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Big Software For Big Solutions

Acomputerized maintenance management software package that can handle the demands of 130 plants at one time must be outrageously complicated, right? In a sense yes, but a solution the Weyerhaeuser Com...


December 1, 2008
By Carroll McCormick

Acomputerized maintenance management software package that can handle the demands of 130 plants at one time must be outrageously complicated, right? In a sense yes, but a solution the Weyerhaeuser Company began deploying in 2000 for 20 of its facilities proves to be well organized and its purpose carefully thought out.

Weyerhaeuser decided in 1999 that it wanted a common platform for all of its end users. After duly considering its needs, the company chose the SAP set of integrated business applications to handle all of its computer-based chores.

SAP, which its German creators originally called Systeme, Anwendungen, Produkte (Systems, Applications, Products) is referred to as an enterprise-wise application because it is capable of managing everything, e. g., finances, assets, cost accounting, production operations and materials, personnel, plants and archived documents.

On the level of maintenance management, Weyerhaeuser wanted to replace its home-grown and commercial CMMS systems — some half-dozen in all — with one system common to all of the Weyerhaeuser plants.

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Advantages include the following: parts lists for equipment common to two or more plants need only be written once; repair histories and PM cycles across plants can be compared, shared and analyzed; and procedures need only be invented once.

SAP also gives the Weyerhaeuser support team, which helps the maintenance teams use SAP, a bird’s eye view of the enterprise-wide system. Such ministering is ideal for ensuring that all of the plants’ maintenance teams are making satisfactory progress toward the company’s goals for exploiting SAP’s capabilities.

Weyerhaeuser created the support team because, although all of the plants’ maintenance processes — that is, the fundamental practices that make maintenance work — were worked out in exquisite detail, and SAP then configured accordingly, plant maintenance teams varied in their readiness and ability to use SAP.

“The plants had different levels of maturity in their business practices,” explains Bubba Layson, the IT MPS support team leader. “Some began to use SAP immediately and at a high level, but other plants were just getting started in reliability-centred maintenance and needed a lot of help to get to a higher utilization of the tools and processes.

“There was a lot of frustration in some of the sites. We formed a process support team to help them use SAP, and learn how to plan and schedule tasks, and optimize the storerooms. The tool then supports them, rather than challenging and fighting them,” he says.

“Some plants do not even know what they need help with,” Layson adds. “We are going in and assessing how the plant schedules, plans, runs the storeroom …. We are saying ‘this is where you have to be in X years.’

“We can use SAP to look at all the plants to see when the process is breaking down; e. g., if training is needed, or if there is poor data. [The users] have to follow, because SAP will identify the weak link [down to a specific] maintenance group and sometimes to the individual or the particular storeroom,” Layson adds.

“Because of the integration between the different [software] modules, there is no way to hide not following a process,” says support team member and former millwright Matt Heckart.

Using a conferencing service called WebEx, Layson linked my computer in Montreal with his desktop computer in Federal Way, WA, so I could watch him open various windows in SAP. He then walked me through some of SAP’s functionalities, that is, tools in the SAP tool chest (i. e. the mute button on your TV remote is a functionality, as is the rear window defroster in your car).

First, Layson drilled down through a hierarchy of systems: Port Wentworth-GA Pulp, Pulp & Paper Mills, Raw Material Preparation, Raw Material Preparation Unit 1, and so on, until we got to an agitator. With one more twist of the bit, so to speak, we arrived at a comprehensive list of parts in the agitator and their part numbers.

At this point, a work order can be written for the agitator. If a job plan for it is already in the system, the user can pull up a predefined job description, which shortens the preparation of the work order to just a few minutes work. Since parts are listed, they can be selected easily.

Note that once someone has gone to all the trouble of entering the data for one agitator, the identical data can be copied and pasted into the SAP program at every other Weyerhaeuser facility with the same type of agitator.

Over the course of fully populating SAP at all the plants, the total time saved was considerable; there were 343,920 pieces of equipment in the 20 mills on the system at the time.

This copy and paste ability also makes it possible to identically describe every piece of equipment of a type. The result is that they will all be included if SAP is asked, say, to locate all instances of same-type equipment and analyze data that could reveal trends in the equipment’s reliability; one weakness of a CMMP are the humans in the loop, who are quite capable of giving several identical pieces of equipment different names, creating, as far as the CMMP is concerned, several kinds of equipment. Garbage in, garbage out, as they say.

Back to the lesson: The person writing the work order can select from a list of maintenance people who will do the work. “As soon as I do this it will show up on their time sheets with SAP. The worker keys in the actual hours of work. We can measure the site on how well they do their scheduling, how well they adhere to key performance measures. The KPMs are driven all the way up to the vice-president,” Layson explains.

Once parts are selected and the work order saved, SAP launches other processes; e. g., what the storeroom clerk needs to do. If the parts are available, the clerk will package the parts and have them delivered to the drop site on the date specified on the work order. If any parts are not available, SAP red-flags this problem on the clerk’s computer. SAP shows when requested parts are needed, how long it will take to order and process them, and who ordered them.

“You can see in real time the availability of materials and delivery dates. I know immediately whether I can get a job done,” Layson says. “The storeroom person can go into the work order and see which planner he has to call to ask if he really needs that part. Maybe the part order does not have to be rushed,” he explains, adding, “There are many times when a part is flown in when it does not have to be.”

Saving the work order also begins the process of shutting down the necessary equipment and production processes when the job is to be performed. If the job location requires a permit (for example, if it is in a confined space), a warning will pop up on a hazardous system management system that the user is preparing to do such work. The work order cannot be released until the appropriate permit is issued. “We have integrated a lot of safe behaviours into each location,” Layson says.

SAP confers many other advantages to its users, for example, the ability to compare planned costs with the actual number of hours worked on a project; see records of damage, mechanical causes and repairs done; prepare reports that show when the failures occurred for every piece of equipment in the system; identify exactly who should attend meetings to discuss PM cycles for different equipment; and reduce safety incidents through better PM that reduces the need to work on broken equipment.

“Since 2000 we have seen improvements in our total number of units produced in every area where we have installed SAP. This tool has enabled us to improve our overall levels of inventory: inventory values have dropped, machine uptime has increased and safety incidents have dropped since 2000. Everything is trending toward the positive and the SAP system is one of the tools that have enabled this,” Layson says.

That said, Layson makes it clear that SAP is only as good as the groundwork a company lays.

“We wrote all the processes before we started configuring SAP. We knew what we wanted to do before we bought the tool. You need to understand the fundamental practices that make maintenance work, whether you have a CMMP or not. SAP requires you to define what you are supposed to do and then it empowers you to do it.”

Montreal-based Carroll McCormick is the senior contributing editor for Machinery & Equipment MRO.


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