Irrigation Notebook: Oct. 2000, Irrigation Essentials

Packing essential parts for irrigation work requires organization and planning, and well-stocked maintenance trucks have a jump-start over poorly planned toolboxes that some contractors rely on to service an irrigation call.

There isn’t time to rummage through a messy truck to find a nozzle, and customers have little patience for technicians who spend more time playing gopher to fetch parts than installing components to fix problems, noted Thomas Farley, vice president, Farley & Son Landscaping, Rockport, Maine. Parts are compact and tools are basic, so the storage space required on irrigatoin vehicles is minimal. Easy access is a key consideration, he stressed.

"You get killed by a client that says you should’ve done it in ‘x’ amount of time and it took too long," he explained. "That’s why the biggest key is staying organized. Our trucks are equipped with the hand tools needed to do 90 percent of the work, and we use a delivery crew."

Six employees serve on this crew—a standby operation where technicians short of key parts can call in, request the missing pieces to complete the job and have them delivered.

Sprinkler heads, filters, screens, fuses, nozzles and fittings comprise the basics Farley packs in containers to store on his trucks, stocked daily depending a job’s service requirements. Referring to a work schedule that supplies the client’s name and job description allows workers to plan a truck’s inventory, he noted.

General hand tools, including wrenches and pliers, accompany fundamental irrigation components on trucks, explained Jeff Johnson, operations manager, B. Johnson Turf and Irrigation, Corvallis, Ore.

"You start with the products that you typically use," he recommended, explaining how he built an inventory checklist to maximize efficiency en route. "As you do the repair itself, you start noticing that something in particular goes wrong often, so you start stocking those parts."

KEEPING IT CONTAINED. Technicians should organize containers so they aren’t fumbling with miniscule parts to locate what they need, Johnson suggested, adding that he stores fittings ranging from ½ to 2 inches along with different brands of various sprinkler heads. Separating the mix is a must, he said.

"Having the right part in the right spot at the right time is essential, so good organization is needed," he said. "You should be able to walk right to the part."

An orderly system goes beyond arranging gadgets, widgets and doodads into compartments. Technicians need to stock "emergency parts" as well.

A generous inventory is important for Greg Gillespie, owner, Gillespie Landscape & Irrigation, Oxford, Miss. Based in an area without distribution centers, his company can’t acquire additional parts last minute.

"Everything is done by UPS and Roadway, which is why we have to carry everything on the truck because it takes two to three days to get parts," he noted.

Stocking a truck starts with customer communication, Johnson advised. Technicians should ask their customers detailed questions and gather information, he said. Client records serve as an additional source.

"A client might not know what a part is called, but if you ask them to describe a leak, that narrows it down."

BASICS ON BOARD. Most companies hold their staff accountable for stocking maintenance trucks, requiring technicians to replace parts used during their routes at the end of the day.

However, the most indispensable tools can’t be planned, organized or replaced, and must not be neglected. Knowledge and experience surpass hardware in value, Johnson noted. "Nothing can replace experience."

October 2000
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