PPM: The 10 questions you really need to ask

Spare parts

A planned preventative maintenance (PPM) strategy is essential for maximising the working life of catering equipment and reducing the potential of sudden failures in kit that lead to a loss of output. But how can operators ensure they are getting the best value for money? FEJ reveals the 10 questions you really need to ask any prospective PPM provider.

 1) Can the provider deliver what I want to achieve?

Planned preventative maintenance can be quite a catch-all term, so consider what it is you are looking to achieve from the outset when you start speaking to potential providers. “Be clear about what you want from the exercise,” says Chris Craggs, managing director of McFarlane Telfer. “Is it compliance and no more? Genuine care for your equipment? Partnership and dialogue with your service partner? PPM is a commercial business transaction like any other — and it’s a complex service not a commodity.”

2) What is the scope of the work included?

Determine and agree what needs to be done to which equipment and at what intervals. Establish the difference between a first service, an interim service and a safety check. The reality with much electrical equipment is that an annual safety check may be all that can usefully be achieved, whereas gas appliances, warewashing, combi ovens and refrigeration cabinets absolutely require regular maintenance in order to maintain performance and extend their useful life. Peter Baulch, service manager at Gratte Brothers, a CEDA member, says that operators looking to get the best results must know when access to the equipment is available and make this clear from the start. “Contracts will usually be priced for ‘normal working hours’, but if access is going to be restricted until after 2pm, for example, then it is likely the costs will be higher.”

GDPA engineer

Determine and agree what needs to be done to which equipment and at what intervals.

3) How quickly will the equipment be fixed?

Determining business risk is an important part of the PPM process. You need to establish which equipment is mission critical and then consider how quickly it can be fixed? Bear in mind that there may also be a regulatory imperative, as some equipment needs particular care to minimise the risk of accidents and injury. A poorly maintained gas installation that leads to an explosion could affect hundreds of people. Simon Frost, chair of CESA, says operators need to ensure that what they are being quoted is actually going to be delivered by the provider, including what guarantees there are that they will visit the site as often as the agreement states. “Do due diligence and don’t cut corners just to reduce costs — it could get expensive. Go for an accredited company, such as a member of the CESA Service Provider Accreditation Scheme,” he counsels.

Steve Loughton, managing director of Jestic, which employs more than 50 employees, says the most important factors when selecting a PPM contract are experience and the extent to which the service covers the area in which you are located. “As many catering equipment appliances are constructed from complex parts, intricate electrical circuits or gas components and specially-designed mechanisms that require expert knowledge when it comes to servicing and maintenance, employing the services of a professional is vital,” he says.

4) How much is it going to cost?

If you’ve established that a PPM contract is for you — and let’s face it for most multi-site operators it should be — the next step is to work out exactly how much it is going to cost you over the term agreed. “Be sure to define what is to be included for the cost,” says Paul Crowley, marketing manager of Winterhalter. “You should also question what reporting there will be. There’s no point conducting a PPM if it is not a 360-degree process.” Consider the true merits of increasingly common ‘inclusive’ or ‘comprehensive’ contracts, too. After all, every time a contractor attends a call-out, it’s money off his bottom line. How does that impact the motivation of the contractor?

CESA chair, Simon Frost, notes: “The main trap is going for a cheaper option, then not getting the service levels expected — that’s why managing and monitoring the contract is vital. I suppose one lingering myth is that PPM is not worth paying for. Ask any operator: planned maintenance is more effective and less expensive than having equipment break down and then waiting for an emergency engineer to fix it.” Diane Ho, commercial brand manager at Glen Dimplex Professional Appliances, agrees. She comments: “Don’t go for the cheapest option, skimping on the level of cover may save in the short term but if something should go amiss, the negative effect on the business can far outweigh the saving made by not having a comprehensive planned preventative maintenance contract in place.”

Contracts will normally be priced for ‘normal working hours’, but if access is going to be restricted until after 2pm, for example, then it is likely the costs will be higher”

5) What extra charges can I expect?

PPM programmes can be complex, so check the small print and make sure you fully understand what is covered by the framework. Don’t be afraid to question anything you are uncomfortable with. The service provider should provide a schedule of the work they will deliver for each appliance. Ensure that tests on gas soundness, electrical safety and air quality are all part of the PPM and not an extra cost.

Above all, though, be realistic. “Operators must realise that although a PPM has been carried out there is no guarantee that the equipment will not go wrong,” notes Bob Clifford, managing director of catering equipment service specialist Marren. He adds that one common misconception is that there is a legal requirement to have a Portable Appliance Test (PAT), when in fact they are actually carried out for due diligence purposes. “There has also been a myth for years that by law you must have your microwave tested annually for power and leakage checks when, once again, it comes under due diligence.”

6) Do I need PPM across all my estate?

