MRO Magazine


Less Downtime Less Cost

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 issue,...

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 issue, we pick up where we left off in the December 2009 edition, as maintenance manager Bob Edwards gets ready to implement significant changes.

Everything seemed to be progressing nicely. The time had come for us to hold a meeting with everyone on the maintenance team to discuss what we’d seen during our information-gathering trip to the paper mill in Wisconsin. I asked Carol to set up the meeting, with the trip report as the only item on the agenda.

The next day there was definitely a buzz in the room. When Stan, our millwright from stock prep, started to explain how much self-management he had seen at the Wisconsin mill and how enthusiastic he had become about the whole process, there were more than a couple of surprised faces.

I glanced across at Dave, the millwright from plant services, who had a smirk on his face. After all, his idea of sending Stan along on the trip had proved to be priceless. In fact, another millwright, Pete, commented that “if it was good enough to make Stan get this excited, it must have been really good.”

After we had discussed all of the great things the US mill was doing, I felt it was time to get to the heart of the matter.

“There is one thing that the guys clearly understood down there and that’s this whole effort is bottom-line driven. If they’re not successful, then they’ll find a different way of operating. The good news is that they are successful and their results are well known at the corporate level.

Now, for us here, the decision has been made. We’re going to strive for those same results by using their model. Joe, as plant manager, will be talking about this in the Town Hall meetings we’re going to hold, so I’m not going to go into details. But I think we’re going to enjoy the ride.”

Dave had been sitting quietly through all of the discussions and he hadn’t joined in before, when everyone else had gotten really excited about self-managing. When I asked if there were any other questions or comments, he raised his hand.

“Getting back to your comment, Bob, what are the maintenance things we’re going to do to help the bottom line?”

“Great question, Dave. That’s something we all need to remember. Whatever it is we do will have to have an impact on the profitability of the plant. That means we need to produce more paper and reduce the cost of doing so.

“We will be installing on-line vibration monitoring on the paper machine during the next shutdown and then we’ll look at where else it will benefit. What we found in Wisconsin is that they don’t shut down to change their major rolls as often as we do, so that has a direct impact on costs. They also don’t stock the major bearings for the rolls — in fact they don’t stock too much of anything that they pay for up front.” I went on to explain how they had managed to get their suppliers to provide goods on consignment.

“So, that’s what it’s all about — less downtime, less cost, more paper. We need to look at where we have breakdowns and eliminate them. Where we have high costs, reduce them. And with what we do that has no added value, we’ll stop it doing it.

“I think we’ve made some great strides. When was the last time we had to shut down the mill because of the wastewater pump? We haven’t bought a spare part for it since Dave made his modification. I know Carol, our reliability manager, has worked with you to add more meaning to our preventive maintenance reports — our PMs. Most have a value to them, so we can monitor trends now, instead of just reading a sheet of checkmarks or ‘OKs’. As well, we’ve reduced our downtime to 6% from 9%.”

“It’s down to 5% now, Bob,” interrupted Carol. “I just ran the report yesterday. I’ve been playing around with some numbers from the CMMS and it seems that our average MTTR [mean time to repair] is dropping.”

“And? ” questioned Pete.

“That means that we are taking less time to get the plant back up and running.”

“And?” (Pete again.)

” That probably means we are catching the symptoms earlier and so we are not having such major repairs.”

“I’ll speak for myself,” said Pete, “but since we’ve had these values on the PMs, as soon as I see a change for the worse, I try to do something about it; usually a small, quick repair or adjustment.” The nodding heads around the room confirmed that Pete wasn’t the only one doing this.

I then explained about how we would install a prominent KPI [key performance indicator] board in the shop so we could see how we were doing. Then I asked them to really look at ways in which we could do better in their departments. I asked Pete, Ted, Tom and Brian to stay behind after the meeting so we could discuss the vibration monitoring installation that our vibration consultant, John, had talked about with them.

