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Machine Maintenance: The importance of maintaining a maintenance schedule

by: 

Ed Levy

Ed Levy is an industry veteran and director of software technologies at Hirsch Solutions.

The term preventive maintenance commonly refers to the practice of regularly servicing equipment on a pre-determined schedule so that it does not develop catastrophic failures and performs better over its lifetime.

Although it is well known that equipment routinely serviced outlasts equipment that is not, many companies still neglect equipment and/or only respond reactively to equipment failures. Quality equipment only stays quality if it receives the level of care it deserves. Often companies will make the extra effort to purchase high-quality equipment knowing that in the end they will save money, but they overlook the importance of maintaining the equipment properly. Failing to adequately service equipment ends up costing companies a great deal of money that could otherwise go toward enhancing the bottom line. A little simple TLC to your embroidery machine will go a long way to ensure that your machine does not let you down.

Keep it Clean

Nothing says neglect like a filthy embroidery machine.  Dirt, dust, garment dander, and everything else floating through the air will land on and in every nook and cranny of your machine. When you start to see dust on your embroidery machine, you can be sure it is also inside your embroidery machine. Pet hair is also a contributor as many embroidery machines are home-based with dogs and cats frequently near the machines.

Another source of trouble for your shop is smoke. If you smoke near the embroidery machine and your garments, the smoke residue will create a film that can affect its performance. In addition, the film and smell from the smoke will also become embedded into any nearby garments. 

With the popularity of 3D Foam and appliqué, many companies use a spray adhesive to aid in the process. Great care is taken as to where the spray is targeted but very little thought is placed into what happens to the excess residue that does not hit the material being sprayed. As a rule, do not spray any adhesive within 10 feet of your embroidery machine and never spray anything that is on the machine itself.

Maintaining a cleaning schedule for the machine is the easiest way to keep it running. Every few days, wipe the surface of your embroidery machine off with a damp rag. Then take a light pressure of air from a can or compressor and gently blow the air into the various openings in your machine. The key here is to use a very gentle air and nothing hard. Also, gently spray all cones of thread to blow any dust off the cones. One of the best ways to keep dust and dirt out of your embroidery machine is to keep it covered as much as possible when not in use. This is more important if you go for extended periods of time without using the machine.

Don’t forget to remove your needle plate during cleaning as well. One of the biggest culprits of debris collection is the space above the hook. This area captures bits and pieces of every cut thread and over time builds up a tremendous amount of nastiness. Bird nests, the large sections of thread pulled below the needle plate, can also occur as a result of excessive grime under the needle plate. If you have never removed your needle plate before, you will be amazed as to what is lurking underneath it. Not keeping that area clean can contribute to thread breaks and can also shorten the life of the thread-cutting mechanism. 

Oil Up

Oiling the hook is one of the most critical and often most underutilized maintenance operations. The rule of thumb has always been one drop of oil for every four hours of use. At the same time, you don’t want to saturate the hook with oil either; 10 drops of oil for every 25 hours of use does not compensate for lack of oiling. A well oiled hook will not only extend the life of the hook but will also result is smoother machine operation.

The one drop every four hours rule is based on a machine that gets regular use. If you oil the machine, use it for an hour and then let the machine sit for six months, it is a good idea to put another drop of oil on the hook when you start the machine again. Another important factor to consider is the four hours is based on sewing time and not based on the clock. A good rule for an active embroidery machine is to put one drop of oil in the morning and then another drop midday. Keep in mind that too much oil is a significant contributing factor to stains on garments and results in costly rejects. After oiling the hook, be sure to run the machine for a couple minutes with nothing more than backing in case any excess oil splashes off the hook.   

In addition to oiling the hook, there are various other parts of the embroidery machine that require oil on a regular basis, such as the take up levers that drive the needle bar up and down in conjunction with the reciprocator. Be sure to use a high quality embroidery machine oil. Once again, consult the embroidery machine owner’s manual to find out the location and the frequency of greasing. 

Greasing is also equally important as oiling. Greasing is usually performed in longer intervals than oiling. Once again, consult the embroidery machine owner’s manual for the proper location and frequency of greasing.  

Write It Down

A journal is critical to ensuring that all preventative maintenance is performed as required.  A section should be created for each cleaning and maintenance category and then the date and time and initials of the person performing the maintenance should be included. This will eliminate all guesswork and will also assign responsibility and show who has or has not been following the recommended maintenance.

A thorough explanation of the cleaning, oiling, and greasing process should be included as part of a new employee training process. The sooner an operator understands the importance of properly maintaining the equipment, the better off your embroidery machine will be.

In addition to regular self-performed maintenance, it is highly recommended that a professional embroidery machine mechanic performs preventative maintenance on the embroidery machine on an annual basis. It is a lot less expensive to pay someone to keep the machine running than it is to pay for a costly repair. As Benjamin Franklin said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Performing regular maintenance is not difficult or time-consuming. Maintaining your machine machine according to schedule will help keep your embroidery machine in stitches.