By Chris Hetzer, CEO and partner
Gilman Precision

If a spindle breaks down, what is your company’s plan of action? Is it the most practical and efficient way to deal with a down spindle? Spindles need maintenance at varying intervals, based on the length and design of their operation. Normal use of any machine will cause wear and tear, the spindle being the component that receives the majority of the wear. It is necessary for them to run at the right speeds and feeds to keep the wear minimal. Because of this, a good spindle program should take into consideration the specific operational information of each individual spindle.

Companies need to have a well-planned maintenance strategy to be successful when compared to the competition. A faster and newer machine does not automatically mean that a company will keep the competitive edge. When a spindle breaks down, the company that manages the machine proactively will reduce downtime and expenses, resulting in an increase of productivity. This will significantly boost a company ahead of the competitors.

The process of managing a machine includes developing a machine tool and spindle service program to achieve a high level of overall equipment performance. Overall equipment performance comprises three factors: asset availability, production and quality level. The following four programs display the different procedures used when a spindle goes down. These range from the most basic plan of action to a highly advanced plan.

The emergency program

An emergency program can be compared to hitting the panic button. If an important spindle breaks down, the company will do whatever it takes to get that spindle repaired as soon as possible. No matter the expense, the company will have it shipped and serviced with the highest priority. Repairing the spindle immediately reduces downtime, but the costs add up because of the urgency, making it less practical than other programs.

The ‘first in, first out’ program

The “first in, first out” program works as if there is no program at all. There are no precautions taken, such as scheduling routine maintenance checkups. Similar to the emergency program, if a spindle breaks down, it is simply taken in to be serviced. The difference is there is no urgency to fix it. This program may be impractical, especially if the spindle that is down is important. There is no priority put on it when being serviced, which means it can take weeks or months before it is back up and running. This can put production behind schedule.

The scheduled program

Routine maintenance checkups are performed when using the scheduled program. The checkups are scheduled based on the previous maintenance records. This program provides the spindle with enough attention to keep it running in good operating condition. However, it does not take into consideration fluctuating hours of operation, environmental considerations and whether or not it even needs to be serviced. The problem is the spindle could be running fine, but time and money may be lost because of unnecessary services.

The spindle ‘hotel’ program

The spindle “hotel” program takes preventive measures by ensuring the company possesses more than one spindle that is exactly alike. The spare spindle acts as a replacement in case the main spindle breaks down. The spare is kept either on site or at a designated repair facility. The positive to this is that downtime remains low. If the spindle breaks down, the spare replaces it and production does not have to stop while waiting for a repair. The downside to this program is that the amount of capital sitting in the “hotel” could outweigh the convenience of the program.

The program followed needs to align with the company’s objectives and should be individualized to the spindles. Monitoring spindles can save them from unpredictable damage and allow production to be maximized. Reducing unnecessary downtime and costs can help push a company ahead of the competition. If a company is questioning what it is going to do when a spindle breaks down, it is time to implement a strategy that will optimize overall equipment performance.

Chris Hetzer is CEO and partner at Gilman Precision. Gilman Precision provides a spindle R&R service that allows any spindle to be housed for up to 12 months after being repaired. Rush order service also is available. Hertzer holds a bachelor’s of science degree in mechanical engineering from the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) and has worked in the mechanical technology field for 40 years. For more information, call 262.377.2434 or visit