MRO Magazine

Keeping management onside

This article is part of an ongoing series. The introduction appeared in Machinery & Equipment MRO's Feb. 2005 issue and the series has run in every issue since. Previous installments are archived ...

September 1, 2006
By Cliff Williams

This article is part of an ongoing series. The introduction appeared in Machinery & Equipment MRO’s Feb. 2005 issue and the series has run in every issue since. Previous installments are archived online at In this issue, we pick up where we left off in our June 2006 issue. Maintenance manager Bob Edwards of the Plentya Paper Company has imparted the importance of completing work order paperwork and is exploring better ways of handling PMs. But unanticipated trouble arises.

I felt pretty good after the meeting with the stock prep guys; they seemed to want to get involved and it was a good sign that Ivan from that department was taking up the challenge. He was the unofficial leader in stock prep and the rest of the guys seemed to follow his lead every time. Previously, even though he was one of our better millwrights, he sometimes was negative about any changes I proposed.

When I got back from the meeting there was a telephone message from Joe Davis, the plant manager, asking me to come up to his office when I had a chance. I thought there was no time like the present so I headed upstairs to his office.

“Come in, Bob,” invited Joe, “I’ve been meaning to catch up with you for a while. I noticed a new contractor on site working with the guys on shutdown and again this week. I just wondered who he was and what he was doing.”


“Sorry Joe, I’ve got so wound up in what’s going on that I’ve forgotten to keep everyone else up to speed,” I replied. I told him about how we had asked John to come in and do some vibration readings and what he had found with the misalignment and where we were going next.

“Sounds good, Bob, but how much is this costing me and what am I really getting for the money?”

I had started explaining how we had identified the problem on the press roll, how the guys were beginning to get involved and how we were going to change our approach to maintenance, when Joe interrupted me.

“Whoa, Bob!” he said. “That’s all very well but it seems to be a little bit philosophical, you know, a little bit soft and fuzzy. I don’t think I’d be comfortable going back to my boss to ask him to support this — and if I don’t feel comfortable going back to him, then I can’t really support you in this effort. Unless you can show me some kind of payback for this cost, then I’m afraid I’m going to have to pull the plug on it. Sorry, Bob.”

I felt like I had been hit by a truck — I had been so absorbed in what we were doing that I didn’t even stop to think that I had to convince everyone else that it was the right way to go.

“What’s up, Bob? You’re looking very pale,” Carol enquired as I passed her office.

“I’ve just come from Joe’s office and he told me we have to stop the vibration analysis if I can’t show him some return on what we’re paying,” I said.

“Are you really surprised, Bob?” said Carol. “Just think about what you told the guys in one of our first meetings — about how we have to support the company’s goals and not just concentrate on being the best maintenance department in the world. Remember the story about being the best orchestra on a cruise ship playing on the Titanic? It doesn’t matter what you are doing to make the maintenance group better, you’re going to have to show a return on investment or Joe won’t support it. And we both know that if we don’t get upper management involved, we’ll never succeed.

“I don’t mean to worry you, Bob, but predictive maintenance is the hardest to justify.”

“Thanks Carol, just what I wanted — words of encouragement!” I laughed. “You’re right about the return on investment but what do you mean about ‘predictive’ being so hard?”

“Well think about it from Joe’s point of view. You’re going to tell him that if he doesn’t see anything happening, then you’ve succeeded. That’s the problem. You can never really show the failures you’ve prevented until you do analysis of the equipment — and that’s after the fact. Nobody can put a number on the savings up front as there are many causes that can result in failures and, despite the name, you can’t ‘predict’ that right now.”

“So what you’re saying is that we have to try and get Joe to take a leap of faith,” I said.

“No, not really,” said Carol. “What we have to do is demonstrate the need for vibration analysis. We’ll have to look at the failures we’ve had in the past and show how we could have handled things better with vibration analysis.

