MRO Magazine

CASE HISTORY: Maintenance on the fly

With just three lines and standing orders for 400 million cans a year, the maintenance strategy at the Ball Packaging Products Canada Inc. plant in Baie d'Urfe on Montreal's West Island boils down to ...


April 1, 2001
By Carroll McCormick

With just three lines and standing orders for 400 million cans a year, the maintenance strategy at the Ball Packaging Products Canada Inc. plant in Baie d’Urfe on Montreal’s West Island boils down to one rule: Keep the lines running.

The U-shaped production lines run quite automatically, but when there is a problem, sharp-eyed maintenance personnel are never far away. In fact, of the 74 employees at the 19,500 sq m (210,000 sq ft) plant, 35 are tradespeople. They are responsible for ensuring that the cans are within specifications and for operating, maintaining and keeping the production lines in good repair. Bright red tool chests stationed throughout the 4,644 sq m (50,000 sq ft) production area testify to the crews’ ability to act the second there is a problem.

Two tool and die makers and five electrical technicians are exclusively maintenance personnel. Twenty eight production mechanics, tradespeople all, work as line operators. Each of four crews at the plant consists of five production mechanics, one electrical technician, one machinist and three general labourers. A crew works four 12-hour days followed by four days off.

The plant has a very well-equipped machine shop, about 18 m x 12 m (60×40 ft) in size, with equipment such as lathes, welding equipment, presses, precision grinders and equipment for changing motor bearings. There is also a tool room, but it is used infrequently. Ball carries about $700,000 worth of spare parts in inventory.

“We’ve got just about everything to be self-sufficient in maintenance and, to a certain extent, emergency fabrication,” says Normand Sauvageau, the engineering manager. “We have the knowledge and people for custom fabrication, but we don’t do it. If we need something, we get our suppliers to make it and we buy it.”

Ball was established in 1880 and its head office is now in Broomfield, Colorado. The demand is so high at the Baie d’Urfe plant that the lines–the fastest one can make 600 cans a minute–are booked solid. Every unscheduled minute of downtime adds to shortfalls in orders that can only be made up by purchasing cans elsewhere.

Routine maintenance

The plant is a 24-hour a day, seven-day-a-week operation and closes for just five days a year. Woven around this hectic schedule are the maintenance operations, carried out with an annual $1 million budget. There are daily, weekly, monthly and annual maintenance checks, but no computerized maintenance program.

According to Sauvageau and Denis Tisseur, who is the manager of production, the equipment at their plant does not justify a computerized maintenance program. Instead, they use a hybrid pen-and-paper maintenance schedule and computerized record-keeping. “For us it is very simple, explains Sauvageau. “Manning-wise, we are down to the bare bones. We don’t have the luxury (of having extra staff) to take care of a sophisticated maintenance program.”

The maintenance routine is based, says Sauvageau, on the philosophy that, “If every day you look at oil, grease and bearings, the chances of breaking down get smaller and smaller.” Each time a worker does his daily check, he marks the items on a sheet. Sauvageau continues: “If the guy finds something, he tells Tisseur. Then the problem is dealt with as soon as possible, or at the best time.”

Every month the daily checks are compiled by the maintenance supervisor in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet program set up in-house for record-keeping. With this data an efficiency percentage is calculated to show how well maintenance checks are being carried out.

The lines are stopped for 10 minutes, twice a day, to clean the equipment. All told, says Tisseur, “We have eight hours a week for maintenance for each line.” Emergency maintenance will shut down a line, but whenever possible, repairs are delayed to one of the roughly 33 line changeovers scheduled each year. A switch to making a different type of can size requires a line reconfiguration.

“If we know we are changing the line in three days, we put a band-aid on (the problem) and we fix it during the changeover,” says Sauvageau. “The lines are booked solid and we keep running them.” Tissure completes Sauvageau’s thought: “We try to schedule our big maintenance for when we do our big changeovers.”

In the plant, lines one and two seldom stop, except for the changeovers. Line three is dedicated to 48-ounce cans and runs about 25 per cent of the time. It takes 24 hours to change a line for can height and 48 hours to change the line for can diameter. A line changeover is a complex operation requiring end-to-end adjustments and parts changes. The budget for a line change is 144 man hours or 48 clock hours.

The unforseen

If a repair is absolutely necessary, everything is planned in advance. Parts and tools are assembled right beside the repair site and the appropriate people for the job are gathered. When everything is ready, the line is shut down, the repair or parts swap is carried out as quickly as possible and the line is restarted.

Sauvageau describes one of the quick changes that they sometimes do: “An example is the seamer lifter plate (found in the seamer, which puts the covers on the cans). You get buildup on the tooling that needs to be removed. You bring out the tools and parts, shut down the line, replace the contaminated lifter plate with a good one and restart the line.” The contaminated lifter plate is taken back to the shop to be cleaned and readied for the next swap out.

Unexpected challenges, perhaps one or two a year, do happen, sending the maintenance crew into emergency mode. For example, in early December last year, the frequency converter, a generator-like component on the welder, broke down. “We do not have a spare,” says Sauvageau. “We were down for 30 hours. We got a transport truck on a Saturday to bring the parts and a Soudronic Ltd. (the equipment manufacturer) guy in from New York.”

Changeover and training

A line might run non-stop for two weeks between changeovers or, as happened in early January, a line may need to be changed over twice in one week. Two senior, very experienced, tradesmen will work exclusively in preparation for a changeover.

Says Sauvageau, “They have an area where they have all the change parts on trolleys. When the day comes for the changeover, everything is ready.” In addition to the actual changeover work, these tradesmen also do on-the-fly training and troubleshooting on the 40-odd pieces of equipment on the production floor.

There is also scheduled training; for example, in late January a former Ball employee, now self-employed, gave three mechanics and one supervisor a 40-hour course on the air tester. This machine, which looks a lot like the radial engine from a biplane, pressure tests all of the cans for leaks. A week earlier, Soudronic, a Swiss company which manufactures the precision machines that weld the seams on the cans, spent a week in the plant training four of the crew how to operate, maintain, changeover and do quality specifications on the welders.

Once a changeover is completed, the really high-pressure part of Tisseur’s already tough job begins. Again, the engineering and production duo share the explanation: “When you are down for two days and you are trying to come back up, there are all kinds of bugs. You are pretty busy,” says Sauvageau.

Getting the line back up to speed is a race against time, says Tisseur, “When you start to play with the machines, you start to have problems. Sometimes it takes 12 to 24 hours to get the line up to speed. My goal is to be up to 50 per cent in the first 12 hours and 70 per cent in the next 12 hours. My goal is to have everything work the first time after a change.” Sauvageau chimes in: “That’s the challenge in our business: Keeping the lines running. The faster we do it, the more cans we make and the more money we make.”

Carroll McCormick is based in Montreal and is a contributing editor to Machinery & Equipment MRO.