Your equipment fleet is one of the largest capital expenses you have. Whether it's a new skid steer or the latest in portable electric tools, rental-quality equipment is not inexpensive.
Now more than ever, your service department is your first line of defense against premature equipment failure. Not only must the service department keep your equipment running, it must squeeze every last rental out of a piece of equipment before it's sold or retired.
Mechanics have been around ever since the first piece of equipment was devised by man. Once a machine was developed, there has been a need for those who can restore mechanical equipment to its full glory -whether chiseling the wheel into the right shape or making that two-ton skid steer purr like a kitten.
Much is asked of the modern-day service department; so much is needed as well. While most mechanics supply their own hand tools (up to a point), there are tools you'll need to provide for the safety of your personnel and the health of your equipment.
Safety is the number one issue in your service department. Repairing equipment is by its nature dangerous work, and making it as safe as possible is not just a matter of complying with the law, it's just good policy.
First of all, every one in the service department should have their own personal protective gear: safety glasses, work gloves, hearing protection and proper footwear. Inherently dangerous pieces of shop equipment should have safety gear kept nearby. For example, a welding hood and gloves should be with the welder, not in someone's locker. The bench grinder should have a face shield hung near it. Common sense safety steps can save money and increase efficiency. After all, it's impossible to see with a glass eye.
Fire extinguishers should be plentiful and fully charged. Make sure yours are inspected on a regular basis.
Finally, making safety the number one priority means more than providing proper safety equipment. It means making sure everyone knows that safety comes first by making it rule number one. No matter how busy the rental business gets, there's always time to do the job safely.
Give them a lift
Most rental centers feature several types of equipment that are heavy and require regular undercarriage maintenance. Getting the job done means providing your shop with the proper tools to lift quickly and safely. This might mean having floor jacks around for the lighter-weight equipment and perhaps bottle jacks and post lifts for larger equipment. Always make sure to purchase jacks that are rated heavier than what you plan to lift, and because safety comes first, always get jack stands to match.
Smaller equipment poses its own access problems. For example, if string trimmers reside within your fleet, investing in a trimmer stand can be a great time saver. These devices grip the trimmer and hold it at working height, freeing both your technicians' hands to service the machine.
Similarly, a smaller lift for generators, pressure washers and the like can be invaluable to not only your back, but to productivity as well. (For more information on smaller lifts, visit www.heftylift.com and www.hefteelift.com for more information.)
Tools -Our specialty
While most technicians will have their own basic hand tools, there are occasions when more is needed.
As equipment gets more and more complex, various specialty tools are needed to repair it quickly and properly. These tools range from flywheel pullers and oddly made sockets to computerized diagnostic tools.
What types of tools will be needed are dictated by the type of equipment serviced in your shop. There really is no set formula for what is needed. Keep in mind, however, that time is money -the faster a machine is back on line, the faster it can produce more revenue.
Often, the difference between a missed rental and a satisfied customer is the speed with which repairs are made. As car dealerships are known for their expertise on their brand, you should strive to be the expert on your equipment. If a tool is needed for repairing Brand X machines, and it's your brand, then that tool should be in your shop.
Once you've determined which tools are needed, it pays to put them in a central location and engrave them as shop use only, so they don't make there way onto your rental tool board.
Keep it lubricated
Changing oil and lubricating fittings is a daily job in the rental business, and today there are better ways of doing it than ever before. If you have a large fleet of equipment, you might find the best way to purchase oil is in bulk. Not only do you get a lower price, but there are no quart or gallon oil containers to inventory and dispose of.
Dispensing bulk oil is best done with an air-powered dispenser. These have a dial or gauge which tells the operator how much oil he has dispensed, helping eliminate waste and spills.
The next piece of lubricating equipment that is essential is a bulk, air-powered greasing system. Once again, the product is less expensive than standard models, and it makes an essential task quicker and more thorough. Many times fittings you can't lubricate manually will succumb to the power of an air-powered system.
The best part of these two items is the cost. Many oil companies will lease or rent them to you at a reduced rate or at no charge, providing you purchase enough oil and grease.
Then, of course, there is the matter of waste oil. In many areas of the country it makes great economic sense to use a waste oil heater to dispose of waste oil, which provides some well deserved warmth to your staff and adds to your bottom line.
Keep it powered up
Most rental centers rent battery-powered lifts and hand-held electric tools. There are certain tools needed to properly care for and service these pieces of equipment.
Battery-powered lifts rely on deep-cycle batteries, and batteries require maintenance. Items like chemicals for cleaning batteries and load testers for testing their strength are essential to have, along with a high-quality battery charger capable of charging both 6- and 12-volt batteries.
Electric tools like demo hammers and drills require 110 volts to operate, so tools for their care include a dielectric tester (for testing the tool for shorts, opens and dangerous conditions) and an armature tester, sometimes referred to as a growler, for testing armatures and components. (Visit www.sotcher.com and www.slaughtertest.com for more information on these essential tools.) These tools serve a dual purpose: they provide both efficiency and safety.
An essential tool in any shop is the digital multimeter. These are as varied in price and features as they are in colors, but make sure you get one that is a "true rms" meter. Simply put, this means the meter is more accurate than the standard type digital meter, and less likely to make trouble when reading the fractions of volts needed to be read when testing lift control circuits or the charging circuit of a generator, for example. (Visit www.fluke.com and www.simpsonelectric.com for more information.) The proper multimeter can be used to test all types of circuitry and can mean the difference between repairing equipment or just replacing parts until the equipment starts working again.
Keep it clean
There are several ways of cleaning oily, dirty parts. There is the traditional parts wash tanks that you rent and that use solvent. These have worked well for many years. There are also newer types of parts washers that use microorganisms to devour the grime you wash off. These work by keeping the wash fluid at a certain temperature so the bacteria thrive.
Either type of machine requires common sense maintenance. Don't put anything truly greasy into them (you might stop up a filter -clean off the larger deposits first); keep the fluid changed or topped off as needed; and keep the filters changed. Service is important if you want your parts washer to do its job well. (Visit www.safetykleen.com, www.chemfree.com for more information.)
Into the future
There is one tool that is newer to the service department than any other: the computer. It is essential that your service department be connected with the rental counter so that each knows what the other is doing. After all, if you have seven straw blowers reserved for Saturday and only three are running, the time to find out is not on Saturday morning.
A high-speed Internet connection is also a must. Many manufacturers offer parts service, support and warranty information online. Many times, if you file a warranty online, you'll be paid in a few days, or even hours, instead of weeks. By keeping your department informed and up to date, you'll increase the bottom line. And that's what we're all after.
PD Peterson has worked several years in the rental industry as a parts and service technician. He is currently service manager at a John Deere dealership in Tennessee.