MRO Magazine

High Standards Met At Every Corner

By Cliff Williams   

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 installments are archi...

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 installments are archived online at this issue, we pick up where we left off in the Feburary 2009 edition, as maintenance manager Bob Edwards and members of his team visit another mill.

The small group from our mill in Canada was touring a so-called ‘Super Mill’ in the United States. Our guide, Alan, the mill’s mechanical team lead, continued to tell us about the history of his facility.

“The mill reached its design production rate approximately six months after start-up and we’ve increased our production rate many times since.”

“That really is impressive,” commented Carol. “How have you been able to keep the demand increasing in a shrinking marketplace?”


“Our paper is the preferred choice at every one of our customers. We run better, more trouble-free than any of our competitors and our relationship is excellent with every one of the customers.”

“But how has maintenance helped that and how has the extra demand affected how you do maintenance?”

“Obviously, we’ve needed to make sure that the mill could run at full capacity, but we don’t do anything in isolation. We are involved in every facet of the plant. The mill has established a Customer Improvement Association — the CIA for short — where we have teams dedicated to each of our customers.

“We offer visits to the pressrooms, we have the customers visit our mill and we have a designated contact person who handles any enquiries from the customer. Two of our millwrights and one electrician also are contact people and we have a tradesperson on every team for this.

“Similarly, if there is an equipment-related problem or if there is a project that will increase speed or reduce downtime, the operations group will be part of the team.”

“Don’t you find that having these teams actually slows down the process?” I asked. “We seem to take forever to come to a decision and quite often we can’t get everyone that we want, to attend.”

“I know what you mean, Bob, but we have very clear guidelines. The first sin is not attending — the team lets you know in no uncertain manner. The second sin is not making decisions. We don’t tolerate endless discussions; everyone is expected to come to the meeting prepared and up-to- speed, so then it’s just a discussion of the merits of the alternatives. Once consensus is arrived at, we move on. Sometimes meetings are only 20 minutes long.

“If I’m honest, then I should mention that there is usually a lot of discussion outside of the meeting. We all consider continuous improvement to be part of our everyday job.”

“This is really interesting, Alan. Tell us more,” I requested.

“We’ve done so many things over the past few years that it’s hard to pick out the highlights. We’ve installed full online vibration monitoring, we have a mini oil analysis lab, we use infra-red analysis not only on our electrical equipment but also for heat loss.

“We carry out Motor Current Analysis once a year but we’re looking at some new technology that will allow us to monitor constantly.

“We also made a significant saving when we did an ultrasonic leak detection survey. We were having problems with erratic responses on some of the equip- ment due to lack of air — that’s what prompted it — and when we had finished repairing leaks and changed the way some the air lines were run, we had so much air capacity we were able to permanently shut down a compressor.”

“Okay, you’ve convinced us! How about we take a look around the shop?” Carol suggested.

We all headed down to the shop and the first thing I noticed was a very large board with maintenance KPIs (key performance indicators) written on it. It contained daily, weekly and monthly results where appropriate, and any that didn’t meet the target had a comment beside them.

I could see Carol busily taking notes while Stan was looking around in some form of disbelief. The shop was spotless and each workbench had the same setup, with bins for parts attached to them.

The lathe and milling machine were pristine — and there was none of the junk that you found in our shop around the hydraulic presses. At one end of the shop there was a collection of carts with tools neatly laid out on them, each with drawers and a vice. Alan noticed me staring at the carts.

“They’re our standard job carts. We have a number of jobs that we do on a regular basis that require larger tools and rigging, so we set up carts that contain all that’s needed to do the job. There is a kit of spare parts in the drawers so there’s no reason for anyone to leave the job site at all. This means the job gets done a lot quicker and we’re back into production a lot sooner.

“The cleaning and restocking is done when we’re making paper again. Remember when we talked about our competency training? Well, there’s a procedure on how to do the job in one of the drawers, along with a list of all spares and tools required, so if anyone’s not sure about something, the information is there for them.”

“So that’s what Chuck meant when he said that things are designed so that someone new can do exactly what an experienced person can,” I commented.

“It certainly does shorten the learning curve,” said Alan. “And it also means that things get done the right way and that’s really important for reliability. Let’s keep going.”

We went into the stores where again everything was neat and tidy. What was really impressive was three shelves with bins containing parts and a copy of the work order attached. When I commented on the bins, Alan explained.

“Pretty much every job on our backlog list has a kit prepared. That way, if an opportunity should arise before the scheduled date, then all we have to do is come in here and pick up the kit. For jobs that are to get done on their scheduled date, we deliver the kits to staging locations in the different areas of the plant.”

We found more of the same as we walked around the maintenance complex. It all exuded efficiency, with everything having its place and everything in its place. Locations were painted on the floor, there were pictures of how things should look, and every tool was neatly stored with outlines marked on peg boards.

When Chuck showed up to take us for lunch, I asked him if things had been tidied up just for our visit.

“No way! Folks who do that are not kidding their visitors, they’re kidding themselves. A couple of years ago we decided to implement a 5S program, not just in the maintenance department but throughout the plant — as you’ll see when we take a tour.”

Chuck was as good as his word. Wherever we went in the plant, there were locations clearly marked and there was nothing just sitting around. One of the surprises was when we arrived at the stock prep area. At our plant, everything was bare concrete, but what we found here was tile everywhere.

“Wow, Chuck, this must have cost a fortune. What prompted you to tile everything?”

“How long does it take you to get your area looking as clean as this?” he asked.

“No idea. I’ve been in the mill five years and I’ve never seen it this clean!”

“Exactly. It takes us about 15 minutes a day to keep this place clean . We never lose equipment due to contamination and it helps us develop a feeling of pride. Our belief is that if people have to work in a mess, you can’t expect them to do an outstanding job — and that’s what we expect from them. Let’s have lunch.”

Alan took us to the cafeteria where the food was as good as in any restaurant. I noticed that the prices of the meals were minimal.

“Wow, do you mind if I bring my wife here for dinner one evening?” I joked. “The food is great and the prices fit into my budget!”

“It’s just another way we build in pr
ide and belief in the company. Everyone knows that the meals are subsidized and they are grateful. We also have one meal a week that is suggested by anyone at the mill.”

“You really do take care of your people. But don’t you find that it gets in the way?”

“Not at all. There is a sense of community in the plant — to the extent that there is a group that volunteers to take on local community projects. Last month they decorated a retired person’s house; the group volunteered their time and the company bought the materials.”

“All of this must be costing quite a bit of money that’s coming off the bottom line — just to make people feel better.”

“You’re missing the point, Bob. We don’t do all this just to make people feel better — that’s a byproduct. The decision was made when this mill was built that this type of employee involvement was essential if we were to meet our projected profits. As you’ll see later, people here have tremendous freedom to make decisions and we believe that every one of them will save us money in one way or another. It must work, as we have met targets every year, even though they’ve steadily increased.

“But have no doubt, if we didn’t meet targets and the owners believed it was because of our level of commitment to this program, it would end. We owe it to the owners and shareholders to maintain profits and everyone at the plant understands this. They know that if this is to remain our operating model, then it has to be successful and they’re dedicated to it.”

It was becoming even more apparent to us why this mill was held in such high esteem by the industry.

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


Key Points

• Use available maintenance technologies

• Make decisions quickly

• Keep the shop clean to build pride


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