MRO Magazine

Case History: Know-it-alls

It is not unusual for line workers to have maintenance responsibilities, but non-routine tasks typically go to maintenance specialists. However, at GN Plastics Co. Ltd. in Chester, N.S., the highly-sk...


December 1, 2002
By Carroll McCormick

It is not unusual for line workers to have maintenance responsibilities, but non-routine tasks typically go to maintenance specialists. However, at GN Plastics Co. Ltd. in Chester, N.S., the highly-skilled personnel who build the company’s sophisticated thermoforming equipment have the production and ancillary expertise to perform all but the most specialized maintenance tasks.

GN Plastics has no dedicated maintenance employees, says Mike Ogden, the plant operations manager. “Take an electrician for example. If it is too big a job we will call in an outside person, but otherwise we use our own people. We use our skills in-house as far as we can. If we need special tools we get outside contractors.”

GN Plastics staff consists of journeymen machinists (who also program the computers that run the CNC machines), PLC specialists, electricians, electronics technicians and carpenters. The 107 employees work on a Monday through Friday schedule, with four, 10-hour evening shifts in the tool and die department.

As for maintenance facilities, Ogden says, “We use our production tools and our ingenuity. The guys understand the machines.” Take, for example, the company’s very large, heavily-built surface grinder, manufactured in East Germany. It is a good machine, according to Ogden, but it had high-maintenance, 1950s-style electronics and hydraulics. GN Plastics production staff have replaced all of the electronics, added a PLC control and vastly simplified the hydraulics.

The company has a healthy maintenance mindset, partly because it teaches its own clients how to maintain the equipment it manufactures. The thermoforming machines can produce thousands of different plastic products for packaging food.

Ogden, a former British Merchant Marine engineer, clearly runs a very tight ship.

A tour of the production facilities, tucked up against a red pine woods just outside Chester, reveal a very clean and well-lit working environment. Running my fingers over the surfaces of partially built machine frames, I fail to find any rough edges, and welds are ground and sanded flush with the metal.

This attention to detail — a corporate policy — extends to the maintenance of the 414 pieces of equipment filed in the Datastream MP2 2000 Access CMMS, from all of the major pieces of equipment right down to the front office floors. Finding floor washing and vacuuming in a CMMS seems unusual, but actually makes perfect sense, according to Ogden.

There is no arguing with success: In the June 2002 work order summary, for example, workers logged just 3.2 hours of downtime. That varies from month to month, of course — but, says Ogden, “We have almost no downtime. It’s planned maintenance. We keep a close eye on all the equipment.”

Ogden tries to keep to the recommended maintenance schedules for major equipment. Run times are programmed into the maintenance software. “Once a week we take an hour meter reading off every piece of equipment and key the numbers into the MP2 program.”

Work orders for the following week’s maintenance are generated on Thursday and distributed on Friday. They contain lists for daily checks that must be made. Work orders from the previous week are picked up and the information entered into the CMMS.

From the work orders, Ogden prepares summaries that show pieces of machinery, number of work orders, employee labour hours, material costs, labour costs, etc. The maintenance history records might show that costs are rising for a piece of equipment, so the company can determine when it needs to be replaced.

Although Ogden’s current duties include looking after maintenance, the shop supervisors also have maintenance responsibilities. “All of the hourly guys on the shop floor are responsible for maintaining their equipment. One of the guys in the maintenance shop does some repairs on a regular basis. The principal forklift driver is responsible for the daily maintenance checks on the trucks. There is a 15-minute period at the beginning of each day when each of the three air compressors are checked,” explains Ogden.

Operators write observations on the work order forms, such as “Slight leak. Will keep an eye on it.” They get quick feedback when they report a problem, which encourages them to look for problems and report them. “We keep on top and react quickly so they don’t see us as not listening,” says Ogden. “We encourage them to tell us when anything is going wrong. They are on top of it and will tell us.”

GN Plastics does not carry many spare parts for maintenance. “We have them listed in the MP2, but we order in most spare parts. In most cases, we can get them very quickly. The company standardized on Taiwanese Leadwell CNC machines obtained from Stan Canada, an agent in Toronto. “They carry a lot of spare parts,” says Ogden.

The company contracts out HVAC, forklift maintenance and some repairs. “Occasionally we will bring a guy in from Toronto to repair and maintain the CNC equipment,” he says.

Ogden confesses no particular challenges, “except to keep things in the condition they are in.” The maintenance feature he is most proud of is “keeping downtime under control and making sure we keep it low.”

Contributing editor Carroll McCormick is based in Montreal.

Jumping on problems early

Originally from Bristol, U.K., Mike Ogden, the plant operations manager at GN Plastics, worked as a machinist/fitter apprentice for five years. He later worked as a marine engineer in the Merchant Marine, then went to work for Rolls Royce in its aircraft engine division as a maintenance shop foreman.

Ogden came to Canada 25 years ago and continued his maintenance career at Moirs Chocolates in Halifax, then arrived at GN Plastics in 1987, seven years after the company was formed.

His mark on the company: “Making sure that everything is important and to jump on something early before it becomes a big problem.”