MRO Magazine

One step ahead One step back

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 instalments are archived online at this...

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 June 2010 edition, as maintenance manager Bob Edwards deals with the loss of a key member of his team, yet gets some good news about his department’s spares inventory.

As Carol and I sat down and reviewed re-the reports she had prepared, the whole picture of what was — and what had been — happening in the department became more apparent.

“Look at this report, Bob. It’s a combination of the downtime reports and breakdowns that occur in the first 24 hours after the shutdown. There seems to be more breakdowns in that period than any other week.”

“Well, when you think about it, that supports what we learned about failure distributions. Remember, the most failures occur at the earliest part of the life cycle.”


“Exactly, so it seems that if we can convince Fred that we don’t need to shut down to change out rolls, we’ll certainly see maintenance downtime dramatically reduced.”

“Thanks, Carol this is great. I’ll adjust the roll change schedule to reflect what they did at the paper mill we visited in Wisconsin, and add these reports. I’m sure Joe, the plant manager, will be happy.”

When I got back to my office, I started to work on the new shutdown schedule for changing rolls. In Wisconsin they said that they now changed rolls on an average of every 18 months instead of six, so that was easy. But we still needed to shut down for operations reasons, so I wasn’t sure that I could just not schedule shutdowns.

I took a look through my shutdown records and it seemed that the operators did major work every other shutdown, so I felt comfortable increasing the shutdown frequency to six weeks to start. When I factored in the reduced hours when we did shut down, things started to look pretty good. By the time I added in Carol’s report on start-up downtime, the cost of installing the on-line monitoring just paled into insignificance.

I was thinking about how I needed to thank Dave, our millwright, for pushing me in this direction, when — as if he read my mind — he came walking into my office.

“Dave! I was just thinking about you — take a look at these numbers! They’re pretty rough but you can see the order of magnitude we’re talking about.”

Dave didn’t seem as enthusiastic as I thought he would. In fact, he was quite subdued.

“Bob, remember our conversation a few weeks ago about my taking a step up the ladder and how I said that now that I’d seen the different approach, I’d started to consider it? Well, I did more than consider it. You know the car plant just outside the city? They’re looking for a maintenance supervisor, or at least they were, but they’ve got one now — me.”

My heart sank and I’m sure my jaw did too. Dave was one guy I really didn’t want to lose, but he was right — it was only a few weeks ago that I said he was ready to move up. It was obvious that Dave hadn’t made this decision lightly, as the way he had described it was almost apologetic. I needed him to feel he’d made the right decision, so I stood and offered my hand.

“Great news, Dave! I am absolutely certain you’ll be a success in no time. Just make sure to get me your contact info as soon as you can so I’ll know where to call when I need advice. How long before you leave?”

“I start two weeks on Monday but I don’t know if I can take coming into work each day with this hanging over me. It’s been the toughest decision I’ve ever made and I’m still not certain.”

“Look, Dave, both you and Carol have shown you have the talent and initiative to make a successful career in maintenance. She got her chance to move into reliability, and now you’ve got an opportunity. Grasp it with both hands and don’t look back — except to see how far behind the competition is. You must have a few weeks of vacation left, so if you want to take some time off, I’ll square it away with the human resources department.”

“Thanks, Bob. That would be great. If I could finish Friday, then I wouldn’t have time to regret it.”

“Consider it done, and good luck.”

As Dave left my office, I couldn’t help but reflect that it seemed as if for every high that we saw, a low quickly followed behind. I went back to my computer and started to look at the numbers again, when I got notice that I had a new e-mail. As I wanted a diversion, I took the time to open it. It was an advertisement for a seminar on spare parts management and even though I didn’t think I would go, I began to be intrigued by the topics. They were going to talk about optimum inventory turns, stock outs, and economical reorder quantities, and would try and figure out what were the myths and what were the facts. The suggested savings if you did things right were quite impressive.

The presenter of the seminar had recently published a book explaining what the terms meant and trying to dispel the myths around spare parts. I knew our spare parts were definitely not optimized, unless that meant we had too many. Kevin, our electrical supervisor, had already told me we had a spare motor for every roll drive on the wet end of the machine, when we only really needed one with adapter plates.

How much more of that did we have, I wondered? And before I realized what I was doing, I had ordered the book.

I remembered that we had shipped a couple of motors to our sister mills and I thought I’d check with Kevin about where we were with the rest.

“We’re pretty much down to our minimum now, Bob. But we’ve cut our inventory by half. We’ve also made some other improvements in the stores. Larry, our electrician, was changing the encoder on the rewinder last shutdown — you remember the expensive German one? Well after he’d used the last one, I was a little concerned that we would be exposed because the delivery time on the encoder is six weeks. So I asked Larry to make sure the order had been placed.

“Rather than rush off to do so, Larry suggested that we stop ordering the German encoder. He pointed out that we could use a US-made encoder that had exactly the same functionality, with a slightly different mount, and that if we drilled and tapped two holes in the rewinder frame, it could fit. Not only that, but our local supplier has them on the shelf, so we could get one here within an hour. The cost of the German encoder is $3,500 and the US one is $950, and we already have one in stock.”

“That’s great,” I told Kevin. “I’m glad to see you’re getting with the program.”

“Not only with that Bob, but I print out my backlog list every week and I’ve told the guys that there needs to be a work order for everything. When I went to tell Fred, our production manager, that the operators would have to put in work requests from now on, I was shocked, because he told me it was about time! That’s not the Fred I’m used to.”

“Like I told you a couple of weeks ago, it’s not business as usual any more, and I’m glad to see you contributing, Kevin.”

“Well, Larry contributed even more. He said that while he was in the storeroom, he noticed that there were boxes of fuses that were the same rating, just different manufacturers, and all with different part numbers. So we combined them by rating and I don’t think we’ll have to buy a fuse for a couple of years.”

Carol had told me some months ago that we were a little worse than North American average for stock turns, so I knew she had access to some information. I wondered how much more information she could get. I was sure we would be better than we were before, but I also felt there were a lot more opportunities to reduce our inventory, while reducing our spending.

Carol confirmed that we were a little improved, but she admitted that she hadn’t looked at the inventory module of the maintenance system in any depth.
She promised to at least get me what we could produce in the way of reports by the end of the week.

Later that evening, I sat with my wife, Sandy, and told her about Dave’s leaving and how I felt a loss.

“Bob, you should definitely take it as a compliment. You showed Dave that there was another way of managing, and I’m sure that allowing him to work with the suppliers on the pumps gave him confi-dence. You should use this as an example of what people can get out of taking initiative and encourage the rest of the guys to do the same. Not all are going to want to be supervisors, but I’m sure all will want an enriched, more engaged workplace.”

Next, I prepared myself to tell the guys about Dave the next morning.

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

If you do things right, someone moving up and on is inevitable.

Standardization and rationalization provide great savings.

You need to understand what your CMMS can tell you.


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