MRO Magazine

The Fantastic Four: Meet the winners of the 2000 awards for maintenance excellence


February 14, 2001
By PEM Magazine

Maintenance professionals across Canada are beginning to look forward to one particular portion of the annual "Main Event" conference in Toronto (see page 4 for a wrap-up of the event). It’s the ceremony where the Main Event’s "Awards for Maintenance Excellence" are given out, and these awards are contested from entrants across the country.

This year, there were four awards up for grabs: Best Maintained Small Plant/Facility (one with less than 50 maintenance employees); Best Maintained Large Plant/Facility (one with more than 50 maintenance employees); Best Use of Technology/Maintenance Innovation; and Maintenance Manager of the Year.

The 2000 Awards for Maintenance Excellence were judged by a three member panel, made up of Bill Davison, president of the Plant Engineering and Maintenance Association of Canada; Jim Picknell, a consultant in the physical asset management division of PricewaterhouseCoopers and the chair of the Main Event conference, and Paul Challen, the former editor of PEM Plant Engineering and Maintenance magazine. The three judges met during the conference to weed through the nominations from well-qualified entrants, to come up with the deserving winners.

Emerging as the Best Maintained Small Plant/Facility was Nitrochem Corp., of Maitland, Ontario. Winner of the Best Maintained Large Plant/Facility was Suncor Energy of Fort McMurray, Alberta’s upgrading division. The award for the Best Use of Technology/Maintenance Innovation was captured by pulp and paper manufacturer Irving of St. John, New Brunswick. And taking home individual honours as Maintenance Manager of the Year was Alan Richards of Gennum Corporation in Burlington, Ontario.


In the pages that follow, you’ll get to meet these four winners, and will have the chance to learn more about the world-class operations that mark the day-to-day sites where these award-winning efforts take place. We hope they’ll give you a glimpse into the highest standards of maintenance currently being practised in Canada.

And from us here at PEM, we’d like to extend congratulations to the deserving winners.

Finding the right maintenance chemistry

Best Maintained Small Plant/Facility
Harold Neumann, Maintenance Manager
Nitrochem Corp., Maitland, Ontario

Talk to anyone involved with plant maintenance and operations at the Maitland, Ontario site of Nitrochem Corp. — one of Canada’s largest producers of nitric acid, ammonium nitrate and nitrogen solutions — and they’ll likely return to one, unifying concept. It’s what they call "mutual trust," and for the maintenance team at the eastern Ontario plant, it’s the central theme in a five-year restructuring plan.

A determined co-operation between maintenance and production departments paid off in many ways, including a jump in overall uptime of 86 percent in 1994 to 92 percent in 2000, and a marked decrease in plant shutdowns from 294 in 1994 to only 24 in 2000, plus a considerable savings in overall maintenance budget and a bearings-failure decrease — due to an improved oil analysis program — of 300 percent.

"Our common goal was plant reliability and cooperation between maintenance and production," says Harold Neumann, maintenance manager at the plant and one of the driving forces behind the improvements that have been taking place at Nitrochem ever since a massive fire destroyed the majority of the processing capacity at one of the facility’s five plants. "The aim was threefold: to reduce the amount of emergency work; to identify potential equipment failures and to address these repairs during the day to prevent downtime; and to plan repairs to co-ordinate with production requirements so that a full repair could be achieved instead of a Band-Aid solution. This meant that both production and maintenance teams had to work together to prioritize their workload."

Neumann is quick to spread the credit for the improvements around the plant. "Our first step was to build the foundation we needed to implement our maintenance practices. The employees became part of the decision-making process and planning stages," he says. "Our programs were employee-owned and driven. We gave our people the authority to address and solve problems. In time, they became self-motivated and safety-conscientious workers."

Part of the drive toward employee empowerment was motivated, Neumann says, by a desire to increase the visibility of the maintenance staff within the plant as a whole — to move from a culture of simply fixing machinery to one that prevents failure and troubleshoots possible breakdowns.

But how was all of this accomplished? The key, says Neumann, was dialogue. The maintenance team implemented Monday management meetings, and daily 8 a.m. "tailgate meetings" for 15-20 minutes to discuss upcoming shutdowns, safety equipment, and any incidents or concerns that have been cropping up on site. These were complemented by "safety walks" to investigate work requests that had special safety concerns.

Another of the keys to the award-winning initiative was the creation of a new position within the maintenance team. It’s called the "plant inspector," and this planning/scheduling position is filled at Nitrochem by Roy Arter, who accounts for more than 90 percent of the non-destructive examination testing at the plant.

