types of cycles usually do not fix themselves, which is why management needs to intervene and establish sustainable proactive maintenance plans.

In an industry where profits are so dependent on operating at peak efficiency, preventative maintenance and having an network of reliable partners can have a significant impact on growth.

When you are in the middle of the day-to-day work of running your composting operations, the idea of pressing the pause button to address your company’s culture about maintenance can be overwhelming. It does not have to be that way—spend time analyzing equipment and then working as a team to create a plan that works.

Analyzing the data
Most equipment fleet managers are swimming in a sea of data these days. To justify a shift from a fail-and-fix to a predict-and-prevent culture, data plays an important part. Composting management should take a comprehensive view—do not just look at short-term data points like machine hours and maintenance time, but also looking at intermediate and long-term data points like repair times, productivity and employee engagement.

In addition to tracking hours in the short term, pay attention to measuring and uncovering unexpected maintenance issues. From time to time, unexpected maintenance issues can happen, but people need to look into the root cause and try to put practices in place that will help prevent it. For example, if a facility grinds a lot of wood waste with contaminants like scrap metal, unexpected maintenance issues may be able to be reduced through the use of an optional accessory like a Damage Defense system that will help reduce the likelihood of metal being pulled into the grinder mill by reversing the feed system immediately when metal contaminants are detected.

Intermediate data points you should be looking at include repair times, parts consumption, productivity, maintenance issue costs, shop organization and time studies. The long-term data you should be analyzing includes how much your organization is budgeting for maintenance and adjusting when new equipment is added. You should also continuously be looking at your employees’ engagement levels. It is critical to have ongoing buy-in from employees. They are the people performing daily maintenance and running the machinery. So, they need to be looking and listening for issues so preemptive action can be taken. Allowing them to have input about how things are done is also important because it helps them have more ownership in the process.

Once the data is collected and analyzed, it is time to establish a proactive maintenance plan. Your plan should include making sure your team is communicating with one another about how equipment is running, pointing out visualization cues to help your organization carry out routine preventive maintenance and optimizing when and how it is performed.
Most composting facilities work with dozens of equipment providers and operate a wide range of machinery, so tracking maintenance needs and support can be challenging. Employing telematics or consolidating all of the different information into a useable format can help them keep track of it all. Many manufacturers supply maintenance manuals with every machine purchased. Dealers and manufacturers can be a great source and help ease the consolidation process.

Vermeer Damage Defense system is ideal for any type of tub or horizontal grinder operation that may encounter certain metal contaminants mixed in with their incoming materials.

Equipment operators should also use the equipment’s maintenance manual to reference daily maintenance tasks. Visual aids are a great way to remind everyone what needs to be done to a machine and when. It also helps when a new operator is getting trained.

One of the reasons why many organizations struggle with taking a predict-and-prevent approach to maintenance is concerns about productivity time. Contractors should plan for maintenance during off hours or breaks. Fail-and-fix maintenance is unpredictable; flipping the switch to a predict-and-prevent approach can help reduce the number of times machines need to be serviced during normal production hours.

Another way to make routine maintenance time more efficient is by having the right tools, fluids and parts you need on hand. Whether in a truck or a shop, every tool should have a home and be accessible for the task. Service techs should have all the supplies they need on hand ahead of time. It is also a good idea to stock consumable parts that need to be replaced often.

Management Decisions
Analyzing the data and creating a maintenance plan are just the first steps to establishing a proactive maintenance culture inside your organization. To create lasting change, you need to get everyone’s buy in, and then revisit the topic regularly. Every employee should be able to answer four key questions.
1. What is the company’s maintenance vision?
2. Why are we doing this?
3. Who do I talk to for more information or when I have a concern?
4. What is my role?
Implementing many of these practices at your facilities is important. Our teams meet regularly to cover maintenance practices, and there are visual cues located throughout all of our plants to help remind them about the value of the machinery and their role in taking care of it. Of course, it is not enough to get your employees on board, you also have to be committed and set a good example.

Finally, do not forget that you do not have to go about creating a culture change on your own. Lean on equipment manufacturers and dealers for support. In addition to asking them to help you understand the service intervals of your machinery, consult with them about what parts you should have on hand, what they stock and how quickly you can get something from the manufacturer. Also make sure you ask about extended warranties and service agreements.

Time to Start
Going from a fail-and-fix to predict-and-prevent maintenance approach does not happen overnight, but you can do it. The payoff is creating a culture that helps you get the most from your equipment and maximizes the life of your investment. | WA

Ted Dirkx is an Applications Specialist for Recycling and Forestry at Vermeer Corporation. Traveling about 30 weeks a year, he helps organizations setup compost facilities, manufacture mulch, clear land and produce biofuels. He has presented at the Compost Council of Canada Conference, Canadian Wood Waste Recycling Association, Biocycle Conference and USCC Conference on topics related to operational efficiency and maintenance. Ted can be reached at (641) 629-1589 or e-mail

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