MRO Magazine

CASE HISTORY: Self-sufficiency is key to Maska’s maintenance operations

Pulleys, winches, cranks and tackle blocks are said to have their genesis in the fourth century B.C. inventions of Archytas de Tarente. A Quebec company, however, seeks its edge in the competitive pul...


June 1, 2001
By Carroll McCormick

Pulleys, winches, cranks and tackle blocks are said to have their genesis in the fourth century B.C. inventions of Archytas de Tarente. A Quebec company, however, seeks its edge in the competitive pulley manufacturing industry with modern computer-controlled equipment and robotics, backed by a well-trained maintenance team.

Advancing technology is one of the largest concerns for maintenance departments everywhere. “The main challenge for the people who work in maintenance is to adapt to new technology–for example–robotic equipment,” says Pierre Boutin, the CNC programming manager with Maska Pulleys Inc. of Saint-Claire, Que. “The technology evolves very quickly,” he explains. “In the robotics area we may have 10 different kinds of robotic equipment. It is very difficult for one person to master all of these new applications.”

As a result, training is important for Maska, a privately owned company. Maintenance manager Jocelyn Vachon, reports that the company invests about two per cent of annual revenue in “all sorts of training.” This includes how to use new equipment, how to use equipment more effectively and how to perform maintenance on equipment. “The guys are well-trained and are always learning more to stay up-to-date.”

Scores of production machines occupy roughly half of the company’s 105,000 sq ft plant, which manufactures a huge number of pulleys–5,000 standard sizes in all.

Maska’s research and development department specializes in designing custom machinery for production operations. One of these “in-house” machines is used to compact some 40 tons of metal chips left over every week from the manufacturing process.

Because it was custom built, it posed quite a repair challenge to the maintenance crew when it broke down last year. “It was very difficult to disassemble the machine. Just finding the problem took two weeks. There were no replacement parts and we had to manufacture new ones,” says Boutin.

Typically though, the maintenance team works on sophisticated equipment such as computer-controlled milling machines, some of which are fed raw product over and over again by the bright yellow arms of robots.

The maintenance budget is 2.5 per cent of the company’s annual sales. The maintenance team includes specialists in mechanics, hydraulics, robotics, electronics and pneumatics. Recently, a young specialist in robotics maintenance was hired; he received his training at the CEGEP (a Quebec college that offers many types of technical, professional and pre-university training) in nearby Levis.

The plant, which employs 170 people, operates three shifts, 24 hours a day from Monday through Friday. Day-to-day troubleshooting and maintenance and repair work such as preventive maintenance, bearing replacement and some electronics, is done in-house. Equipment greasing is done during the three lunch breaks. Weekly maintenance is done alongside the regular workers between 4:00 p.m. and midnight every Friday. The maintenance shop is small, but maintenance personnel have toolboxes stationed around the plant.

To track maintenance requirements, Maska developed its own Microsoft Excel spreadsheet-based computerized maintenance management system, which it implemented in 1997. It schedules PM tasks and generates lists of all the checkpoints that the people doing PM must inspect. The program is a work-in-progress, says Vachon, adding that it is being refined this year.

PM is done on all the CNC milling machinery every three months. During production periods, the three-month PM is done by scheduling shutdowns of specific pieces of machinery for two to three days. The machines are dismantled and moving parts are checked to see if they need changing.

Every five years, a contract is issued to an outside company to completely recondition the equipment. Machine rebuilds also are done outside.

To make maintenance operations more efficient, in early 2000 Maska implemented a Kan Ban purchasing and inventory management system to help plan the amount of spare parts that should be kept on hand, and to organize stock replacement. “We always have the parts we need. If, for example, an electrical part breaks, we get a new piece from Kan Ban, get the broken piece repaired and put it in the Kan Ban system,” says Boutin.

To improve maintenance operations, Maska established weekly maintenance meetings about a year ago. During the meetings, says Vachon, “the employees can make suggestions for improving equipment. We evaluate the suggestions and make improvements. This is part of the Maska-style management. A simple example of such an improvement might be to replace a panel held on with 10 screws with just three screws, or perhaps a hinge.”

The meetings have been very effective, reports Vachon. “There have been a lot of good ideas. The guy who does the repairs is better than his boss.”

Contributing editor Carroll McCormick is based in Montreal.

(Editor’s note: Kan Ban is a method of Just-In-Time production that uses standard containers or lots with a single card attached to each. It is a pull system in which work centres signal with a card that they wish to withdraw parts. The Japanese word kanban, loosely translated, means card or sign. The term is often used synonymously for the specific scheduling system developed and used by the Toyota Corporation in Japan.)