Training has also played a big part in the five-year plan. In 1995, Nitrochem millwrights began a comprehensive laser alignment training program, which was followed by further skills-development in vibration analysis for all plant rotation equipment, and the oil analysis program mentioned above.

The shift in maintenance culture at Nitrochem has had some other concrete, labour-based effects as well. Prior to the changes, the maintenance crew worked shifts. Now they work straight days, supplemented by a call-out list for emergencies. "About the only complaint we hear now from the team guys is that there is not enough opportunity to work overtime," says Neumann.

A reliable source of energy

Best Maintained Large Plant/Facility
Mike Blanchard, General Manager of Maintenance and Engineering
Suncor Energy, Inc., Fort McMurray, Alberta

"Communication has to be non-stop. You have to share your strategy, involve the workforce, share the results of your efforts. You will get a small percentage of the shop floor that will not buy in to change, but you have to remember to keep moving forward. It has taken us four years to get to where we are today at our facility and we still recognize many areas for improvement. We have found that the path to excellence is never ending but the gains made are highly rewarding."

That’s Mike Blanchard, general manager of maintenance and engineering at the oil and gas refining giant Suncor Energy, Inc.’s upgrading division in Fort McMurray, Alberta. He’s talking about the central philosophy that helped his division win this year’s award for best-maintained large facility.

Blanchard says his maintenance team believed that while they had some good basic maintenance practices in place four years ago, they knew there was still room for improvement. They focused on mechanical availability, followed by maintenance costs. The process started with a review of overall maintenance practices — individual roles, responsibilities, planning, work order process, measures, etc. — and the development of an agreed to strategic plan.

The division was helped along by PricewaterhouseCoopers in these areas (they were nominated for the award by PWC consultant Len Middleton, who had worked with the Fort McMurray-based operation in their maintenance upgrading efforts), and the two organizations worked on benchmarking key processes on the electrical/instrumentation side of maintenance, as a way of moving ahead. "Before taking benchmarking on as an initiative, one has to have an appreciation of the time, resources and commitment that it takes. One of our benchmarking initiatives in the area of electrical/instrumentation maintenance took about one year to complete," says Blanchard. "One of the many advantages of benchmarking is the learning from others and the wealth of information that can be exchanged. Benchmarking at our facility is a continuous process."

Another key strategic thrust at Suncor was an adherence to RCM methodology. "We got involved with the RCM process as part of our strategy to reduce our maintenance effort," says Blanchard. We have used RCM on a selective basis, and our RCM initiatives required an integrated effort by operations, process engineering, maintenance engineers and maintenance trades. It has helped us in optimizing equipment PM/Pdm’s, understanding failure mechanisms, spare parts, etc. We view RCM as a long term investment."

Blanchard also gives credit to Suncor’s system of improved turnaround planning, which he says can be expensive, not only in terms of material costs, labour, supporting structure, etc., but also because of lost production. "To assist us in achieving effective and efficient turnaround process, we maintain a full-time turnaround team led by a turnaround manager," explains Blanchard.

Things have certainly worked out well as far as streamlining several key maintenance practices, to the point where Suncor now has one of the lowest electrical/instrumentation maintenance costs per unit of output in the entire oil and gas industry. "A gain in reliability has helped us the most in lowering our maintenance costs," says Blanchard. "In the area of E&I we have moved more to condition-monitoring, improved planning and scheduling, and developed reliability teams focused on ?Â¥bad actors’. Basically, the shift has been from reactive to proactive maintenance, and this contributes to our ongoing effort to lower those per-barrel production costs."

Finally, Blanchard says that training in several key areas went a long way towards improving maintenance practices as well. The technicians at Suncor underwent gap-analysis tests on skills and job requirements, and from this, each person had a three-year training plan formulated for them. "There was not a big need for re-education, but the training was more along the lines of learning to utilize new technology," says Blanchard.

Putting it on paper

Best Use of Technology/Maintenance Innovation
Doug Walker, Maintenance Manager
Irving Pulp & Paper Ltd., St. John, New Brunswick

Although he’s the man at the helm of this year’s award for the best use of maintenance technology or maintenance innovation, Doug Walker, the maintenance manager at Irving Pulp & Paper in St. John, New Brunswick, is quick to spread the credit for the accolades around to his maintenance teammates at the paper-making giant.

"These are the guys who did all the work — I’m just the one with his name on the top of the nomination form," says Walker of the company’s victory. The guys Walker is talking about — maintenance mechanic Jerry Roberge; maintenance mechanic and lead trainer Bob McInnis; and reliability engineers Jean Albert and Mike Bonga — formed the core of the award-winning team.

