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Construction equipment management to reduce downtime

How much do downtime delays cost your company? If you use heavy construction equipment, unplanned downtime can cost you thousands of dollars or more each day and put your project further behind schedule. This will likely create a domino effect that will impact your productivity. Severe delays can begin to affect your staff, contractors, and other businesses on your job site who are depending on you to complete your job on time. 

Your job is to do what you can to prevent equipment downtime or have plans to minimize its impact on your business and the outcomes of the project. 

Of course, you can’t always predict equipment damage. Still, with planning and foresight, you can keep all your machines in good, safe, working condition so your company can be more productive, increase efficiency, and you can better manage your expenses. 

In this article, we will look at how heavy construction equipment operators like yourself can recognize and mitigate downtime related to machine failure or damage. 

The true cost of unplanned downtime

An hour of unplanned construction equipment downtime can cost hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars.

Unplanned downtime will affect your entire business, especially employee productivity and costs. For example, your team may arrive at the operations yard in the morning and discover that a significant piece of machinery is unexpectedly broken. This will affect their schedule for the whole day or longer, depending on the severity of the damage. And you’ll still have to pay their wages in the meantime. 

If your machines break down on the construction site, it can become a safety hazard. Your best chance to minimize downtime due to equipment breakage or failure—while also maintaining a reasonable level of employee safety—is to perform regular maintenance on all vehicles and equipment. It’s crucial to invest in and plan for regular inspections of all equipment and schedule all repair tasks. Creating planned downtime will help you better manage costs and schedules.

To help you be more efficient and safe in your business, here are 6 tips for reducing downtime at your facilities:

Tip #1: Know your uncontrollable downtime delays on a job site

Before we discuss the downtime delays you can control, let’s briefly look at the job site delays that are not in your control. 

Uncontrollable delays may include:

  • Employees who miss work due to illness, tardiness, no-shows, or scheduling errors
  • Delivery delays from vendors
  • Spare parts availability from the equipment manufacturer
  • Repairs due to misuse of the machine by employees

Your best chance to mitigate these risks is to have employees on-call to cover for absent staff, and by working in buffer room in your schedule. It’s better to finish a project early, than late. 

Tip #2: Train employees in machinery maintenance

Old and new equipment needs to be appropriately maintained. This is a key area you can control, along with safe and appropriate machinery operation. 

Ensure all employees and contractors on every construction site are fully trained in all machinery they will be using. When using equipment as per the manufacturer’s recommendations, it increases efficiency and helps prevent any damage or premature wear and tear.  

Tip #3: Hire effective managers

Another tip to help your employees work at their best is by hiring good construction managers and supervisors for your team. Knowing how to manage, supervise, and communicate with workers properly is key to helping everyone perform at their best. 

Tip #4: Create back-ups for critical path tasks

If you are working with a critical path method, you know that just one delay in a critical path task can snowball and affect your entire project timeline. For items you have identified as essential to the success of your project, create backup plans in case of equipment failure. This will help ensure that your project timeline isn’t impacted too significantly, even if unexpected delays occur. 

Tip #5: Preventative maintenance measures to reduce unplanned downtime

The University of Nebraska did a study of farmers and their machine costs. They found that farmers were saving 25% or more by improving their routine maintenance procedures. For example, an $80,000 tractor typically requires $24,000 of repairs per 5,000 hours of operation time with average care. By making standard equipment care more of a priority, you can decrease your machine costs by up to 25% too.

Tip #6: Schedule planned downtime

Another great way to ensure your machines are operating within optimal range is to schedule equipment downtime. Consider cycling through your equipment, so they all get equal use

For example, if you have five trucks, consider scheduling no more than four on a job at a time. The additional unit can be at your yard getting a more detailed cleaning or inspections, or acting as a backup if one of the rigs in the field fails. This also helps ensure your assets are getting equal wear and tear, so that your best rig won’t meet an early demise from overuse.

It’s also a great time to perform your regular detailed inspections and repair work. This equipment cycling helps you better manage your equipment and personnel resources while minimizing unexpected downtime costs. 

6 steps to minimize construction equipment downtime

Optimize operations by budgeting and planning a detailed maintenance schedule. This will help you better manage your operating costs and put systems and backup equipment in place should any unexpected repairs be needed. 

Here are the necessary steps to create a plan for proactive maintenance of your equipment: 

Step 1 – Make a list of all equipment

Start a database to track every piece of equipment you own. This includes trucks, heavy construction equipment, and smaller essential tools and machines. You may want to log them by serial number, age, or any other defining characteristics.

Step 2 – List all routine and preventative maintenance requirements

Check your owner’s manual for suggested regular maintenance and preventative maintenance. Poor maintenance of your equipment will affect its lifespan and safety, so it’s in your best interest to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for care, operation, and servicing. 

Depending on the type of heavy construction equipment you own and how often it’s used, you can stock spare parts which you can quickly replace when needed. Having these on hand will minimize downtime waiting for parts deliveries. 

Step 3 – Assign duties to employees or departments

To maximize productivity and ensure servicing and repairs get done, assign specific employees, positions, or departments next to each item. 

For example, it may be the responsibility of a shift supervisor to inspect all equipment at the end of each shift to report any damage. You may have a specific group of employees who do a more detailed inspection at the end of every week or month. In your plan, be clear on how to report any significant maintenance issues with the construction equipment. 

Step 4 – Create a maintenance schedule

Create a calendar for every maintenance item. How often you do each item will be dependent on your equipment owners manual and a combination of the following factors:  

  • Machine operating hours (eg: every 5,000 hours)
  • Length of time (eg: every four weeks)
  • Distance travelled (every 10,000 km)
  • Local climate concerns (rainy season, humidity, snow, temperature fluctuations)

Step 5 – Keep maintenance and repair records

After repairing equipment, or performing any scheduled or unscheduled inspections or maintenance, keep a log in your servicing records. This will help ensure business continuity so anyone on the team can check the status of maintenance and repairs when needed. 

Step 6 – Communicate with your team

You have made an excellent start to reducing downtime in your operations. Your last step is to ensure your servicing schedule and system are clearly communicated to your team. 

Provide your workers with the proper training, so they know what you look for when performing start-of-shift and end-of-shift inspections. Keep them motivated to participate by showing them how maintaining their equipment benefits both the company and the safety of their co-workers and themselves. 

Finally, make vehicle inspections and preventative maintenance to reduce downtime a non-negotiable part of their job description.

Save more time and cost by digitizing fleet management

How great would it be to boost your construction productivity? When you use the latest technology to digitize and automate business operations, you can increase your profit margins and keep your equipment operators safer. 

With fleet management technology from Tread, your construction business can better manage your vehicle schedules digitally. When a truck is out of commission, you can quickly update and reassign other resources for the job, which minimizes any costly downtime. 

When a dump truck is unexpectedly out of commission, your dispatchers can use the Tread software to quickly communicate with the driver and confirm the issue. They can identify the truck location and quickly dispatch assistance or a replacement vehicle. 

With Tread, you can minimize downtime and keep your operations moving. To see for yourself how Tread can help you improve your construction fleet operations, request a free software demo today