It pays to base kit maintenance on aircraft principles
By Andy Collings
DONT mend what isnt broken, is one philosophy which could be levelled at machinery maintenance. Another is, mend it before it breaks.
Both regimes clearly have their attributes – one aims to restrain over zealous workshop attendants, and the other, taken to extremes, suggests a carte blanche approach to preventative medicine. Somewhere between the two is perhaps the correct line to take.
At Down Farm, Aldbury, Bucks, Jonathan Rowe believes he has hit on the happy medium. Furthermore, he is convinced his machinery maintenance policy has saved him thousands of £s over recent years.
Those fortunate, or wealthy enough to be involved in aircraft ownership may already be aware of the phrase replacement before failure – or RBF for the trendies.
RBF assumes every component has a measurable working life and aims to instigate a replacement policy before it finally dies. In an aircraft flying at 30,000ft, it is comforting to know such policies are in place. Mr Rowe would claim to find equal comfort in knowing that his combine harvester is not going to give him any major surprises.
"On the face of it, replacing parts before they have clapped out, would appear to border on the extravagant," he says. "But a broken down combine can cost a lot more in the long run."
Mr Rowe farms 240ha (600 acres), two-thirds of which are down to arable cropping – barley for malting, oilseed rape and wheat. A one-man band, with only extra help hired for the harvest, his machinery line-up comprises two tractors, a combine, sprayer, drill and a range of cultivation tackle.
"At the core of my machinery maintenance policy is the requirement that when I come to any seasonal task – combining, ploughing, drilling, for example – the machinery involved will perform without a hitch for that duration," he says.
The question is: Just how does he predict when a component is going to fail?
"It comes from experience," he says. "The decision to replace cracked belts, noisy bearings or worn out parts is straight forward – they are going to fail and you know it, so it makes sense to fit new ones before the season starts. Other parts are not so easy and you have to go on a mixture of intuition and common sense."
For his combine – a 13-year-old Claas Dominator 108 – he relies heavily on the expertise of his dealer, AT Oliver.
"After each harvest I provide the dealer with a list of parts I believe need changing and they set about the task. It may be that they find other work that needs doing and I am happy for them to do it – they are the experts.
"For RBF to work it is essential to have a good dealer relationship," he insists. "If the combine goes bang during harvest, it is their reputation – and, to some extent, my judgement – which is on the line."
While there may be those that consider this approach to be inviting unlimited expenditure, it is worth noting that Mr Rowe has spent just £9658 on combine harvester repairs since he bought the machine in 1991. And he reports that there have been just 1.5 days lost in harvesting time.
The same policy is applied to other key machinery. Mainten-ance of the John Deere 6600 – the main workhorse of the farm – and the John Deere 6300 is scheduled along the same lines, as is the plough and drill with parts replaced to conform with the RBF principle.
"The key point to come to terms with is that parts will always break and wear out at some point – the secret is to replace them in good time so a machine will perform faultlessly for the duration of a seasons work."
Mr Rowe says there are also important spin off benefits to be gained. "With few if any unscheduled stoppages, I am usually on time with the work load and, as a result, crops are planted and harvested at an optimum time.
"This reflects on the quality of the crops harvested – particularly that of malting barley – and the price that can be attained."
And on one final note, Mr Rowes approach to machinery care has, he says, resulted in an above average price being paid for his kit when the time comes for an item to be updated.
Replacement Before Failure may be more applicable to the aviation industry than to agricultural mach-inery matters but, if Mr Rowes experience is to be upheld, it is a principle which can be successfully – and economically – applied. *