MRO Magazine

Open to New Ideas

Imagine how inspiring it would be if every improvement that came out of your maintenance department was rewarded with a cash deposit into your budget....

Machinery and Equipment Maintenance

April 1, 2006
By Carroll Mccormick

Imagine how inspiring it would be if every improvement that came out of your maintenance department was rewarded with a cash deposit into your budget.

“I have a budget in kilos,” says Martin Charbonneau, plant engineer and maintenance director with Manson Insulation Inc. “The goal is if we produce more by day, our budget is higher and I have more money to do maintenance. I have an incentive to help production produce more.”

Located in Brossard, Que., just across the St-Lawrence River from downtown Montreal, Manson manufactures blanket and tube insulation for commercial and industrial buildings — enough blanket annually to cover 3,500 football fields — plus 5,000 kilometres of tube.

The 20,898-sq m plant employs 150 people and runs flat out for 355 days of the year. The only plant-wide shutdown is for 10 days from December 24 to January 3.


The process of making fluffy glass insulation begins with marbles, as many as 10,000 tonnes-worth a year — enough to fill seven Olympic-size swimming pools — which are washed and then fed to three insulation-making machines. Two of the machines are 61 metres long and spit out tube insulation. A third monster-size unit is 122 metres long and 18.3 metres high and produces an endless stream of fluffy white blanket insulation.

The marbles are fed by gravity into scores of small crucibles, where they are melted at 1,371C. The molten glass streams in thin filaments out of small holes and, with a jet engine roar, ferocious blasts of orange flames blow them to smithereens, to float away like cotton candy. The glass fibre settles on long belts, where it is transported through the machines, binder is added and tube and blanket insulation comes out the other ends of the machines.

Charbonneau says the only way to increase production is to wring more product out of the machines and to increase uptime. Today’s very busy schedule is a very different picture than in 1986, for example, when weak markets kept the machines idle one month out of two.

The task of increasing production falls to the 19 maintenance employees, including 10 mechanics, two electricians, four engineers and one unique specialist: the “prepos au creusets” — the man in charge of the crucibles. His full-time job is to break out and replace worn crucible linings.

Charbonneau heaps credit on his staff and the production workers for the innovation and co-operation that increases uptime. “We save more money with good ideas than by repairing equipment. There is a very good relationship between maintenance and production. This is very rare. We save money because people help each other.”

For example, when Charbonneau started at the plant in 1996, it took 10 hours every three weeks to clean and do maintenance on the machines. Now it takes four to five hours. “We are very open to new ideas from our people. Very often there are single ideas that are cheap, but which can save so much.”

Chain replacement cut from 12 hours to 2

Here’s another example. There is a 3.05-metre by 15.24-metre chain we have to replace every three months. When I came here in 1996 it took 12 hours to replace. I asked everyone how we could do it faster. A lot of ideas came out of the meeting. Now we can replace the chain in two hours.”

Maintenance has made many modifications to its modus operandi to improve uptime. For example, although the team does do scheduled parts replacement, it introduced vibration analysis just last December, with surprising results. “Some of the parts we were changing on the preventive maintenance (PM) schedule were good, some parts that were not scheduled to be changed were no good. So we changed the schedule. We hope it will save us money,” Charbonneau explains.

In order to reduce the frequency of electrical failures, and especially hard-to-diagnosis intermittent failures, Charbonneau has had an outside company do infrared temperature analyses of the plant’s electrical systems the last two Decembers running.

“We found that there were a lot of connectors that were no good and wires that were not tight enough. The infrared analysis is very expensive, but the repairs are cheap. It took only four hours to do the analysis of the whole plant. It takes five seconds to see that there is nothing wrong, but if they see something wrong, they will take both an infrared and a real picture,” Charbonneau explains.

PM routines have reduced unnecessary inspections, and the maintenance team now increases or decreases inspection intervals to reflect actual wear cycles. Maintenance personnel follow different temperature reading routes every day, with the following benefit, says Charbonneau: “If a bearing temperature is too high, we shut down that piece of equipment and repair it, so it won’t break on a weekend when there is just one mechanic on duty.”

Visual inspections are an important part of the routine too, including the old trick of putting a screwdriver to the machine and the ear and listening for vibration. “It is quick and easy, not expensive, but you have to train your people to hear the vibration,” says Charbonneau. “PM is very good for us and downtime has been reduced a lot.”

In April 2006, the maintenance team expected to have its new Maximo computerized maintenance management program (CMMP) on line. This project was launched in June 2005, and has been carried out with painstaking care.

“We have already trained our people; four people and the store manager have access. The software is installed and loaded with a ‘false’ database. We are testing the new system and when we are sure that Maximo is working properly, we will switch over to it. We don’t want to lose the real data and we don’t want to key the data over manually. As it is, we will lose 20% of our old data,” Charbonneau explains.

Maximo will allow repairs to be billed to specific machines, rather than to processes, as is currently the case with the old MS DOS-based computerized software system. “We will be able to tell, for the first time, how much it costs to run a piece of equipment. What we want to find out is whether we are spending too much on systems that don’t need it; we do not have statistics that tell us how much it costs to run each machine,” Charbonneau says.

Maximo will also mean that all of the pieces of equipment in the plant can be entered in the CMMP, compared to just 60% in the old program.

Harsh environment

There are many challenges to keeping the machines at Manson running: Among others, the intense heat carbonizes bearing grease, and glass fibres are harsh on bearing surfaces. Sections of the machines can be shut down briefly for repairs, but some parts of the machines are so difficult to restart — for example, the hearts of the machines, including the ovens — that it is cheaper to scrap material while maintenance is being carried out than to shut down the machines.

The machines are all custom made, and date back to the plant’s construction in 1973; Manson bought the plant in 1986. Making the machines more maintenance-friendly and increasing production is a challenge. All plans to upgrade the machines and increase production cross Charbonneau’s desk, and the depth of skill in his team means that 95% of all the maintenance and repair work can be done in-house.

Manson has a well-nurtured relationship with suppliers. “We have long-term relationships with most of our suppliers. They give us 24-hour support, even though they might not give this support to other customers,” says Charbonneau.

But the real key to success, he says, is the people. “We have a lot of ways to do maintenance, but be sure that everyone is well-trained and that people want to work with each other.”

Montreal-based Carroll McCormick is a senior contributing editor for Machinery & Equipment MRO.

What I like about my job

Martin Charbonneau was fresh out of school when he joined Manson Insulation in 1996 as a project engineer. He then became maintenance manager for the plant mecha
nical operations, then plant engineer and maintenance director in 2000.

He says, “What I like about my job is that I have the power to change things. My boss gives me goals, but I’m free to reach them my way. Also, normally in maintenance you only see the machinery part, but in my case, I’m also very involved in production improvements.

“When you can have really good maintenance-production coordination, it’s very motivating and it’s also the best way to save money!”