For 2000, the team identified a six-part strategy for improving maintenance practices. This was comprised of:
– re-defining the role of the maintenance department as a "premier supplier" to other divisions like operations and engineering within the company;
– establishing the principle of "environmental stewardship" to cut down on spills, leakage and losses;
– developing a profitable and self-renewing methodology aimed at reducing maintenance costs and improving databases to ensure accuracy of performance-measurement indicators;
– implementing a mill-wide technical excellence program, including a comprehensive vibration-analysis and tank and vessel inspection programs;
– a commitment to the development of personal performance improvements, monitored by planning and reviews between maintenance staff and managers; and
– the reinforcement of Irving’s position as a valued community member, with maintenance playing a key role in the facility’s physical appearance to the outside world.

"There really were a lot of continuous-improvement issues we had to address," says Roberge. "And we wouldn’t have accomplished any of them if we didn’t work together. By getting people on all levels of the organization to work together, we were able to improve the decision-making process in maintenance."

Part of the key, says Walker, was in identifying world-class levels of maintenance performance, developing the methodology to achieve them, and then getting the message on how this was to be accomplished across to teams at all levels. And the success of that initiative lay in this collection of accurate information. "About 18 months ago, we determined that we really did not have the right kind of data to guide us — to help us determine where productivity losses were being caused. Our existing ERP program was not helping in this area, so, in a mill-wide initiative, we wrote our own software, to capture better data that tells us exactly what to fix, and when."

This software initiative also went a long way towards encouraging the staff empowerment that the Irving maintenance department was hoping to further. "Now we drive the software, instead of it driving us," says Albert.

Another key aspect to Irving’s success in maintenance was training. Instead of bringing in an outside trainer or looking for an in-house employee who specializes only in training, Walker and his team decided to look within the facility itself. They found McInnis, a self-confessed "hourly sheet-metal guy" and union representative, who was more than happy to establish his own in-house training program in the kind of skills Irving needed to push their maintenance efforts forward. "This allowed a lot of overlap," says McInnis. "It allowed people from the mills to get an introduction to various trades that they would not have otherwise been exposed to, and to develop our labour force to a much greater extent."

High-tech success

Maintenance Manager of the Year
Alan Richards, Equipment Engineering Manager
Gennum Corporation, Burlington, Ontario

Alan Richards’ first year at silicon components manufacturer Gennum Corporation in Burlington, Ontario was a good one. Although Richards, a native of Wales who’s also worked in the high-tech field in England and Ireland, only arrived in Canada in January, 2000, he capped off the year by winning the Maintenance Manager of the Year award at the Main Event.

Richards won the award based on a comprehensive series of maintenance improvements he spearheaded at Gennum. "The basic idea is to establish people in our department as equipment owners, as opposed to equipment users," says Richards. "Once someone starts to think of themselves as owning a tool or piece of equipment, they start to sort out maintenance questions and problems more pro-actively."

One of Richards’ key initiatives was to establish a new position with his equipment engineering group — that of the CEC, or Cluster Equipment Coordinator. The people nominated to these positions then took on supervision responsibility for smaller groups of personnel, which in turn allowed for better communications across shifts and a reduction in the overlap of resources. "Essentially, this is a team-leadership position, and again, the person in this role takes on responsibility for equipment availability," says Richards. "It basically saves us a lot of time running around, and a lot of overlap in effort. It’s classic micro-management, and drops the ratio of worker to supervisor from about 18:1, to 4 or 5 :1.

Richards has also done extensive work in improving Gennum’s preventive maintenance database, including the implementation of a SWAT- special work action team — group, that works to address extended down-time problems that measure longer than 24 hours of equipment non-availability to manufacturing.

"The important thing was to change the culture here to one of predictive maintenance," says Richards of his relatively short time at Gennum. "There appeared to be a lot of doing PMs just for the sake of doing PMs, and in high-tech industries in particular, where replacing equipment can be extremely expensive, this isn’t an effective approach. It’s far better to work on predictive and preventive measures."

Richards has also implemented another policy which is key in the high-tech field — that of tighter clean-room policies as far as the introduction of new and ancillary equipment into the clean-room facilities. And, he’s introduced a thorough TPM initiative within the plant’s assembly areas.

So what does Richards think of winning Canada’s major maintenance award such a short while after arriving in Canada? "Well, it was certainly a nice welcome here," he says.

Paul Challen is the former editor of PEM Plant Engineering and Maintenance. Janine Belzak is a freelance writer who lives in Dundas, Ontario.