Attending the aftermarket

Posted on 11 Mar 2009 by The Manufacturer

Expanding your servicing and maintenance operation means careful analysis and a strong commitment to building on a solid manufacturing background say Woodcock & Wilson MD Mark Jones and service director Richard Wilson

When it comes to manufacturing in the UK more and more companies have been asking themselves the inevitable question: whether to outsource or commit to remain in this country.

For those companies that have seen the value in keeping manufacturing in this country, many have analysed their own operations with the aim of developing new additional revenue streams by focusing on other areas of the business which could ‘add value’ to their profitability and bottom line.

In 2006, Huddersfield-based industrial fan manufacturer Woodcock & Wilson embarked on such a review of its operation in an effort to identify new areas of its business which could be further developed in the medium-to-long-term. Its aim was to build on its traditional values and reputation for manufacturing high quality fans, which had been achieved through continuous development and investment in plant and employees.

Managing director Mark Jones explains: “For over 30 years we have manufactured and built quality fans which are used in a wide range of industries. We already offered a fan repair service which was proving a success; however it was more of a ‘reactive’ service when a customer’s fan broke down through neglect or misuse. We knew that once a fan leaves the factory it is not the end of the story – it can function effectively for 40 years or more, but this can only be achieved if it is maintained and serviced on a regular basis.”

The plan was, therefore, to expand its existing fan repair operation to include dedicated onsite contract maintenance and servicing which would significantly improve its after sales offering and open up new market opportunities.

One of the first issues facing Woodcock & Wilson was that many companies underestimated the value of having their fans regularly maintained and serviced. Industrial fans clearly play an important role in any operation and are essential if companies are to continue to operate efficiently. However, misuse and failure to maintain and service them regularly can lead to critical failure of the rotating parts, which could prove to be catastrophic for the company involved, leading to lost production time and the associated costs involved.

Woodcock & Wilson’s service director Richard Wilson was clear that its priority should be to educate and inform customers about the benefits of regular fan servicing and maintenance. “Fans are a valuable piece of machinery which are vital to the smooth running of any operation. The challenge for us is to continually remind companies of the fact that they need to be regularly serviced – the old adage ‘prevention is better than cure’ is never more applicable than in this situation.”

He added: “Just like a new car, a new fan needs regular servicing to get the best return on your investment. You wouldn’t neglect to book your car in for a service at the appropriate time. By the same token, why would you neglect to look after such an important piece of machinery, which is critical to your business?”

Those messages are certainly starting to get through. Initially, Woodcock & Wilson began by introducing a campaign of regular contact with its customers, which involved providing vital information about the advantages of regular servicing, particularly when the initial 12 month warranty of a fan had expired. Through its website and other direct marketing material it has also managed to further educate companies as to the advantages of introducing a fan servicing and maintenance contract.

Having the right people with the appropriate skills and abilities to be able to visit companies and successfully carry out the inspection and servicing work was vital to the success of Woodcock & Wilson’s expanded servicing operation.

It was soon decided that the best place to find those skills was to use existing resources that were available in-house – qualified engineers who had spent many years actually building industrial fans and understood the construction principles of fan manufacture and design when inspecting fans onsite, was seen as essential when faced with fault-finding and problem-solving situations.

This extensive knowledge, experience and expertise was a must for the senior management team at Woodcock & Wilson when it was looking to fulfil service engineer roles in the field. However, by utilising the skills of its engineers internally, Woodcock & Wilson was left with a dilemma – how would it fill the skills gap left in its manufacturing arm?

It was easily resolved, explains Wilson: “Using in-house resources actually provided us with a great opportunity to further ‘upskill’ some of our current engineers and train them in new areas of our industrial fan manufacturing procedures and practices.”

This ensured that Woodcock & Wilson’s reputation for building high quality products could be maintained, as well as giving some of its current employees the opportunity for career advancement.

In addition, the reorganisation of its workforce also gave Woodcock & Wilson the added benefit of being able to bring new recruits on board, as part of its ongoing Apprentice Programme. Wilson added: “We have always been keen to employ young engineers and develop their skills and abilities through our training programme, which focuses in the main on ‘on the job’ training.”

Woodcock & Wilson was also able to take advantage of the fact that it had the ability to use its own manufacturing expertise to make some of the spare parts needed when a fan had broken down. For example, if a fan’s impeller was damaged beyond repair, it could make an exact copy quickly and easily in its own factory, without having to wait for parts to be made and delivered from an external source, saving both time and money for its customers.

“This was an important consideration for us when looking at the overall service package we were able to offer and again gave us the opportunity to use another in-house resource to great effect,” comments Wilson.

One final point for Woodcock & Wilson when offering a dedicated contract maintenance and servicing operation was to clearly define the package of checks and inspections necessary to carry out a thorough fan service, which could be on any type of industrial fan. “While we understood that every company’s set up was different, we wanted to make sure that the rigorous checks and inspections we introduced could be carried out effectively and efficiently by our engineers and, more importantly, could be applied across all servicing jobs,” says Wilson.

Woodcock & Wilson’s typical fan service usually takes a day and includes inspecting the overall condition of the fan and the fan bearings, checking for wear and re-greasing or replacing where necessary. On belt driven fans drive belts are adjusted or replaced where necessary. With direct coupled fans alignment of the couplings is inspected and checked and couplings replaced if need be.

Access doors are removed and impellers checked for wear or damage, as dirt can collect in the impeller and throw the fan out of balance which could cause the bearings and motor to fail. In addition, fans are also put through a test run and vibration levels are monitored.

The overall result has been that Woodcock & Wilson has seen significant growth in its fan servicing operation since it introduced its new expanded service in 2006, as more and more companies have realised that having their fans maintained and serviced regularly saves time and money.

The message is certainly getting through that, in order to maintain a competitive edge, companies can realise real and tangible benefits of having a contract maintenance and repair service for their fans, enabling them to maintain and maximise production performance levels at all times.

Jones added: “As a company we feel that through careful analysis of our current operation we have been able to effectively expand our after sales service, which draws on our in-house resources, capabilities and fan manufacturing expertise. This has meant we have been able to further grow the business in new areas and enhance our reputation for building quality fans and offering quality service.”

Woodcock & Wilson is one of the UK’s premier manufacturers of high quality industrial fans. The company specialises in the manufacture of bespoke designed fans for an extensive range of applications including heating and ventilation, air pollution control, petro-chemical, offshore and process engineering, which are exported all over the world.