MRO Magazine

The Next Level


Human Resources Machinery and Equipment Maintenance Operations

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 archiv...

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 In this issue, we pick up where we left off in our December 2007 issue, as maintenance manager Bob Edwards and his team at the Plentya Paper Company deal with a shutdown of the mill after a bearing seizes.

I headed up to Joe’s office to let him know what we had found. “So we’re doing this predictive maintenance and yet we get into this downtime mess. How did it happen, Bob?” I told him about the hose and how the flowmeter wasn’t calibrated. “So it was a combination of bad luck and human error? I guess there’s no system in the world that’ll take those into account. I think we’ve gone as far as we’re going to with this predictive stuff. Let’s pull the plug, Bob.”

“But Joe, there is a way that we could have prevented this disaster or at least turned it into a small disruption.” I told him about the online monitoring that John had mentioned.

“What you’re saying is if we had this monitoring equipment, we could have shut down the roll and found the root cause of the problem?”


“I know this is a leap of faith for us, but yes, I believe we could have shut down the machine in a controlled fashion. I’ve already asked John for a list of companies that offer the online monitoring.”

“I must be crazy, but go ahead try to find some good references and get me the cost. If this doesn’t work, then I don’t know what we’ll do. We can’t go on like this.”

“Thanks Joe. I’ll make this my top priority.”

I headed back to the machine floor to see how the millwrights were making out. Pete was the first one I met. “Well Bob, how did it go? I hope Joe didn’t get too mad. Most of the guys think that if we could get full vibration monitoring, we wouldn’t have things like this happen. It would be a real shame if we had to stop now. It’s amazing — a couple of months ago we didn’t know anything about this and now we’re all believers.”

“Not all,” said Stan. “I knew something like this would happen — and you want to stop changing rolls on a frequency basis!”

“Quit that, Stan! I’m fed up of your whining — it doesn’t matter what we do — you can’t be positive,” exclaimed Pete.

“Pete’s right, Stan, “I added. “As I’ve mentioned in the meetings, we’re going to take this path and you have

three choices — you can lead, follow or you’d better get out of the way.”

I realized this was a little blunt but I wasn’t prepared to have Stan derail the process and — in all honesty — I was getting tired of his negativity. I had to establish that we were still headed in the same direction.

When I got back to my office, I gave John a call to find out if he had any references for me.

“Yes, I’ve got the contacts at the companies I worked with and I also called a colleague in Quebec who has been dealing with paper companies to see if he has any customers who use online monitoring.”

With the list in hand, I started calling the references. They all said the same thing — they didn’t have a piece of equipment that would fail the same way ours did, but they all had critical equipment that would shut down their whole plant and that was the reason they had gone to using online monitoring. This wasn’t what I was hoping for, so I headed down to see Carol, in case she had contacts in the class she was taking who might be able to help us.

Not a drip from the seal

“No, sorry, but most of the people in my class are from small-to medium-size companies in industry,” she replied. “I know it’s small consolation but I took a look at the Mean Time Between Failure on Dave’s pump — it was four weeks before he made the modification and it’s been six weeks without a failure since then — and Dave said that there’s not even a drip coming from the seal.”

“Thanks, Carol. That just makes me more determined to stay the course. We’re definitely making progress and I don’t want this challenge to stop us. Make sure that Dave knows about this and he understands that we appreciate his work.”

“I think he already knows that, and you’re right, we need to keep on going. You wouldn’t believe how the attitude of the guys has changed towards filling out work orders and working to make things better. I’ve even heard a couple of them holding Five-Why sessions to get to the root cause of the problem — then they put their recommendations on the work orders when they hand them in. I’ve been keeping track of them on a spreadsheet. I’ll e-mail you a copy and add some thoughts that will help us take advantage of this.”

“That’ll be great; we need all of the ammunition we can get.”

I headed back to my office and found a message from John waiting for me. His contact in Quebec hadn’t known anyone locally but had given him the number of a paper mill in the U. S. that he had visited to see its online system.

When I got through to the maintenance manager at the mill, he was extremely enthusiastic.

Pump bearing failure avoided

“Yes, we’ve had the system for a couple of years but the only serious failure we prevented was on our big fan pump. We got an alarm and so at the next shutdown we changed all of the bearings. It was a big save because if the pump had failed while we were running, we would have been looking at 24 hours of downtime at least.”

“How can you be sure it was the right call?”

“Well, we called our local bearing company and they sent in a technician to help us take apart and inspect the bearing. We found damage to the inner race and the technician said that it would definitely have failed — but he wouldn’t give an estimate of when — just that it would.

“He also said that the bearing was more than likely damaged on installation, so we set up a session for our guys to be trained on the correct method. It was amazing, we always felt we had a skilled workforce but it turned out we weren’t even mounting bearings correctly. For less than $1,000, we bought a bearing heater and heat sticks and we now have a checklist of bearing tolerances right on the work order.”

“Thanks for the great ideas, but I was hoping that you had detected problems with the rolls,” and I went on to tell him about our failure.

Saving a million dollars

“Actually, it’s been the exact opposite — we’ve gone a year without changing a roll. With our downtime at $200 a minute and 12 hours for a roll change, we figure we’ve saved over $1,000,000 in lost production in that time.”

“Wow! If I could show savings like that there would be no problem — pity I can’t use those numbers.”

“Why not? We use the numbers when we have visitors to the mill. We’re so proud of what we’ve accomplished in this and many other areas that we welcome sharing them — it’s a form of celebration. Ask your manager to call our manager he’ll be glad to bring him up to speed.”

“Thanks again. That is great information and you can be sure we’ll make that call. You seem to have a great setup there. I’d really like to see it one day.”

“You have an open invite. Talk with you again, Bob.”

I think I broke the world speed record when I rushed up to Joe’s office.

“If half of what you say is true then you need to get John in here, but let me follow up first,” said Joe, after I had recounted my conversation. “I don’t know how you do it, Bob, but you manage to pull this project out of the fire every time it’s set to burn. I have to admit that I really like the passion

you’ve developed and I know that you’ve got the guys on board because they bug me about it every time I see them. I just hope it’s not misplaced.”

“It’s not misplaced and more importantly it’s not a project — it’s not going to end. This is a process and it’s going to continue to evolve. I want to the mill to be the one everyone visits to see the best!”

As I set out for the shop, I thoug
ht about the change in my approach since we started out. I had become passionate about being better. In fact, I wanted to be the best and I hoped the guys would stick with me.

There were three or four of the mill-wrights in the shop when I got there and as I told them about the other mill, I couldn’t help but notice they were acting kind of sheepishly. I was worried that they were becoming skeptical about the journey and it wasn’t until I turned to leave that I noticed that their eyes kept turning toward the doorway. When I headed towards the door, I saw why. There, above the door, was a freshly painted sign that read in big, bold letters: LEAD, FOLLOW OR GET OUT OF THE WAY.

“Sorry, Bob, but we couldn’t resist. Your comment to Stan summed up our feelings exactly.”

It would have taken a hammer and chisel to get the smile of my face — their passion seemed greater than mine!

Cliff Williams is the maintenance manager at Wrigley Canada in Toronto, Ont., and a consultant with TMS — Total Maintenance Solutions Inc., Markham, Ont. He can be reached at


Key Points

• If it’s worth doing, it’s worth fighting for.

• Make sure you understand the fundamentals.

• Networking brings results.

• Passion is contagious.


Stories continue below

Print this page