MRO Magazine

Fishy business succeeds with highly detailed planning

To a visitor, the fish processing plant owned by Highliner Foods Inc., just outside Lunenburg, on Nova Scotia's South Shore, is a rather noisy, but well-lit, clean workplace for as many as 500 employe...

November 1, 2002 | By Carroll McCormick

To a visitor, the fish processing plant owned by Highliner Foods Inc., just outside Lunenburg, on Nova Scotia’s South Shore, is a rather noisy, but well-lit, clean workplace for as many as 500 employees. Through the eyes of a maintenance manager though, it is a challenging system of freezers (one as large as a warehouse), compressors, production fryers, filleting machines and even a fleet of trawlers, all under constant assault by heat, humidity and pounding sea.

Ten years ago there were 110 maintenance workers operating primarily with a repair mindset. Today though, the 47,000-sq ft plant is tended by a team of 47 hourly trades people: electrical/mechanical technicians, Baader (filleting machine) mechanics, forklift mechanics, general mechanics, electricians, machinists, electronics technicians, marine fitters, welders, electrical fitters, carpenters and certified boiler/refrigeration operators.

The team works from five maintenance shops: plant, marine, Baader, electrical and cooked fish. Its three major stock rooms — main plant, electrical and marine — carry 11,000 parts worth about $700,000. Heavy equipment includes four lathes, major drill presses and milling machines, hydraulic presses and lots of different kinds of welding gear — all supported by an annual $4-million maintenance budget.

“We are well along the path to becoming a maintenance department, as opposed to being a repair department,” says Wilson Methven, the plant’s manager of engineering and maintenance. “Maintenance is always cheaper than repair,” he quickly adds. “The company has had a lot of success in selling the concept that increased preventive maintenance (PM) decreases downtime.”


There are 1,100 pieces of machinery listed in the Datastream MP2 Ver. 6.0 computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) that the company uses. “We use the work order module, the work order request and PM task generation,” says supervisory coach Alan Power.

Scheduling for the next week’s work is done every Thursday. “We go in and look for the PM tasks that are scheduled. We print them out Monday morning. We also do a printout every day to account for the short-order work order, to take care of the day-to-day maintenance.

“Emergency work is done by the lone mechanics with no interface with the CMMS program. We used to do that but it creates a lot of work … although we are debating going back to that so we can do better equipment costing,” says Power.

Dedicated line workers carry out PM for the day and week. “They are responsible for starting up the equipment. They have radio communication with the machinery operators, production coach and maintenance coach,” says Power. Many line operators carry mobile Motorola communications gear so they can contact maintenance without leaving the line or trying to shout over the noise of the equipment.

Maintenance creates a PM task for every new piece of equipment that comes into the plant. The tasks generally follow manufacturers’ recommendations, but they are sometimes modified, not only to bring them in line with operational experience on similar equipment, but to put the tasks in line with available manpower.

Having said that, Methven adds, “PM schedules are not extended arbitrarily. There is a lot of study behind the changes. Some we have extended, and in some cases we have found that the PM schedules have been too long and we have shortened them.” Power adds, “We have been adjusting the PM schedules on a regular basis, to our benefit.”

During the July shutdown, says Methven, “Maintenance is well planned, a lot of advance work is done, and we use outside contractors. During shutdowns all of our maintenance people are here.”

Specialized work is done by contractors

Like many plants, highly-specialized and oversized work is contracted out; e.g., work too big for the 24-in. lathe; major roof, floor, wall repairs; and service on major equipment like the industrial radar microwave. Service technicians, some from as far away as Germany, make plant calls for complex equipment like baggers, packagers and sealers.

“When the technicians come in, our people pick their brains, but we will never get to the point where we will not need outside technicians,” says Methven.

There are no shortage of maintenance challenges, but two that come to mind, says Methven, are the Baader equipment, which requires continual attention by two mechanics, and the refrigeration. There are 22 refrigeration compressors, ranging from 200 hp to 500 hp, two 400-hp fire tube boilers, one 600-hp water tube boiler and a 150-hp auxiliary boiler to maintain.

Perhaps the toughest challenge is keeping the fleet of four trawlers, with a combined total of 3,500 gross registered tonnes, seaworthy 12 months of the year. “It is difficult for land-based personnel to relate to the stresses on a ship at sea. Also, we are governed by Transport Canada and subject to regular inspections. Ships are certified for operation,” notes Methven.

The marine mechanics work outside 12 months a year. “We try and use common sense when scheduling work, but we have to get it done,” says Power. But bad weather is a continual problem.

Methven adds, “When the vessels are active, we are on a 48-hour turnaround. Sometimes you try and wait for a better day for maintenance, but it is often not in the cards.”

Recently, worn seal sleeves in the Fortune trawler’s stern tube (where the propeller shaft exits the hull) caused a leak and the ship had to be dry docked. The delivery time from the manufacturer for a new sleeve (just 8- in. long, with an OD of 260 mm and ID of 240 mm) would have been three weeks and cost $12,000. In addition, the dry docking costs while waiting for the OEM piece would have totaled $6,000.

Instead, Methven contracted Atlantic Hardchrome in Dartmouth to manufacture a new sleeve from a special alloy. “It cost $4,500, the turn time was six days and the dry docking fees were only $2,000.”

When you’re at the mercy of the outdoor environment, and downtime is cutting into corporate productivity, such innovation is often the key to a successful maintenance solution.

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

Team leader profiles

Wilson Methven, Highliner’s manager of engineering & maintenance, trained in mechanical engineering technology and has worked 28 years for the company. He worked in the Halifax division as plant maintenance supervisor, maintenance marine supervisor and plant/marine superintendent from 1974-1983. He then moved to the Louisburg division from 1984-1993 as marine manager responsible for fleet maintenance and the crews. Methven became maintenance manager in 1993 and engineering and maintenance manager in 1999.

Alan Power is an electrical technologist by trade, with an industrial electrician’s ticket. He has spent his 14-year tenure with Highliner as the supervisory coach. Before that, he worked eight years as an electrical technologist at Imperial Oil’s Dartmouth refinery.


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