By Carroll McCormickMachinery and Equipment Maintenance Operations
At seven o’clock in the morning, operators at Maritime Pride Eggs in Amherst, NS, turned on the plant’s egg-grading line. Three minutes later, the mechanical loader that picks up 60 eggs at a time and sets them into the sorter...
At seven o’clock in the morning, operators at Maritime Pride Eggs in Amherst, NS, turned on the plant’s egg-grading line. Three minutes later, the mechanical loader that picks up 60 eggs at a time and sets them into the sorter started dropping eggs. The operators quickly shut down the equipment.
Mike Eagles, the plant’s maintenance supervisor and one-man maintenance team, began searching for the cause. It took a little time, but he tracked the problem to a worn keyway, misaligning holes and a resulting drop in the air pressure used to create a vacuum in the soft suction cups that pick up the eggs.
It seems a little unusual that a 35,000 sq ft (3,252 sq m) plant that grades between 550,000 and 600,000 eggs a day would require only a single maintenance person, but the grading station and equipment are barely five years old.
Breakdowns are fairly infrequent and Eagles can deal with most problems in-house. “I can take care of any mechanical equipment and I do MIG, TIG and stick welding,” Eagles explains. He came over to Maritime Pride Eggs in 2006 after a 10-year stint in the maintenance department at Venture Lighting in Amherst.
The more straightforward equipment used in the grading process includes a tray washer, a lift for getting eggs onto the front-end of the line, a loader, an egg washer, some conveyors and a box maker.
An operator greases the tray washer bearings every couple of days and can replace any broken rods that hold the trays in place. Eagles does monthly preventive maintenance on the box maker, conveyors and tray wash. “We also blow down the equipment, oil moving parts, grease [the equipment], and check bearing plates.”
The loader is complex, but generally reliable. Eagles occasionally shuts it down briefly to replace a faulty suction cup – a task which takes all of maybe 25 seconds. Still, this summer, some bearing play was making the loader act up. Eagles temporarily fixed the problem by dialing down the processing speed to 100,000 eggs an hour until new bearings arrived and he could schedule the downtime for the repair.
Strong detergents in the egg washer have severely corroded the steel in its recirculation pumps, but Eagles, in his nicely kitted-out repair shop, has been drilling oversized holes, tapping them and installing beefier bolts before repainting the pumps.
Eagles tells a story, which comes with a little lesson, about the egg washer: “The guy that was here before bought cheap bearings. He thought they would do, as the back and forth motion on the bearings is not that much. When I changed the bearings I asked the supplier if he had a better grade of bearings. I told him to give me his dearest bearings. They cost five dollars more. We were only getting three months out of the other bearings because we get a lot of water on them. We have gotten six months and counting out of these new bearings.”
The heart of the production line is an Omni 330 sorter manufactured by Holland-based Moba. This enormously complex device is several machines in one: egg inspector, crack detector, ultraviolet disinfector, weighing system and finally, sorter by size for packing into cartons.
Because it is as much a computer as it is a mechanical system, the sorter is serviced mostly by Moba’s on-line technicians. “Moba can log on and take over the computer. The technicians can tell us what to look for. I take the portable phone and start looking around,” Eagles explains.
In 2007 Eagles flew to Holland for an entry-level service course on the sorter. Moba technicians who have visited the plant give Eagles high marks for his maintenance work on the mechanical side of the sorter. Still, notes Dwayne Ogilvie, plant manager, “We need more skill on the technical side of the grader. It is complicated.”
Eagles agrees, “I want to learn more about the sorter. I might be able to go back next spring for an advanced course.” In the meantime, he continues to learn about the sorter as problems arise. “On the electronic side, if I have any problem, the [Moba] technicians help me. Sometimes they don’t have to take over the computer. They just have to walk me through the problem one step at a time. Until I get more training on the sorter and get deeper into it, that’s all I can do for now.”
Eagles rounds out his maintenance duties with other plant tasks; e.g., unloading trucks and moving them around the yard, working on the production line and driving the pallet jack. It is not so much a matter of not having enough maintenance tasks to do, but more a matter of the plant, which has 32 employees, including seven company truck drivers, tapping Eagles to cover for any absent employee.
Eagles and Ogilvie, realizing that more maintenance is in their future as their equipment ages, have been plotting a strategy. For example, Ogilvie says, “When I first came here, in January 2008, we had no parts. I pushed to get a stock of spares and we have brought in a lot of parts over the past two years. As the sorter ages, we know parts will start to break. Our previous maintenance manager consulted with Moba on what parts we should store. We now have between $50,000 and $60,000 worth of spares — mostly electronic spares like circuit boards.”
The grading station operates Monday to Friday , 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., with no annual shutdown. This means challenges in scheduling longer maintenance tasks, such as a bearing swap in the loader that required stopping production for a day.
Ogilvie has a plan that will let Eagles schedule longer jobs without interrupting production: “Every now and again, we have to shut down for a day to line up a project, so in October we are going to try an experiment: we are going to go to four 10-hour days for production.” That will provide a day for maintenance.
Maritime Pride Eggs currently serves an area reaching roughly from St. Stephen north to Fredericton, east to Newcastle and south to Amherst, as well as the Truro and Halifax markets. It picks up eggs from 10 farms for grading and delivers them to major chains – to the tune of one million dozen eggs a month.
Still, the grading station is operating at just 60% capacity. This will rise with time, and when it does, Eagles will undoubtedly find himself busier than ever.
Carroll McCormick, senior contributing editor, is based in Montreal. He is the recipient of several awards for his articles in Machinery & Equipment MRO.