The financial climate has a massive effect on the uptake of PPM and the numbers being undertaken. If you are part of a group that operates a number of different brands or businesses, consider whether a piecemeal approach to arranging PPM is preferable. “We are seeing some operators understanding that they don’t need blanket PPMs across their estates. PPM frequency needs to be directly proportionate to site turnover,” advises Winterhalter’s Paul Crowley. Whatever contract you decide to go for, don’t forget that having regular PPMs are no substitute for regular TLC and cleaning regimes. Encourage staff to maintain equipment rather than neglect it purely because they know that someone is due to come and conduct a PPM a month or two down the line.

Serviceline call centre

Work with a company that will answer queries quickly and efficiently.

7) What accreditations does the provider have?

Obtain evidence that the company can do what it says it can. Accreditation and the standing of the company in the industry are important, and may have a bearing on your chosen provider. A good PPM provider should be able to demonstrate they have the expertise and values that will lead to you receiving exactly what the contract promises. Be thorough in your due diligence, says Craggs. “Certificates are one thing — what evidence do you see of them being used? Most importantly, visit the operation, don’t just rely on paper submissions which might have been concocted in a back bedroom.”

Steve Elliott, managing director of Serviceline, says it is important to recognise that kitchen equipment is becoming ever more technical and sophisticated. “Chains need to ensure that prospective service and maintenance suppliers have the skills to effect a safe and efficient service. Some dishwashers, for example, feature the use of refrigerant gas as part of the heat exchanger system, requiring engineers working on these products to be F-Gas certified, as well as qualified and trained on dishwashers. And gas combination ovens now feature construction that requires qualification in all four competencies: plumbing, gas, electrical and electronics.”

8) How well resourced is the provider?

Most operators would much rather know an experienced, qualified specialist is repairing a piece of equipment than a 16-year-old apprentice on his first job. That will probably be the case anyway, but it is still useful to assess the competence of engineers and the level of back office support. You want a company that will answer queries quickly and efficiently, and won’t pass you round the houses. If you don’t get a sense of purpose and competence when staff pick up the phone then you might be with the wrong provider.

Dishwasher supplier Meiko tailors its preventative maintenance programmes to suit the needs of customers and says that one of the reasons it offers a high first-time fix rate is because its technical service vehicles carry considerable spare parts stock. “Back-up service vehicle parts stock and parts for overnight dispatch to third party service companies are held at our Slough Technical Services Centre, with dispatch same day if ordered prior to 3pm,” explains managing director Bill Downie. He adds that the firm’s unique ‘no bills guarantee’ offer on premium front loader and hood machines has curried favour with a number of new casual dining accounts of late. “It is evident that casual dining operators are not prepared to wait for up to three days for breakdown support on critical equipment, nor spend money on extended warranty options up front and then still get bills for non-warranty repairs.”

PPM frequency needs to be directly proportionate to site turnover”

9) Where can I see recommendations of recent work?

Ask for references from other users to validate the provider you are interested in working with, as you would do for any other major service you purchased. And make sure you follow up on those recommendations too, otherwise there is no point in bothering in the first place. “Do take up references and visit the operation,” says Chris Craggs of McFarlane Telfer. “And talk to your contractor to see what it would take to allow them to deliver the best and most cost-effective job.”

10) How will I get proof that the contract has been fulfilled?

Ask your PPM provider how they will verify that what has been promised in the terms of the contract is actually delivered. If it is a multi-year contract then insist on post-PPM discussions at agreed intervals to understand the findings and decide on priorities. A lot of operators are guilty of simply never checking up on the work that has been done, so it is important that you recognise your part in this process, too. Gratte Brothers’ Peter Baulch says: “Be clear on what records will be completed and given to you as evidence that the work has been completed diligently.”

Serviceline is one of the firms that offers customers access to an online web portal, where they can access full service and maintenance records across their estate. “Multi-site management must have access to service and maintenance records online, which puts crucial information such as budgeting or equipment life expectancy costs at their fingertips,” says managing director Steve Elliott.

And here’s the service manager’s guide to why PPM really matters…

P BaulchPeter Baulch, service manager at Gratte Brothers, writes that the most important reason for a PPM programme is cost reduction through the following impacts:

  • Reduced production downtime, resulting in fewer machine breakdowns.
  • Better conservation of assets and increased life expectancy of assets, thereby eliminating premature replacement of machinery and equipment.
  • Reduced overtime costs and more economical use of maintenance workers due to working on a scheduled basis instead of an emergency one to repair breakdowns.
  • Timely, routine repairs circumvent fewer large repairs.
  • Reduced cost of repairs by reducing secondary failures. When parts fail in service, they usually damage other parts, too.
  • Reduced product rejects, rework and scrap due to better overall equipment condition.
  • Identification of equipment with excessive maintenance costs, indicating the need for corrective maintenance, operator training or replacement of obsolete equipment.
  • Improved safety and quality conditions.
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