MRO Magazine

Unearthing New Problems

By Cliff Williams   

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 this issue, we pick up where we left off in the September 2008 edition, as maintenance manager Bob Edwards sees better control of PMs using the company’s CMMS and prepares to move further ahead.

I was finally able to arrange a visit to a paper mill in the U. S., where I expected to learn valuable information about their procedures. I had decided that Carol was an obvious choice to accompany me, and our plant manager, Joe, had agreed that I should take along one of the millwrights as well. But the question was, which one? I asked Carol who she thought should come along with us.

“Why don’t you let the guys decide? We keep talking about them taking responsibility”

“That’s a great idea! Let’s have a toolbox meeting tomorrow.”


The next morning the guys were pretty quiet when I asked them who they thought should visit the U. S. mill with us.

“If this visit goes the way I expect it to, this won’t be the only visit,” I suggested. Still no response. “Whoever comes along will have to make a presentation on what they see.”

It was Dave from plant services that finally broke the silence. “I’d really like to go. I think it would be really interesting.” This prompted some looks and murmurs from the guys. “But I don’t think it should be me this time, I think Stan should go.” Stan, a millwright in the stock prep area, had been a reluctant participant in this process. There were even more looks and murmurs around the room. “He’s been the hardest to convince so far,” said Dave, “so if he gets to see how it can work, he’ll be as equally stubborn about making it work.”

A few of the guys seemed disappointed but eventually everyone agreed that Stan should go.

“As I said, I don’t think that this will be the last trip, so more of you will get to see the mill.”

I headed to Carol’s office to tell her that Stan was coming along.

“Well, I didn’t think he would be the first choice but it does make sense. Dave really is a smart guy,” she said.

“Bob, I’ve just been pulling some high-level data together and it seems that electrical problems have been causing more downtime than mechanical over the past year.”

“Oh? Can you dig down deeper and find out what the causes were?”

Later, I couldn’t help notice that Stan and Ivan were spending a lot of time together so, after a couple of days, I asked them what they were doing.

“Stan has been working with me on the pump PMs,” said Ivan. “He’s hit on some great things.”

“We will have a lot of information we can use,” offered Stan. “We have the same pump in multiple locations, so we could compare them to see if we have rogue pumps or maybe a wrong application. We’ll talk with Carol about what reports we should run.”

“Don’t forget to tell the guys from the paper machine as I’m sure they have the same situation. Come to think of it, we could start to share this sort of data with all the other mills in the organization.”

The following week, Carol showed up at my office with an irate-looking electrical supervisor.

“Hi Kevin, what’s up? You look upset.”

“Well Bob, Carol’s just gone over some charts with me and it appears we are the biggest contributor to our 6% maintenance downtime.”

“Okay, all that means is that you have the biggest opportunity to show what you can do. Let’s take a look at what you’ve got.”

We reviewed the charts that Carol had prepared. “It seems we have three categories of problems: motor

controls, electrical internals — windings, etc., and internal mechanical — bearings in particular,” suggested Kevin, “so we may need three different solutions.”

“If we look at the motor control problems, they all seem to be overheating, so we could use infrared scanning to predict that,’ said Carol. “As far as bearings are concerned, vibration analysis will take care of that, but I’m not sure about the other internal components.”

“I can talk with John, our vibration consultant, as he visits a lot of other plants. Maybe he can help us. More of a problem for me is the fact that electrical downtime hasn’t been on anyone’s radar. Joe’s not going to be too happy when I tell him about this.”

“I think I know why, Bob. As the electrical supervisor, I always expect a lot more pressure when we have electrical failures, but people just seem to accept them without questioning. Opinion seems to be that we can’t do anything about the failures and we just focus on how quickly we can carry out the repairs, so we spend money on tools and spare parts.”

“That’s another reason for our high inventory value,” commented Carol.

“You’re not kidding! I have a spare motor for every application on the paper machine and major stock prep equipment. The value is in the hundreds of thousands — if not millions.”

“Wow! What’s the lead time on those? Maybe we don’t need to stock so many,” Carol said.

“A month at the longest but it’s usually a couple of weeks. But that’s not the only thing. With our drive system we are able to run different horsepower motors in the same locations — we just need to balance the drives. We’d need transition plates for the mounting but I think that we could get away with three or four motors instead of the 10 we have just for the wet end of the paper machine alone. I’ll need to develop a matrix to see what will fit where.”

“That’s great, Kevin, but we’ve got the motors already and hopefully it will be a long time before we need to buy more.”

“We can always talk with the suppliers and the other mills,” suggested Carol. “I know I’ve got emergency calls from both of them in the past. I don’t think this is an isolated case, Bob. I’m sure the same situation exists in other places. One of the things I’ve been thinking about is the number of bearings we keep in the stockroom — many of them worth $40,000 — that we won’t need on site when we have the vibration system set up. I’ll see what I can do with the suppliers.”

“We seem to have a plan, Kevin. Can you ask around for someone to supply infrared scanning? I’ll talk with John about the electrical internals. Carol, you can talk with the suppliers.”

“Can we talk about the work orders, Bob?”

“Sure,” Carol.

“I don’t know what you said to Fred, our production manager, but production has started putting in lots of them … so many in fact that we need to have some form of prioritization. Got any ideas?”

“I think we need to take the same approach with the production group as we do with our guys. Involve them in the decision-making and have them understand that they are part of the process.

“We’ll need to hold regular meetings so they can have their input. It may take some educating as I’m sure all of their work orders will be top priority. Try to figure out a way we can objectively prioritize — downtime if not done, cost of repairs, etc. Also, I almost forgot, safety and environmental work orders have top priority.”

“Bob, it seems we’ve come full circle,” said Carol. “Remember early on we talked about RCM — reliability centred maintenance? Well those are the criteria used to decide tactics. I think I can develop a Lunch ‘n Learn program for production and invite some of our guys as well.”

“I think the next stage will be to take the prioritized list and meet with the guys by area and let them figure out who will do what. You’re going to have to lead the process for a while, Carol, but your goal should be that the guys hold the meeting themselves

“If we can take the day-to-day planning responsibilities from you, then you can concentrate on the bigger picture and more importantly, I won’t have to go to Joe for a replacement for you. What do you say, Carol, are you up for it?”

“It se
ems a little bit strange giving up the things I’ve been responsible for, but I guess you’re right.”

“You don’t sound convinced, so let me tell you how I see it. The people at corporate are responsible for making the correct business decisions and they deal at high level, but need to know the details. Joe needs to follow their direction and forward the details in the format they need. I need to be the subject matter expert around maintenance — you too for that matter — so I can deliver the results to support Joe.

“The guys on the floor are where the rubber hits the road. Without them doing what they’re supposed to, corporate goals will never be achieved. So I believe they need to be involved as much as possible and know as much as I know about the business — given that there may be some things that are confidential. So don’t think of it as giving up your responsibilities, think of it as putting them where they belong. Companies that don’t move toward that bottom-up approach are not going to be around much longer.”

“You’re right; it’s my turn to deal with change.”

After Carol left, I called John to see if he knew how other companies were dealing with internal motor failures. When he told me about a company he found that had just started selling a system that would monitor most of the conditions that caused the problem, I couldn’t believe my luck.

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


Key Points

• Benchmark similar equipment within your plant or company

• Suppliers and sister plants can be partners

• Ensure that decisions are made at the lowest organizational level possible.


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