Shaking Out the Bad Pennies
"Now stop writing and I'll tell you something," announces Michel Beaudin, director of maintenance at the McAuslan Brewery in Montreal.
“Now stop writing and I’ll tell you something,” announces Michel Beaudin, director of maintenance at the McAuslan Brewery in Montreal.
“When I came here, the brewery was making 320 hectolitres between five in the morning and eight at night. Now we can make 320 hectolitres between seven in the morning and three in the afternoon.
“Two years after I came here, it was an historic day: we were making 200 hectolitres more in the bottling area in the same period of time.”
Some would say that Beaudin’s first day on the job three years ago was a bad omen: a conveyor broke and the production line was shut down till the next day. Back then, production shutdowns were a weekly occurrence. But Beaudin simply set about standing maintenance — such as it was — on its head and shaking out the bad pennies.
“During those three years, we didn’t have a big plan. We just did our job,” Beaudin says. Perhaps, but it certainly seems clear that he had plenty of powerful small plans in mind for the 40,000 sq ft plant the company moved into six years ago from smaller digs.
Founded in 1992, McAuslan was the first microbrewery in Quebec.
Beaudin waged a kind of war of attrition against reactive maintenance. “Every time we had a problem, we fixed it so the problem would never come back. In the beginning, the machines told us when they needed fixing. We decided to [change things] so we could tell the equipment when we would fix it.”
At the time Beaudin signed on, the maintenance department had an air of desperation about it: A repair order meant “Go fix that machine and do your best.” The maintenance department used pads of paper to write orders for parts and faxed them to suppliers. The department kept no history of parts purchases and had no maintenance history. As for the parts department, Beaudin recalls, “It used to be faster to take the car, go to the supplier to buy, say, bearings, bring them back and fix the machine, than it was to find the part in the shop.”
Under Beaudin’s guidance, maintenance began using the Cogz CMMS system the plant owned but had never used. Maintenance set up a work order system and spent a year establishing a good first version of a preventive maintenance (PM) program. And yes, setting up a purchase order system was a lot of work in the beginning, since the team had to enter each part number and supplier contact information in the CMMS.
The work order system allows a task list to be printed out every day with a list of daily or weekly jobs that need to be done. There is a master list of PM tasks, and it indicates when and who needs to do them. There are also pages describing the ‘problem of the day’, where priority tasks are set out. This straightforward, orderly system assures Beaudin that the maintenance team always knows what to do, even if Beaudin himself is away on special projects.
The up-front investment of effort eventually started paying off. Within two years, maintenance began to get a decent repair history with which it could start to fine tune the PM program. Breakdowns decreased and unscheduled production line shutdowns dwindled to maybe twice a year. Beaudin recalls, “We had equipment we had to replace every year, but we knew that was not normal.”
The accumulated knowledge about parts usage is going to allow Beaudin to set up an automatic parts replenishment system this year. “You have to be very sharp with your min/max,” he notes. The value of the spares inventory has increased every year as the team learns what parts and equipment it needs to stock; the plant now carries $360,000 worth of well-organized spares.
Maintenance works with its suppliers to learn what parts they are able keep in stock in order to reduce the cost to the brewery of carrying inventory. Beaudin prefers to work with the same suppliers, but wisely check prices with the competition. “We sometimes have made many cost savings by changing suppliers.”
Two years ago, Beaudin also initiated a policy of being as close as possible to parts fabricators and cutting out the middleman. “We feel we get better service buying directly from the fabricators. We want the right information and we save money like that. It is not true that just because you sell everything you will have the best prices.”
McAuslan used to use a lot of subcontractors, but it was costly. Most of the work is done internally now — the maintenance shop space has been doubled — and Beaudin feels that his guys, with their insider knowledge, can do the best work and generate ideas to improve the equipment.
Since the plant runs 24 hours a day, five days a week, Beaudin balanced the maintenance team’s work schedule, increasing the night shift staffing to three maintenance employees, and reducing the day shift to three maintenance staffers. This also reflects the reality that little maintenance is possible during production anyway.
The night shift does many of the jobs on the task list, including PM and emergency repairs. The guy at the end of the night shift does a tour to make sure everything is okay and he writes the task list for the next day. He also makes notes of the things that have to be done first the next day. The first thing every morning, the team reads its e-mails, which improves communication between the departments.
The maintenance team is heavily oriented to electro-style core skills, with Beaudin providing additional training so everyone will eventually have extra tickets. There is one industrial mechanic, two electro-technicians, one of whom is in charge of all the PLC programming, and two electro-mechanics, one of whom also has a high-pressure welding and stainless steel welding ticket. Beaudin’s goal is for everyone to get their Class C ticket in electricity, and thus far one of the men is so rated.
The projects Beaudin has carried out, and the way the equipment is monitored, reflects the team’s special skills on the electrical side. The team does not build equipment, but it is strong on the control side. It has designed and made a lot of automated equipment in the past three years.
Maintenance has been working for three years to outfit all of the equipment with PLCs, and Beaudin implemented a SCADA (Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition) system to watch the equipment. “This has helped us a lot to understand the plant systems. We can monitor the equipment on a 24-hour basis,” he says.
Electro-technician Martin Huet can monitor the plant from home and fix some things from there too, turning what would be a 45-minute drive to the brewery into a virtual visit to help solve problems.
Beaudin’s first big project, which he launched four months after his arrival, was to replace the heavy-handed drop packer, which broke a lot of bottles, with a robot, making McAuslan the first brewery in Quebec to use a robot to pack bottles into beer boxes.
The team also installed PLC equipment that, section by section, gradually brings the huge bottle washer up to full operating temperature. This process starts automatically hours before production begins each morning, saving a lot of time and money.
This June the team started a big project to filter and recycle water for equipment that does not need potable water. “My guys bought the equipment and tubing, did the welding, installed the stainless steel tanks, trouble-shot it and fixed it. They built two big control panels to control it; for example, fill and stop switches, and switches for the valves. We also improved our effluent system,” says Beaudin.
The team still does some reactive maintenance, but the amount of PM is steadily increasing. What has really improved, though, is the time it takes to fix problems. “Many times we can make patches or fixes so we do not have to shut down production,” Beaudin explains. “If production [the equipment] works well, we have time to work on projects. Everyone prefers to work on projects than do maintenance.”
Carroll McCormick is the senior contributing editor for Machinery & Equipment MRO. He is based in Montreal.
Responding to the challenge
After having had engineering posts in industries such as food, security hardware, packaging and aeronautics, in 2004 Michel Beaudin became the maintenance director at McAuslan Brewery in Montreal. His overhaul of the maintenance department has been extensive, from offering multidisciplinary training to his team members, to introducing preventive maintenance practices, computerized maintenance management, work orders, good parts management practices and a SCADA system for remote monitoring and operating of the brewery equipment.
“Now the department has a dream team that controls and operates the brewery equipment with a multidisciplinary competence,” Beaudin says. “This allows the business to maximize its investment and minimize its costs.”