“John seems to have everything under control from his end and we’ve asked Carol to make sure the installation is on the shutdown schedule,” said Pete.

“That’s good, but what about from our end — are we prepared?” I asked.

“Not too sure what you mean, Bob. We’ve got someone assigned to work with him.”

“What about after it’s installed?”

I went on to explain that installing the vibration monitors was only the beginning — the means to an end. We were going to need training in what the numbers meant, what to do if an alarm came up and what role the operators would play.

“Based on the meeting we’ve just had, I’d like you guys to take on these responsibilities and make sure everyone gets up to speed as soon as possible. At least have something in place for start-up on Thursday. Feel free to use John as you see fit.”

I swear there was a swagger in their step as they left the meeting room. It seemed as if the changes were going to be easier than even I had imagined. I headed up to Joe’s office to talk about our KPIs, feeling at peace with the world.

“Just sit there, Bob,” said Joe, pointing to the chair on the other side of his desk. This was a little unusual as we normally sat around the table in the corner of Joe’s office. It was as if he was trying to put a barrier between us. It soon became apparent why.

“Bob, you’re going to have to take this improvement program more seriously than you have been.”

That I was shocked is putting it mildly. I was at a total loss for words as I felt my jaw drop.

“Corporate have looked at the numbers for maintenance at this mill and compared them with those of the Wisconsin mill. Don’t ask how they got them. What they see is that we are significantly worse and they looking for us to take advantage of the opportunities we learned about. They are expecting that we will close the gap very quickly, especially around costs, and they’re not prepared to take any excuses.”

I finally found my voice.

“But Joe, I thought they were happy with where we were headed. You even told me so. Why this sudden change? We’re much further ahead in looking to improve than any other department.”

“Okay, I understand, but you’re a victim of your own success, Bob. They were happy with how you were doing until you made the visit to the Wisconsin mill. It seems that someone at corporate was able to get in touch with someone at its head office. They discussed your visit and, well, this is the outcome.”

“I still don’t understand, Joe.”

“The report that corporate got was that they were impressed with your attitude, knowledge and team. Now comes the kicker. They couldn’t understand why we haven’t yet achieved the results they have — and that was enough for corporate to want them quicker. So, your KPIs that are non-negotiable are machine downtime due to maintenance, maintenance cost per tonne, and i
nventory turns.”

I was stunned, and I don’t remember much about how I got back to my office, or the rest of the day for that matter. When I got home that evening, my wife, Sandra, could tell there was something wrong, but she didn’t say anything while we ate dinner. We didn’t talk much as we cleaned up and it was only when I settled down to watch some TV that she came in a turned off the television.

“Alright, what happened?”

When I told her about the highs and very deep lows of the day, she just listened and it was only a couple of minutes after I had finished that she commented.

“There’s an old saying, Bob. “Be careful what you ask for because you just might get it.” You wanted change, you were quite excited about it, you wanted corporate support and you got that in spades, and last but not least, you wanted Joe to take the reins and that’s exactly what he’s doing. You need to put a positive spin on this or the rest of the team will see it very quickly.”

“How can I put a positive spin on ‘You’re not doing well enough’. I feel as if everything we’ve done has been ignored.”

“That’s where you’re wrong, Bob. Corporate has been behind you all the way and has asked that you set things up so others can copy them. Joe has continually supported your changes and you’ve really been paid a compliment by the people in Wisconsin. If you don’t believe that you can achieve these goals, then you’re not the man I married.

“There’s also the last and most important point that you missed. Think back to the beginning of the day, the general meeting, then the meeting with Pete and the guys. They believe you can do it and they are the ones who can achieve these goals. And usually, they are the hardest ones to get on board, yet you’ve got them firmly on your side.

“Cheer up! You’re so close to success.”

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


Key Points

Soft skills are only warranted if they bring hard results.

Success brings its own rewards and challenges.

Listen to your significant other.