When It's Time to Let Go...

There comes a point in the service life of every machine when it's no longer practical for it to continue in use.

There comes a point in the service life of every machine when it's no longer practical for it to continue in use. This is true even for equipment "giants" like the USS Enterprise, the world's first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. Commissioned in November 1961, the massive vessel set out on its maiden voyage the following January, with 200,000+ hp propelling its 1,123-ft.-long mass at a top speed of 30+ knots. Designed to operate 25 years, the historic warship recently embarked on its final journey after 50 years of service. After its seven-month deployment in the Middle East, it will return for deactivation at the end of 2012, and will eventually be dismantled.

The article "The Final Frontier" in the March 11 edition of the Wisconsin State Journal details both the storied history of the Enterprise and the challenges its crews face in trying to maintain the aging vessel. Breakdowns of various systems and components are common, and parts must often be made from scratch, given that the vessel is the only one of its class and spare parts don't exist. As the article notes, "The problems are so notorious that sailors reporting to work aboard the Enterprise are often given joking condolences by their colleagues on shore and on other ships."

The Enterprise was never designed to be in use for so long, but necessity kept it in service for double its intended life. Many of you can likely relate to this. Even in good times, the jobsites I've visited often have what I politely refer to as "outdated" machines in active use — equipment that continues to work, yet clearly has seen better, more productive days. With the recession and ongoing economic uncertainty, aging equipment has become even more commonplace in construction fleets. Yet, the costs, and risks, of maintaining these machines may now outweigh the objections to investing in newer models.

As you know, as equipment ages, it starts to take a toll in maintenance and parts costs, unscheduled downtime and lost productivity. In order to maximize the little profit you may be achieving on projects these days, it's essential to know what your equipment is costing you to own and operate, and then compare that against the potential gains you might achieve by renting or purchasing a newer model. You may find you can afford to invest in an upgraded model for what you're paying to hold onto an existing piece of equipment.

This isn't the first time I've expressed this concept in this column, but the timing to act upon it couldn't be better. The economy is continuing to improve, private construction investment is on the upswing and there's hope that a highway bill could actually be passed in this calendar year. It's important to position your company to bid and perform jobs cost effectively. In this light, the question becomes not whether you can afford to replace aging equipment, but whether you can afford not to.