MRO Magazine

Finding unexpected efficiencies

By Cliff Williams   

Human Resources Machinery and Equipment Maintenance Operations

This article is part of an ongoing series. The introduction appeared in Machinery & Equipment MRO’s February 2005 issue and the series has run in every issue since. Previous instalments are archived online at This...

This article is part of an ongoing series. The introduction appeared in Machinery & Equipment MRO’s February 2005 issue and the series has run in every issue since. Previous instalments are archived online at This month, we pick up where we left off in the June 2011 edition, as maintenance manager Bob Edwards looks into setting up a consignment relationship with a distributor.

We’d asked Trevor, the sales rep from our local industrial distributor, to quote on working with us on a consignment basis. He got back to Carol, our reliability manager, the next day to say that, in principle, his company was prepared to handle parts inventory consignments. I asked Carol to get a couple of the trades guys involved when she was setting up the details.

Meanwhile, our vice-president of finance called and said that he was prepared to look at converting the Insurance Spares into assets, but had to ensure the vice-president of operations was in agreement, since removing them from stores would probably be an expense.

Things were moving along nicely and within two weeks, we had agreement on those two issues. Also, Carol had prepared a report on what the impact would be. “Based on the agreement with the supplier, we will reduce inventory value by 10% when they convert their current items to consignment,” she said. “This should reach 15% when they start to consign parts that used to be supplied by someone else.


“As far as converting inventory to assets,” Carol related, “that would reduce the value by 25%. So eventually we should see a reduction in inventory value of around 40%. If you take into account our other initiatives, it should reach 50%.”

“Thanks, Carol. That’s great. I see that the planned shutdown schedule is working fine and the operators are feeling a little more confident about not changing out major rolls based on what the vibration and oil analysis show, so we’re on target for a reduction in planned shutdowns of 2%, down to 2% in total. Our unscheduled downtime is down to 3%, so things are coming along.”

“I don’t mean to put a damper on things, Bob, but I’m beginning to get the feeling that we’ve picked most of the low-hanging fruit – that the gains from here on in are going to be harder to make.”

“I don’t disagree. I think we can still improve some of our practices, but the gain on the bottom line will be less significant. However, looking through my half-full glass with my rose-tinted glasses, I think they will build up so that we will continue to succeed.

“Let’s set up a meeting with the guys so we can go over all of the improvements we’ve made. They deserve a thank you.”

Carol organized the meeting for the next week and I thought more about what she’d said. We were very close to being where we needed to be, but she was right – I didn’t know where the next gains would come from and we needed to be sure we had systems in place to sustain the gains we’d already made.

A couple of days later, we saw one of the systems we’d set up work well. There was a hydraulic problem on the paper machine at 2.00 a.m. and the guys on the shift quickly realized that they didn’t have enough experience to figure out the problem. After 20 minutes, they had called in Pete, one of our millwrights who had been part of the commissioning team for the hydraulics.

Pete had been able to solve the issue, so the mill was down for just 90 minutes, which, even though it amounted to major downtime, would have been longer if the guys had not been able to call him in themselves and had instead to wait for a supervisor to give the okay.

When the meeting time rolled around, everyone was in an upbeat mood as we reviewed the gains we had made in downtime, costs and inventory – until I said: “We need just a little push and everything will be in line with corporate expectations, but I’m afraid this small amount will be harder than what we’ve already achieved.”

Pete spoke up. “Well, Bob, we definitely saved time on the hydraulic breakdown.” He pulled out a sheet of paper from a folder he had brought with him. “I’ve developed a troubleshooting sheet for that problem, so you wouldn’t have to call me in if it happened again. If I had more time, I could develop sheets like this for a lot more scenarios and do training based on what I learned during commissioning.”

“That’s a good idea, Pete, but I don’t think we could spare you the time to do that – unless we brought in someone on overtime to do your other work. That would increase costs, at least short term.”

“We’ve got a comment on that one, Bob,” offered Steve, another millwright. “The shift millwrights have been talking and we all agree that now that the mill has settled down, there is not really a need for two millwrights on shift. Especially now, as we can call someone as soon as we need them. We used to be really busy, but with the better PMs we do and the operators doing basic care, we don’t need two any longer.”

“Hang on, Steve,” I interjected. “I don’t want the ability to call someone in to cause repairs to be slowed down because they required two people.”

“We’ve talked about that too, Bob, and the electricians have agreed that they can lend a hand if we need physical help – and the operators would just jump at the chance. Come on, Bob, this would give Pete the time he needs to prepare the hydraulics sheets, and we could stop sending out the gearboxes for repair – we’d have enough people to do them in house.”

“It may be worth a trial, a least,” I said. “I’ll talk with Joe and Fred (the plant and production managers) to make sure operations won’t object. Anyway, as I said, we’ve made great progress and you guys deserve a big thank-you, so we’ll be bringing in lunch for everyone next Friday and we’ll make sure the shift guys get what they want, when they want it.”

This brought on loud cheering and it was fair to say that the meeting ended with everyone in high spirits. As I walked back to my office, another light went on in my head – ending the meetings on a high note meant that the guys were in a good mood, and that meant that when they got to their jobsites, they were in a ‘can-do’ frame of mind. I needed to make a conscious effort to do this for every meeting.

Joe and Fred agreed to the trial of bringing one millwright off shift, but insisted that at the first sign it wasn’t working, we would put them back on. I explained this to Carol and she started to revise the work schedule.

“Which millwright should I assign to the rotating shift and which to the day shift?”

“Good question. I didn’t think any further than one of them coming off shift – maybe we should leave it up to them. I’m not sure it makes a difference.”

“I’m not sure I agree with that. If you look at Steve and Terry, who are on the same shift, Steve is definitely the leader and tends to take charge on shift. We hardly hear from Terry.”

“Hmm, good point. But I’m not sure we have really strong proof that one would work better than the other. I think we give them the chance to choose, but I’ll talk with each of the crews so they understand that if there’s any doubts, things stay as they are.”

Carol prepared the schedule and just noted ‘Millwright A’ and ‘Millwright B’ in the appropriate places. As the shifts rotated onto days, I took the opportunity to meet with them, and when it came to Steve and Terry’s turn, I mentioned the fact that Steve tended to take the lead and asked Terry how he would feel if he was the one to stay on shift.

“Actually, we were hoping that we could both come off shift. Both Tom and Ben from tonight’s shift would like to stay on shift and they’d be quite happy for one of them to flip over onto our rotati
on. Terry and I would like to get more involved in the PM side of things, whereas Tom and Ben enjoy the ‘get in-get it done-get out’ environment on shift – and to be honest, they’re the best at it.”

The right solution

“I’m okay with that in principle, but I’ll need to talk with Tom and Ben – not just about switching rotation, but they’ll also need to understand that there’s more to the shift position than ‘get in-get it done-get out’. It’s ‘get a solution that will prevent it from happening again’ that they should be working on.”

I stayed behind to talk with Tom and Ben and they both were very happy that they could stay on shift.

“Thanks Bob. That’s really appreciated. We do understand that things have changed from the old ‘fix-it when it’s broke’ mentality. Ben has been doing a lot of reading about breakdown analysis and we’ve talked about doing it ourselves. By the way, allowing us to do this, setting up the 24/7 board, and the overall involvement in general, has clearly shown us things are not the way they were before. We appreciate it and promise we won’t let you down.”


Cliff Williams is the corporate maintenance manager at Erco Worldwide in Toronto, ON, and a consultant with TMS – Total Maintenance Solutions Inc., Markham, ON. He can be reached by e-mail at


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