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Mar 10, 2013

"If It Ain't Broke...Fix It!" Preventive Maintenance

Farmway Description

So you understand where I'm coming from — What began as just one community in Mitchell County, Kansas has expanded into 19 locations across seven counties in North Central Kansas. We have Grain facilities in 15 communities, Agronomy plants in 8, & Fueling sites in 13 locations with our Energy department. We have a 3 man Millwright crew with a mobile equipment trailer to handle repair and smaller new build projects company-wide.

As Project & Millwright Manager what frustrates me are the excuses I hear for not getting it done!! "We don't want to spend money", "We're too busy", "I don't have enough help", "Its' just another form to fill out. I've got too much already". I want you to think about this...

"What does preventive maintenance cost you?" Are you thinking about it as 3 men to work for 5 hours at $60 and hour plus the $1200 bearing to be roughly $2100 that you don't want to spend right now?


Should you be thinking about it as, "What does downtime cost you?" Downtime always seems to happen when you are busy! What if you have the potential for a 150,000 bushel day? The bearing goes out on one leg and the lines back up at the other pits. The customers have combines in the field....the rain is coming....they don't want to wait and they head to another co-op. Now you've potentially lost 50,000 bushels at a .50 margin, plus when the bearing went out it also ruined the shaft. Now you have the loss of revenue, unhappy customers, & the domino effect in the equipment failure. The cost to plan maintenance and to service your equipment instead of emergency fixes is by far the better management decision.


Safety Culture

Every program in our company starts with safety! Our company has been working hard to develop our Safety Culture — Awareness & Attitudes, watching out for each other and assessing the risks of their actions. Location Managers lead monthly safety meetings at locations plus a Safety Committee of peers (all divisions/all levels represented) that meets monthly and develops training & educational opportunities. Locations turn-in near-misses and they are discussed at every meeting to be sure that an issue seen in one area can be brought to the attention of others to keep an injury from happening.

Safety - If you see a hazard fix it or report it, don't just walk away from it.

If maintenance points are in bad spots, they will be skipped for safety reasons or for the inconvenience. Do everything you can do to make maintenance safe and convenient. Here are some things our company has done:

  • Expanding Working Platforms
  • Extended Grease Zerks
  • Secure Anchor points
  • Proper Lighting
  • Inspection Covers
  • Proper Housekeeping
  • Proper Labeling

As managers we have been given a wealth of information on equipment -  I have flow charts, bin diagrams, & equipment lists. I have a documentation programs & checklists: "Where am I going wrong?" "Why is it not working?"


Employee Statistics

"How many of you have the same employees working for you that you did 15 years ago?"

"How many of you have an endless supply of candidates?"

Our industry is changing and so is our workforce. Sometimes in our work region, the labor available hasn't grown-up doing the jobs we need done; they either don't have equipment knowledge or agriculture knowledge. According to AgCareers 2012 North American applicant background data:

  • 40% of the Educational Discipline of applicants is non-agriculture related
  • 48% of the applicant's Current Occupation is non-agricultural related
  • And only 2% come from Ag engineering or Operations jobs  

Why did we hire them? They were someone that we felt was going to be a solid reliable employee that had the ability to be trained and understand our expectations. A long-time employee or manager may have been in a different division of the company and need to learn the equipment. Our facilities are changing, expanding, and upgrading.  


Training is the key!

  • Key in on specific pieces of equipment and develop training for each. Keep the scope narrow but thorough.
  • Have the employees with the knowledge help develop the individual trainings.

Our Millwright crew comes from diverse knowledge backgrounds. We have someone that comes from the grain construction side of the business so knows how to build from the ground up. We have someone that comes from the grain operations side of the industry so knows how the elevator runs and the upkeep needed. We have someone that is exactly what we are talking about — a great reliable employee that has been trained and has risen to the challenge.

In the trainings we develop we talk about:

  • What we will cover in that training
  • Issues that can happen with improper maintenance
  • Recordkeeping
  • Follow-through expectations
  • Have the employees with the knowledge do the trainings. To have management read training out of a manual doesn't keep anyone's attention and promote the learning we want. We are hands on!
  • Utilize the peer relationship for interest in the training; Get the support and interest of all employees. We feel that to have the people that are out there working side by side with the operations guys, that are working in the dirt and grease with them makes the employees more comfortable in asking questions and providing feedback.
  • Set-up a training schedule.
  • Short class room session on location with manager and employees — keep it casual, like a coffee time talk so the training is interactive.
  • Hands on training in the elevator with each employee   - you're looking at that employees equipment. Discuss what their piece of equipment looks like currently and improvement that can be worked on.
  • Document each training with an employee sign-off so no employee gets missed.


You don't have to go it alone! Partner with vendors to develop specialized training for your operations employees and managers. This is the equipment you are buying - see if they have training material already set-up that you can utilize. Also, utilize the GEAPS/K-State Distance Education Programs. These can give your employees more in depth training and CEU's to boot!

Manager's responsibility

Training and documentation only go so far. Managers must follow through! Not only do they need to be sure that all of their employees are developed but they must then oversee that everything is getting done and short cuts aren't taken. A checklist with the boxes filled out isn't enough — know your facility and get involved...spot-check equipment over personally. The manager should follow-up on all notations of service or repair needs to be sure it is addressed — don't just file it away!


If it Ain't Broke...Fix-it! Define your program — what do want to get out of the program, what do you want it to look like? Audit your program — evaluate what you have and what you need to do to get what you want. Do this not only for your Preventive Maintenance program but for your safety program, your employee development, and employee recruitment...any program! There's always room for improvement!

 *As presented by Terry Collins at GEAPS Exchange 2013

Speaker Contact Info

Contact info for Terry Collins:
Phone: (785) 243-6624 
Email: tcollins@farmwaycoop.com