Survivors of Heat
When you're dealing with a plant that's nearly a hundred years old, and operations that might make a day in hell look like a picnic, any investment in new machinery and equipment is certain to bring r...
September 1, 2003 | By Carroll Mccormick
When you’re dealing with a plant that’s nearly a hundred years old, and operations that might make a day in hell look like a picnic, any investment in new machinery and equipment is certain to bring relief to a maintenance department.
That’s what the team at O-I Canada Corp., a Quebec glassmaking facility, is looking forward to, as the parent company plans a multi-million dollar upgrade in 2004.
Plant engineering manager Barkev Nazaretian and plant manager Daniel Marcoux, veterans of the glass container manufacturing industry, are both survivors of starvation budgets. Those were the days before Owens-Illinois Inc. of Toledo, Ohio, bought the then-named Consumers Glass plant in 2001 and started modernizing the facility, which is located in Pointe St-Charles, Que., just west of downtown Montreal.
Owens-Illinois is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of glass containers, with operations in North America, Australia, Asia and Europe. Its glass containers include bottles in a wide range of shapes and sizes used to hold beer, soft drinks, liquor, wine and other beverages.
“We have come from a low-standard capital expansion company to a high-standard, world-class company,” says Nazaretian. Still, his concerns for maintenance of the aging facility remain fundamental, like finding qualified technicians and squeezing every dollar to maintain a hodgepodge of equipment, some dating back more than 50 years.
This operation began seven name changes ago, back in 1905, as Canadian Glass Manufacturing Limited. Today, about 550 people work in 685,556 sq ft of production and warehousing space; 100 of them are part of the maintenance crew, working under a maintenance budget that exceeds $4 million a year. That’s still not enough, though, says Nazaretian, because of the harsh conditions, the complexity and age of the equipment and the high level of skills required to maintain it.
Hot and dirty
The hot end of the O-I facility has a timeless, heavy industry feel. Two giant furnaces, which produce 600 tonnes of glass daily, issue streams of a white-hot molten flow that pour endlessly into massive glass production machines. They’re called Individual Section Forming Machines — I.S. for short — and they process the molten gobs, blowing and discharging bottles in any of hundreds of different shapes.
The I.S. machines look archaic, but the oldest of them dates only to 1990. They look and run like improbable inside-out diesel engines: Oily, black levers fling molten blobs this way and that, and dozens of whirling iron arms reach inside to pull triplets of red-hot bottles from molds and set them on scorching conveyor belts. Molten glass usually ranges in temperature between 2,300F and 2,800F. Talk about your hostile environment!
Nearby, a single, quiet, cool, brightly-lit room is packed full of electronic control equipment, but in the rest of this intense I.S. machine area, the dominant colour is oily black, highlighted by orange streaks from the molten glass. Oil-stained, blue-clad workers move through Caribbean-like heat, but without time for a thought of beaches and banana trees.
Flames lick the bottoms of the bottles as they march in formation into annealing machines that rearrange their molecular structure so they will not shatter upon cooling. Toward the cold end of the eight production lines, which churn out one million containers a day, bottles pass through inspection machines and eventually into boxes, then to the warehouses.
Knowledge and experience required
It takes a good 10 years of experience before a technician should be let loose in this arcane environment, says Nazaretian. Yet a big problem is finding and keeping skilled people in the midst of a chronic skills shortage problem and a hyper-competitive Montreal-area manufacturing market.
“One thing I have done to cover the lack of knowledgeable people is — wherever possible — to have at least one specialized person who knows a system inside out, a second person who knows the system very well, and others who can change parts.
“The biggest challenge is maintaining diversified equipment and finding well-prepared, qualified tradesmen,” says Nazaretian. “The action plan to solve this problem includes training and equipment upgrading so we’ll have more standardized production machinery. The mother company has established a training system we are starting to use,” he says. Technicians now attend a company training centre in Toledo, Ohio.
