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Equipment: Evaluations save money and downtime

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- Posted: April 9, 2020

Winter’s over, so time to take all your snow equipment, clean it, grease it and close the books on another successful winter season, right?

Not so fast! There’s much more to it. While those are all important tasks that need to be completed, a successful winter shutdown and review should be much more detailed. One of the biggest benefits of a detailed winter shutdown is gathering information to help improve your next snow season. Understanding what transpired and why will lay the foundation for next season’s plan. It will also allow you to be much more prepared when you begin the startup process.

Step 1. Plan 

Having a plan in place prior to starting this process will help ensure it is a successful exercise.

Who is responsible? Identify a person to lead this process. Don’t just leave it up to anyone. This should be led by someone who understands the opportunity as well as the implications if it’s not done right. Think of someone from your management staff, not someone who will just do the heavy lifting.

Set a deadline. Obviously, you need to wait for winter to end, but having a targeted start and finish date will help ensure tasks are complete and don’t linger into the next winter season. For many companies, this is a time of transition to other services and it becomes really easy to put off for later. Time is of the essence as it is important to gather information while it is fresh and relevant.

Prepare storage. Where is everything going to go? If possible, it’s always a best practice to store inside. If that’s not possible, protect to the degree that you can. Just putting a tarp over it can do more harm than good if not done correctly. If storing outside and tarping is your only option, make sure the asset is stored off the ground and covered in a way that allows for good airflow/circulation and doesn’t trap in moisture, which can accelerate the rusting process for equipment or parts made of steel. 

Create checklists. This should be done for each category of equipment (e.g., plows, spreaders, brine units, snow blowers, etc.) These should include any manufacturer-specific recommendations. You don’t need to create different checklists if you have multiple brands or models, but you do need to make sure all pertinent information is included. 

The benefit of having a checklist for each is to ensure nothing gets missed. It’s typical for staff to be working on multiple tasks, and it’s easy to miss a step. Much better to identify any issues now vs. the first storm of next season. Determine an estimated/average time to complete. This will help when you need to understand how much time and resources you need to complete your overall shutdown process.

Step 2. Evaluate

Before you make any repairs or store equipment, take a quick assessment of the current condition. If it is a piece of equipment that is attached to another asset, try to assess before it’s disconnected so you can identify potential issues with controllers, etc.

This process will help you determine if the asset is a candidate for replacement. If it is, that may change what, if anything, you do to the equipment. You don’t want to invest significant maintenance and repair time and money if it may end up going to the sales lot.

Understanding the life cycle

This is where life cycle comes into play. How do you assess and know the right time to replace? This is a complex topic and one that will vary drastically from company to company; so for the purpose of this exercise, here are some general guidelines to apply as part of the season-end review. Key life cycle considerations (see graphic on page 38): 

Shop capability. Have you invested in a full-service shop, do you just do basic repairs, or are all of your repairs outsourced? A full-service shop may allow you to make repairs at a reduced cost and keep assets longer vs. an outsourced model in which increased repair costs may lead to a quicker turnover of assets.

Capital funding availability. If capital funding is limited, the best option may be to extend the life through additional repairs; however, if it is not an issue you may be better off replacing on a quicker cycle.

Procurement method. Depending on capital availability, leasing may be an option to have a shorter life cycle without a negative impact on cash flow. 

Repair costs. As assets age, how do potential repair costs compare to asset acquisition costs and how does that impact your strategy?

Downtime risk. What are your backup options? If you can’t afford much downtime, the need for increased reliability may affect how aggressive you are in a life cycle structure.

These considerations will help determine what your life cycle plan may be, but it should also be looked at as a placeholder and not necessarily an absolute. 

With a pre-planned structure in place, you easily allowed your team to evaluate and make initial recommendations. These may change once your total list is complete, but you have a working starting point.

Once you’ve evaluated all of your assets, you can establish an initial replacement list vs. waiting until later in the year. Providing the list to your dealer early will allow you to secure the best price and avoid delivery delays.

Identify issue/repair commonalities

As part of the assessment process, you also should identify common issues/repairs that occurred and track them. If you see the same problem on multiple assets, you need to identify why they are occurring. Understanding the “why’s” will allow you to plan for improvement and avoid replicating the same issues next season.

With this information in hand, you can meet with your team and recap the situations based on specific information gathered during this process vs. assumptions of what may have occurred.

Decide what repairs should be done now, and what may be OK to do later. Estimate the time needed as well as cost and establish a start/finish date to ensure they will be ready for next season. This information will be needed as you plan out your reconditioning and minimize any surprises.

Step 3. Execute

With the information gathered from Steps 1 and 2, you can complete the following:

• Go through each asset using the prepared checklists.

• Prepare your replacement list and meet with dealers ASAP. Better to place a preliminary order in June than when it’s just about to snow.

• Regularly check on the progress you are making. If you are not meeting the timelines set, adjust accordingly.

Execution of a successful season-end shutdown becomes the starting point of a successful winter season startup. 

Ed Schultheis is the owner of ThruPutNow, which provides business support services. Contact him at ed.schultheis@thruputnow.com.

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