MRO Magazine

Lots To Learn At The ‘Super Mill’

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 December 2008 edition, as maintenance manager Bob Edwards and members of his team visit another mill.

One more day, and then we were going to see this ‘Super Mill’. Everyone was feeling good about it , but then I realized I had forgotten something. I had talked with our reliability manager, Carol, about what we wanted to see. I had talked with our plant manager, Joe, about what information he wanted. But I had totally forgotten those who would be affected the most by what we saw — the tradespeople. I called down to the shop and asked that they get a message to Stan, the shop prep millwright who was going to accompany us on the trip, to come up to my office.

Five minutes later, Stan appeared at my door. “What can I do for you, Bob?”

“Well, after all this talk about ‘involvement’, I’ve gone and forgotten to ask the guys what they’d like to know about at the U. S. mill we’ll be visiting. Do you think you could get a list of questions that we could take with us? Talk with as many of the guys as you can.”


“Relax, Bob. I’ve already done it. Hey, I was so surprised when you asked me to come on the trip, so there was no way I was going to mess it up. I know most of the guys have been interested in what’s been going on for longer than I have, so I took it upon myself to put up a list asking for questions. We’ve got quite a few and we’ve had some good discussions in the lunch room.”

It seemed that Stan really had turned over a new leaf and was firmly on board.

“Thanks Stan. I’m glad one of us is thinking straight. That was all I wanted. I’ll see you at the airport tomorrow if I don’t see you again today.”

Stan left the office with a smile on his face — his confidence was definitely growing.

I called Carol to see if she had pulled the list of KPIs we had talked about earlier.

“I’ve gone one step further, and I’ve included all of the measures I think are important to us so we can see if they also measure them.”

My comment to Fred — about allowing people to take on the work so you could actually get everything you needed completed — really was coming true. The bonus was that it meant that everyone was thinking the same way and felt confi dent enough to take the next step alone.

The next day on the flight to the mill in Wisconsin, Stan sat next to Carol and he didn’t stop asking her questions the whole way. He was interested with a vengeance and Dave’s suggestion that Stan accompany us on this visit was looking smarter by the minute.

When we arrived, the mill looked extremely well cared for, even from the outside. Everything was spotless and if they had a ‘junk yard’ like most mills, it was very well hidden.

When we walked into the reception area, there was a large board with a greeting: “Welcome Bob, Carol and Stan from Plentya Paper, Toronto, today’s Very Important Papermakers.” Now I knew why the maintenance manager had wanted a list of visitors from me. The receptionist handed us visitor badges with our names on them and asked us to take a seat while she raised the maintenance manager.

It was obvious that Carol and Stan were impressed by the welcome when a tall, grey-haired man walked into the room and introduced himself. “Chuck Darby, maintenance manager. It’s great to meet all of you. I’ve arranged a meeting in the maintenance complex with all of the important players, who will be available to you all day, so why don’t we go over there and you can tell them exactly what it is you want to see. We will do a tour of the mill this afternoon and I’ll take you on that, so follow me.”

As we walked to the maintenance complex, it was obvious that the rest of the mill was equally as well looked after. Nothing was out of place and there were clear signs directing us to the complex and other areas of the mill. When I commented on the signs, Chuck explained, “We’ve tried to set everything up so that someone who’s been employed for only one day could do what someone has been here 20 years could do. You’ll see when you look at our procedures and other things.”

As we went up the stairs to the conference room, we could see into the maintenance shop — the same tidiness and order was evident. The mill was already turning out to be everything promised. When we entered the conference room we were greeted by eight men who then introduced themselves to us. The group consisted of the mechanical team lead, electrical team lead, planning co-ordinator, stores co-ordinator, two millwrights, an electrician and an instrument technician.

Chuck asked us if we had any questions prepared or if there was something in particular we wanted to see. “These guys can answer anything you want and they can arrange for you to see anything you want. I’ll be back around 12.30 to take you to lunch. Enjoy”

It was obvious that Chuck had perfected the art of delegation and empowerment as Alan, the mechanical team lead, took over. “I think we should tell you about the mill and answer some of your questions along the way. The mill started up almost seven years ago. This was a Greenfield mill. There are no other mills in the immediate area and the company decided to employ only a few experienced paper makers — about 10% — and the rest were taken from all sorts of jobs.

“Every one of the trades people was assigned to someone from the OEM team and took part in every stage of the commissioning. They were also required to provide enough information to develop a training package on the process they were involved with.

“This was quite a challenge for some of them as they’d never done anything like that before. We had many discussions with the group and quite candidly, we told them that if they didn’t feel capable of doing it then we would help, but if they just didn’t want to do it, then they should just accept that the fit wasn’t right and pursue other opportunities — that it wasn’t a failing, just the wrong fit.”

I could see that Stan looked a little bit uncomfortable as he commented, “I’m glad you didn’t give me that option, Bob, because I just might have taken it — and I’d never have made this change and enjoyed what we’re doing now.”

He turned to Alan and asked, “How many guys left?”

“Luckily, only one — and no more than six months later he came to try to get his job back. We left the decision about whether or not he could return with the team and it decided ‘no’. They said they felt he would disrupt the dynamics”

Stan’s eyes opened wide. “You mean you let the guys decide whether or not to give him his job back?”

“Why not?” Alan replied. “They are involved in all of the hiring processes. They are the ones who are going to have to work with whoever we hire. They’ve been trained extensively on the human resources side, but it’s their technical probing that makes it most effective.

“Anyone applying for a job with us had better be able to support and provide examples of everything on their resum. Anyone who can’t do that doesn’t last long in the interview. If they can, then their attitude will decide yes or no. The guys don’t mind if there’s not all of the expertise required for the mill on the resum. They just want to know if you can do what you say you can and have shown the ability, and more importantly, the interest, to learn.

“We’ve had only one or two people who didn’t fit in and they both left very quickly. It may seem as if we give too much authority but it comes with equal responsibility. If there’s absenteeism or lateness, the guys have to deal with it. They have peer review sessions when problems occur.”

It was becoming obvious that the mill had taken a completely different approach to i
ts operating model and I wondered how much it led to the results they were achieving.

“Anyway,” continued Alan, “the next major decision was that we would have three levels of tradespeople and each level would be based on skill blocks. That meant we had to have skill blocks! We hired a consulting company to help us develop a framework for competency-based skill blocks, which require not just training but the demonstration of the knowledge and competence in the skill.

“Remember I told you about the requirement for information for training? Well that formed the basis of the skill blocks. We have modules for hyrdraulics, pneumatics, chemicals, roll building and process knowledge for each area of the plant, along with others. When you add cross-skilling to this, it forms the building blocks around the framework.”

I couldn’t wait to see more of the mill, but Alan hadn’t finished his introduction yet.

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 at


Key Points

• Perfect the art of delegation and empowerment.

• Allow people to take on the work so you can get everything completed.

• Let the team have responsibility.


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