The company plans to spend between $20 million and $30 million in 2004 to continue to upgrade the Pointe St-Charles facility. Owens-Illinois makes much of its own production control and inspection equipment. About half of the production equipment will be replaced, reducing the now-vast knowledge base required to maintain the accumulation of gear from many different manufacturers.
The maintenance teams work two 12-hour shifts each day, with weekends off — though they remain on call. Maintenance duties are divided into mold maintenance, production machine maintenance, general maintenance and cold-end maintenance that covers inspection equipment and packaging. There are several maintenance shops, including welding, inspection, mold maintenance, electrical and general maintenance.
IS machine maintenance and training is done in-house, but high-tech diagnostics such as vibration analysis are contracted out. “I find it too technical to interpret everything,” says Nazaretian.
“An annual thermographic analysis (TA) reveals weak points. Years ago, before TA, there were hundreds of weak points in the electrical system that had to be dealt with every year. But now, because of TA, only 10 to 20 have to be dealt with.”
One contractor has been doing monthly oil analysis on moving parts in the facility since the mid 1980s. “This is how to not have downtime,” says Nazaretian.” Big fans, motors and other equipment are checked using vibration analysis equipment.
Although the parent company is providing money for capital improvements, it doesn’t mean that maintenance is rolling in dough. Nazaretian has to spend wisely to make his department efficient.
A computerized maintenance management program (CMMP) was installed in the mid-1980s on a mainframe computer system. Marcoux waves his hands, dismissing huge computerized maintenance management programs that incorporate company finances, accounting and the like. “They are so expensive to implement and run.” In 1999, a student was hired to build an in-house CMMP using Microsoft Access database software.
“Before this, we had equipment numbering and hard copies of inspections. Now we put everything in the computer and every week it prints out the PM inspection sheets. Then completed duties are recorded back in the computer,” Nazaretian explains.
All the tasks during shutdowns are planned in advance (24 hours at Christmas and a few other days during holidays for various of the plant’s eight lines). Each maintenance task is coordinated between the maintenance and production staff so they will be carried out as efficiently as possible.
The new CMMP specifies who is responsible for each task, the cost and the affected production people, among other data. Reams of information, such as location, part number and manufacturer, are listed for the plant’s 500 or so pieces of equipment.
Today, in an office piled high with blueprints, Nazaretian is focused on the future, especially the new equipment coming in 2004. Despite this investment, challenges remain. He lists them. “Survival, economic survival, taking the plant to a higher level of working standards, the need for people with better education, better training and better work ethics.”
With their new equipment and more training, one day they may open one of those bottles and raise a glass or two in appreciation.MRO
‘Glass In The Blood’
Barkev Nazaretian graduated as an electrical communications engineer from the University of Alexandria in 1971. He came to Canada in 1974 and started at Domglas Ltd. in 1976. “Since in Egypt I had worked in the mechanical field with my uncle, I could go right into p
lant and maintenance management,” he says.
He is a member of the Quebec Order of Engineers and earned a management diploma from McGill University. At O-I Canada Corp., he is responsible for maintenance and the production department that does batch preparation and glass melting.
His work rarely lets him leave Montreal. “I like my job. They say that the glass should flow in your blood. There is always a challenge here and something new to do.”
Ingenuity Saves Plant From Disaster
The infamous Quebec ice storm of 1998 still rates as the O-I Canada maintenance team’s biggest challenge in memory, says Barkev Nazaretian, plant engineering manager.
“We didn’t have electricity and there was no way to deliver diesel oil to us. We had to keep the furnaces running, otherwise we would have had a big block of frozen glass and ruined furnaces.
“We had a diesel generator but the diesel oil tank was only big enough to [run the furnace] for eight hours. We had an underground fuel tank in the front yard with enough fuel to last the 13 days we were without electricity, but we didn’t have electricity to pump the oil.
“We did have a tiny portable generator, though. We bought gas with our own money, used the little generator to pump out the oil, trucked it out back and used the generator to pump the oil into the other tank. We also had to rewire and run a lot of cables to keep the batch house running.”
It was a lot of work, but a much better choice than the alternative of cold glass in cold furnaces.