MRO Magazine

Establishing Machinery Priorities

By Carroll McCormick   

When rush orders flood in or breakdowns divert limited maintenance resources to other machines, preventive maintenance schedules can fly straight out the factory window. But at Intertape Polymer in Tr...

When rush orders flood in or breakdowns divert limited maintenance resources to other machines, preventive maintenance schedules can fly straight out the factory window. But at Intertape Polymer in Truro, NS, maintenance and production have been learning to understand each other’s needs.

Intertape Polymer produces seven million pounds (3,175,200 kg) of shrink film and 160 million square yards (133,760,000 sq m) of woven plastic fabric products each year in its 340,000 square foot (31,579 sq m) plant. One business group, simply called ‘Woven’, works to long-term production schedules. The other business group, known as ‘Shrink’, must regularly respond to last-minute orders with time-to-delivery that can be as little as 24 hours.

“Because of the differences in product lead times, the two business units operate very differently when it comes to equipment scheduling and committing to scheduled maintenance time,” explains Peter Soley, the plant engineer and maintenance manager.

“I could get a call for a product that has to be made today and shipped tomorrow,” says Fred Connors, the manufacturing manager for the Shrink department. “I have to admit that the manufacturing side says ‘yes’ to the customer 99% of the time, which normally means that we have to say ‘no’ to maintenance. Usually we do pretty well, but if I get a last-minute order, and have to use a particular machine … about 30% of the time we have to cancel scheduled maintenance.”


Because of stiff competition for tradesmen, Soley’s 17-member maintenance team is understaffed. This sometimes means that maintenance cannot cover both a scheduled preventive maintenance (PM) task and an unexpected breakdown elsewhere in the plant, turning even the best-laid PM plans and co- operation from production into hash.

Soley elaborates: “The biggest frustration is the lack of resources, mainly manpower, to deal with issues in a proactive manner. Even though we identify potential equipment failures, we often do not get to them before failure. Breakdowns start the vicious circle of cancelling scheduled preventive work, which leads to increased breakdowns –and around and around we go, putting out fires.”

Soley and production managers like Conners have been working on several fronts to ease this tension between maintenance, production and limited resources. One way has been to make equipment more reliable and make proper, rather than stop-gap repairs.

“We have had a lot of history here in the past 30 years of getting something running any old way. We are working to change that so breakdowns won’t happen again. We will no longer just patch things up and not take the time to do a repair properly — for example, welding something instead of machining a new part.

“We can’t fool ourselves that we will get back to it the next day and do the repair right,” Soley says. Fortunately, he acknowledges, “I have support from upper management for increasing reliability, including doing proper repairs. I’m more likely to be questioned on repeated breakdowns and why we are not repairing things the right way than to explain why the cost of a repair might be higher than expected.”

Connors says he values the worth of PM and that production has a keen understanding that it’s pay now or pay later. “We have learned this the hard way. But we are production-driven. We have to do some quick fixes and sometimes they come back to haunt us.”

Soley has been changing equipment to improve reliability and reduce the drag on manpower. For example, changing the DC motor brushes and cooling air filters on just one of the shrink film lines will pretty well occupy the whole maintenance crew. So not long ago maintenance spent 14 days replacing DC motors in Line 4 with AC motors, making the lines almost maintenance free.

Soley is also using Infor’s MP2, a CMMS software package that was acquired about two and a half years ago, to develop PM techniques and schedules. “Before MP2,” Soley says, “what we called PM was ‘shut down the line and go over it’. Now we are trying to inspect equipment while it is running and then shut down to address issues identified during the inspections. With a lot of our equipment, it’s hard to identify problems when it is not running.”

As MP2 has acquired a machine history, maintenance is learning more about what is breaking. “We need to better use MP2 to make sure we are checking the right things and that when things are not breaking, it is because of what we do — or not.

‘Are we putting our efforts in the right place?” Soley explains. He knows, for example, that the extrusion coaters, which laminate plastic to woven fabric, are a bottleneck. “I’d like to get into a predictive maintenance program on one of them. We have a lot of unnecessary breakdowns.”

The other principle challenge has been to improve the working relationship between maintenance and the operating departments so that meaningful maintenance work schedules can be developed that address the needs of both departments.

“We often have scheduled maintenance days cancelled at the last minute for production reasons. This contributes to the breakdown circle,” Soley says. “Operating departments need to take ownership of their equipment and see us as providing a service to them. It is so hard to convince some people that we need to work together. They are trying to fill their orders and they don’t see the overall picture. They don’t allow time for preventive work and then complain that the equipment is broken. We have a good idea how long it takes to do PM, but not how long it takes to repair breakdowns.”

Soley acknowledges that building trust with machine operators also means having the necessary parts on hand, doing the job right and doing it within the time estimated.

Conner notes, “In the past there have been times when one party or the other has been disappointed: a job not done correctly or production has screwed up a maintenance schedule, but I think that we are working a lot more in tandem as opposed to working independently.”

Part of this success is due to regular meetings between the production business groups and the maintenance planner. “Peter and I have agreed that over the past 12 months we have seen a significant improvement between maintenance and the operations guys on the floor,” Conner reports. “We have progressed leaps and bounds with maintenance. We are more effective in meetings and try and tell our planning group that when a machine is down, our goal is to let the planned work be done.

“We look at what maintenance is planned for the week with Peter’s planner. We have become more flexible in flipping tasks. In the meetings we cover items that can be done the next time a machine is down. We cover planned jobs, we discuss other things that might be potential problems and come up with tentative dates. We usually confirm for the following week, but we all reserve the right to make changes, or change maintenance priorities. The education has gone both ways, but we have further to go. There is always room for improvement.”

Soley wants to build on this progress by increasing the focus on the maintenance planning function and building a team approach with production management. He would also like to someday see maintenance schedules written right into production schedules, so he could, for example, see what the line will be doing in three months.

Soley also would like to beef up his team so that rather than just maintaining the rate of decay of the equipment, the team could improve it. “Part of what I see as a success is that we haven’t seen an increase in downtime, but unfortunately, we have not seen improvement,” Soley says.

When asked what advice he has for other people struggling to bring maintenance and production into sync, Conners suggests: “I think it is very important for production to understand the load and priorities of the maintenance guys. It is also important for maintenance to understand the nature of production.”

Soley believes that the stronger t
he commitment from production, the better the results. “My challenge is developing that working relationship with production.”

On a more philosophical note he adds, “When things seem particularly hectic, I remind myself, if it was easy, anyone could do it.”

Montreal-based Carroll McCormick is the senior contributing editor for Machinery & Equipment MRO. This year, he begins his second decade of profiling maintenance operations for this magazine.


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