Providing service after the sale
Field technicians address equipment issues as well as train operations, maintenance and sanitation personnel.
BakingBusiness.com, July 1, 2012
by Shane Whitaker

Equipment manufacturers for the baking and snack industries are not fly-by-the-night operations. Instead, many of their names are ingrained in these trades and their reputations earned. Because they’re in for the long haul, these equipment manufacturers are invested, giving them even greater incentive to provide quality customer service after the sale.

Bakeries and snack processors often call upon the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to train personnel on how to operate, maintain and sanitize new pieces of equipment. Providing service after the sale can build the goodwill that leads to future purchases and long-term professional relationships.

OEMs also are typically called on when an issue can’t be resolved at the plant level and requires the OEM’s expertise. “Bakery engineers have a lot of responsibility, and they have a very good general knowledge of the entire bakery,” said Mitch Lindsey, technical sales, Burford Corp., Maysville, OK. “However, they can’t be expected to be the expert on every machine. That is where we, as the OEM, come in to provide detailed support on our equipment.”

When service technicians from Plano, TX-based Stewart Systems are called to assist a bakery with equipment issues, they focus on coaching maintenance, line operators and supervisors, according to Jim Makins, senior account manager, Stewart. “This then leaves the bakery personnel with enhanced knowledge of the equipment so that they can address solutions on their own going forward,” he added.

“Our objective is to help plant personnel be as self-sufficient as possible,” Mr. Makins continued. “This provides the customer with best situation for trouble-free operation at the lowest cost.”

OEMs assist bakeries wherever they need it. “Essentially, we help them with anything, anytime and anywhere,” said Joe Spaugy, parts and service manager for Shaffer, a Bundy Baking Solutions company, Urbana, OH. “We feel it is our responsibility to help guide and assist customers with our equipment.”

Assisting with the setup

With all equipment purchases, the OEM’s responsibility is to provide current manuals and electrical prints. “That includes theory of operation, setup, preventive maintenance programs, troubleshooting tips and parts breakdown,” Mr. Lindsey said.

With an equipment purchase from The Fred D. Pfening Co., Columbus, OH, bakeries receive operation and maintenance manuals. These guidebooks offer operating and sanitation instructions as well as a recommended preventative maintenance and spare parts lists.

At startup, Pfening’s electrical and mechanical engineers provide field service at an additional fixed cost. Personnel and the length of time for the on-site service are determined on a project-by-project basis.

With its standard startup service, the company’s technicians train operators and offer an overview of maintenance requirements and best sanitation practices during traditional first-shift working hours, according to Bill Kearns, Pfening’s vice-president of engineering.

With extended training, available at an extra fee, bakers can receive special handouts for plant personnel as well as classroom and/or PowerPoint training sessions. This can support additional training sessions for second- and third-shift personnel. Extended training also covers foreign language materials and training as well.

Stewart Systems service techs typically provide on-site training when new equipment is installed and commissioned. “This can be both hands-on at the equipment and classroom-style,” Mr. Makins said. “Training content includes both equipment operation and maintenance.”

For its conveyorized proofers and ovens, Stewart’s technicians present training programs on CD-ROM in a classroom session. At the end of the course, trainees take an exam, and Stewart provides certificates of completion when they pass. Bakers retain the materials so that additional personnel can be trained at a later date.

With seven technicians, Burford Corp. generally has two to four on the road five to seven days a week, according to Clay Miller, the company’s sales engineer. “They install new Burford equipment and service and train on existing Burford equipment for maintenance, operator and sanitation personnel,” he said. “The tech can also perform in-plant equipment audits as well as complete rebuilds if required.”

Performing in the field

On-site service can be extremely beneficial for bakeries. “This allows them to get hands-on training and provides them an opportunity to ask any questions they may have,” Mr. Lindsay said.

Beyond assistance at startups, Pfening technicians also provide field service. “If equipment is not performing up to spec and is under warranty, we will send out personnel as appropriate to remedy the problem at our expense,” Mr. Kearns said. “We are determined to meet or exceed our customers’ expectations.”

After the warranty expires, Mr. Kearns said, telephone consultations are always offered free of charge. “Service calls after equipment has been in service for some time are generally done on a time and material basis,” he observed. “Service calls can range from a written report with specific recommendations to actually performing the work required. Because most of our customers are not nearby, travel expenses can be a significant part of the overall cost.”

To obtain the best airfare for its clients, Burford prefers a two-week lead time. “But depending on the urgency of the issue and tech availability, sometimes we can be there the same day,” Mr. Miller said.

Like many OEMs, Burford offers in-house and on-site training for its customers as well as phone support at any time of the day. “We also have 24-hour tech support,” Mr. Lindsey said. “A customer can call in after hours and leave a message with a contact number, and they will be called back by a trained service tech.”

Either service techs or Stewart’s product engineers can provide assistance via the telephone. “Many issues can be addressed in this way, minimizing cost to the customer,” Mr. Makins said.

When bakeries require an actual visit, he said they will generally try to schedule in advance around their normal operations. “It is an unusual situation if we get an emergency call that they need a tech right now,” he said.

Even if crisis situations don’t occur regularly, OEMs have to be prepared. Shaffer has technicians ready to leave immediately to help bakeries that are down, said Mr. Spaugy, noting that having factory-trained technicians and engineers is more important to its customers than ever before.

“We have found that the maintenance staffs have been reduced or maintenance people move to other companies, and when that happens, the bakers lose valuable expertise,” he added. “That’s where we come in.”

Scheduling routine visits

As time passes and knowledge gets lost because of personnel changes and misplaced documents, Pfening can deliver all levels of training years after the equipment was originally installed. “This may require updating manuals and developing new training materials,” Mr. Kearns said. “This service is generally provided on a time and material basis.”

To minimize costly breakdowns, some bakeries have set up on a quarterly or biannual maintenance schedule whereby a Burford technician visits the plant. “This works out really well for them because of employee turnover,” Mr. Miller said. “They can keep their personnel trained and our equipment tuned up.”

Shaffer offers a similar service plan for its customers. “The service plan is a contract between the OEM and customer that provides a factory-trained technician to inspect and help maintain a piece of equipment on predetermined intervals,” Mr. Spaugy said.

During these prescheduled visits, technicians can inspect the machine, perform all service and preventive maintenance, provide training and inventory spare parts for accuracy.

Although Pfening does not enter into preventive maintenance contracts, it can suggest a contractor to provide this service.

As bakeries have trimmed costs in recent years, they may have reduced the number of maintenance personnel. In turn, this can put more obligations upon OEMs to provide service and training after the sale and, in some instances, long after the sale. Nonetheless, equipment suppliers are up to the task and will provide whatever service or training necessary to keep systems operating.