“If you think back to the suction roll bearing failure last year, we had to send the roll out to have the journal built up and re-machined. That cost a bundle. We had to change two of the paper-carrying felts and they cost $40,000 each and the downtime was double what it would have been if we had picked up the problem earlier with vibration analysis. If we can put a few of those examples together, it’ll be a breeze.”

“You’re right, Carol. How did you figure all of this out — don’t tell me it’s your maintenance night classes,” I said.

“The other thing that I’m sure we do is change parts when there’s nothing wrong with them,” I added. “We change bearings on every major roll once a year just because that’s what the rest of the paper industry does, not because they’ve shown signs of failure — and that costs $100,000 a roll. Thanks a lot, Carol, I guess I needed a reality check.”

When I got back to my office I decided I had better get as much information together as I could to persuade Joe to let us carry on. The sad part was that I was going to have to use my ‘post mortem’ file as this was the only real record we had of the major failures over the past couple of years.

After going through the file, I felt a little awkward, as I was going to have to highlight how we had failed to justify what I wanted to do. Fortunately, there were a couple of examples I could use along with the suction roll failure. We had lost our main fan pump that supplied the raw stock to the paper machine due to a bearing failure, that cost us 16 hours of downtime when we were in the middle of a run of special- finish paper for a big customer. As well, there was the gearbox that the guys said had really disrupted the production schedule when it failed.

I started to pull the facts together in the hope that I would be able to present a strong case for carrying on with vibration analysis.

The next morning I met with the paper machine crew to discuss what we were doing and was surprised when the guys took the lead in the meeting. “Bob, we’ve noticed that the paper machine is running at about 90% design speed again and it’s got nothing to do with vibration in the main drive motor, as we took care of that problem during the last shutdown. Any idea why it’s running so slow?” asked Pete.

“From what I understand, they are having problems drying the sheet so they have to slow the machine down,” I replied. “They’re trying to figure out if we have enough steam or we’re backing up with condensate.”

“Well, I know of a couple of tools that would help them,” said Ted.

“Please enlighten us,” said Pete.

“Since I spent that time with John looking at vibration,” Ted explained, “I’ve been reading a bunch of magazines on predictive maintenance. There were some good articles about problems such as we have, and what people were using was heat detection and ultrasound.

“One of the reasons you can lose heat is if a steam trap is stuck; they say that with a little experience or even with a good comparison, you can tell a stuck trap from a working one by using ultrasound. The funny thing is that John mentioned he carries out steam trap surveys for some of his customers.”

“That’s interesting,” I told Ted. “I think I’ll give John a call after the morning production meeting, which reminds me, I’d better see what they have to say.”

I headed off to the morning meeting and was concerned when I saw Joe Davis already there. The plant manager only showed up if there were major issues.

“I guess you’re all wondering why I’
m here,” started Joe. “Well, we’re in trouble with our customers. Last month we had that problem with the main drive motor that caused us to run at reduced speed. We fixed that but now we’re running at 90% again because of the drying problem. Corporate wants to know what we are doing about it and how quick we are going to be. Some major customers are threatening to pull their business if we can’t guarantee delivery. So what’s happening?”

Fred Jacobs, the production manager, started to talk about how it might be steam or condensate problems, when Joe interrupted him.

“Fred, I don’t want to know what the problem is! I’m looking for solutions. This is a serious situation with our customers. They don’t care what we think the problem might be, they want their paper.”

Figuring that I didn’t have much to lose, I stepped up. “I think I might have someone who can help Joe. You remember that vibration guy I told you about?”

“This has got nothing to do with vibration!” snapped Fred.

I explained what Ted had told me about using ultrasound on the steam traps. Joe ended the discussion by saying, “Unless you’ve got any better ideas, let’s give it a try.”

I was back on the trail again!

Cliff Williams is maintenance manager at Coca-Cola Ltd., Toronto, Ont., and a consultant with TMS Total Maintenance Solutions of Markham, Ont. He can be reached at

Key Points

* Keep everyone apprised of what you are doing

* Any project must make business sense

* Join classes or forums to keep up to date

* Seize the moment!