MRO Magazine

Maintenance Case History: Where maintenance is cut to fit

Many companies have no preventive or scheduled maintenance programs. Reasons vary: The staff is too small, the budget limited, the economic downturn has reduced the company to doing breakdown maintena...


April 1, 2002
By Carroll McCormick

Many companies have no preventive or scheduled maintenance programs. Reasons vary: The staff is too small, the budget limited, the economic downturn has reduced the company to doing breakdown maintenance only, or there is too little equipment to justify a maintenance program.

Despite such concerns, at E. F. Walter Ltd., a 108-year-old Montreal company, supervisors and machine operators have created a maintenance program and which ensures that product keeps flowing to its clients. It’s a small company but it has found that a paper-based maintenance system keeps the machines running and satisfies stringent ISO 9002 requirements.

“It is not that difficult to set up a maintenance program,” according to Ziad Akl, a mechanical engineer and the company’s technical manager. “The plant’s supervisors were polled for the maintenance requirements of the different machines. The maintenance program was created collectively; for example, the team incorporated feedback from the machine operators.

“I regard our maintenance program as essential. I can’t see how other companies operate without one. The purpose of any maintenance program is to operate non-stop and plan downtime … so there are no surprises.”

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As for the oft-heard comment that a company has no time to create and follow a maintenance program, Akl says, “That’s not understandable at all. Within a week, our maintenance program was created without any extraordinary effort. You have to motivate the whole crew so you don’t miss anything; this is not rocket science. You just have to make sure everyone is participating in the process.”

E.F. Walter custom cuts and processes felt and rubber components in plants in Montreal and Toronto. Employees fill thousands of contracts annually for soft materials such as foam, cork, felt and rubber for its client companies.

The equipment includes guillotines, adhesive laminators, punch presses, skivers and a sophisticated water jet cutter.

The company is certified under ISO 9002 standards that encompass its maintenance procedures. The company’s maintenance program is basic, but effective: A maintenance schedule written on paper and taped to each machine so the operators can refer to it to perform routine maintenance such as cleaning and lubrication. “The schedule is a must and a very good thing,” says Akl.

When required, explains Akl, “We do scheduled major maintenance when the scope of the work is more complicated and requires a trades worker. Our scheduled maintenance is not calendar-based. Rather, it is related to the number of hours the machine is used.”

An exception is the guillotines, which are stripped for scheduled maintenance over the Christmas holidays each year. “The first time (we did this) the operator came to me and said that he could not get a good adjustment and that the bushing should be replaced. A year later, he came with the same problem. We now had a trend. What do you think would happen if the operator came back on the seventh of January and the machine started working poorly? You could lose the most important customer in the company.”

Most maintenance work and repairs are carried out in-house. “We have a toolbox that everybody can use, and on every machine we have the special tools that the machine takes,” says Akl. “A lot of the equipment is custom-built.” But, he explains, “Some of our employees have been working here for 35 to 40 years. They know the equipment by heart.”

One machine, a three-year-old, computer-controlled travelling Sysco head press, is repaired by an outside company, CNC Technica Inc. of Montreal. Used to cut materials, it has hydraulic, electronic and electrical components. “We have a manual for that machine that describes exactly how the maintenance is done. We used the manual to develop the maintenance program. We do the maintenance and the outside company does the repairs.”

The other complex machine is a waterjet cutter. “We repair it ourselves, although sometimes we call the manufacturer to get help by phone,” says Akl.

The maintenance program, developed in 1995 under the supervision of the plant operations manager, is carried out using controlled ISO 9002 documents. “The purpose of ISO is to make sure mistakes don’t happen and that you do it right the first time and every time. ISO tells you to keep records of maintenance. This (repair record) is a control document. If an ISO auditor asks me, I can show him our records.”

ISO 9002 requires a maintenance program, says Akl. “ISO does not specify which maintenance program, but it has guidelines. It may say that you must have a maintenance schedule but not how to do it.

“We are ISO compliant. The ideal maintenance program would be one that combines all the aspects of equipment technology and one that would be well-controlled. Putting a schedule on the wall is one thing, but making sure it is followed is a completely different thing.”

Good morale and a positive attitude on the shop floor are keys to success with operator-performed maintenance, Akl acknowledges. As for his budget requirements, he explains, “We plan our maintenance costs at the end of every year for the next year and I give my controller a figure. We have a controller who understands our needs.”

Akl believes that skimping on maintenance is ultimately self-defeating. “There is something called cost of quality in ISO. It includes something called preventive cost, where maintenance is regarded as an investment. When you say that I am putting money in maintenance, I am putting it into prevention.

“A lot of companies don’t realize the cost and impact of unscheduled downtime. You can say it will take an hour to repair, but maybe it will take three days. There is the cost of doing repairs, because you weren’t doing maintenance, there is the cost of lost production time, and you may lose a business opportunity. “You may have to call a customer to tell him you can’t complete a job in time. You have a surprise and he has a surprise. You may influence how he regards you.

“You always have to look forward. This is a competitive world. There are hundreds of competitors. You have to provide not only price, but service.”

Carroll McCormick is a contributing editor for Machinery & Equipment MRO.