Case: Energy & Aluminum Supplier

Fortune 500 Company
By Karl Kelton and Brent Chertow

A critical plant sector of the Canadian metallurgical division had been suffering deteriorating operability, culminating in 2005 with its lowest on-line time in 15 years. The sector in question represented the plant bottleneck. Its recently appointed General Manager attributed the problem to weaknesses in its plant maintenance strategy, policies, procedures, and practices. Within this context, an in-depth maintenance assessment was proposed.

In late 2005, KCB Inc. was invited to conduct a 4 week diagnostic to identify a) the root cause(s) of the maintenance problems, b) improvement opportunities, and, c) the resultant potential benefits available. The assessment involved:

  • An assessment of the client’s existing maintenance philosophy and strategy
  • In-depth questionnaires and interviews with more than 35 maintenance and operating personnel
  • Numerous “day-in-life” studies – full 12 hour shift observations of maintenance activities in the various plant sectors
  • A review of existing maintenance processes, systems and activities compared to best practices and benchmarks
  • A statistical review and analysis of key maintenance metrics including maintenance costs, MTBF, MTTR, productivity, maintenance backlogs, and equipment downtime.
  • A review and critique of the existing maintenance organizational structure, and;
  • An assessment of the existing Performance Management Framework, including, a) Accountabilities of those individuals who had a stake in plant maintenance performance, b) the existence and effective use of a Maintenance Management Operating System, c) the Maintenance training process and program, and, d) Maintenance key performance indicators (KPI’s) and their relation to individual accountabilities.

The outcome of the diagnostic resulted in a compelling business case to fix the problem. It included a series of prescriptions, a summary of potential financial and operational benefits, and a solution path.

In February 2006, the General Manager engaged KCB for a 20 week pilot program in the bottleneck sector to implement the mutually agreed program. A critical factor in the client’s decision to proceed with KCB was the recognition that KCB’s approach would lead to sustainable results in the bottleneck operation that could be transferable to all of the other plant

The program was developed around one key theme: “Accountability for Capacity Assurance”. It included a number of “quick hit” initiatives, for example:

  • An in-house Maintenance Engineer resource dedicated solely to the bottleneck operation. The management, operators and maintenance personnel reacted very positively to this move and within weeks maintenance performance in the bottleneck operation began to turn around.
  • A Lean technique – SMED (Single Minute Exchange of Die) was employed to reduce the time associated with plant shut down and start up procedures. This resulted in a 38% reduction in shutdown elapsed time, enabling the bottleneck operation to come back on-line 21 hours earlier than originally planned
  • The establishment of an overall Shutdown Project Manager – who was accountable for day-to-day shutdown progress and problem resolution
  • A dedicated command centre for the April outage (and all future outages)
  • Various management tools – e.g. a comprehensive Shutdown GANTT chart detailing resource requirements, pre-shutdown activities, equipment inspections, tooling, drawings, parts, repairs and overhauls, and start-up activities.

Working jointly, a 5 person team designed and implemented the following program elements:

  • A well defined, clearly documented, and agreed to Maintenance Strategy
  • Clearly defined, well understood, and executable expectations, roles, responsibilities and accountabilities for 16 key management, operating and trades positions, including support positions – Through a series of bilingual workshops (French/English)
  • Coordinator and Planner behavior models that promote continuous in-field observations of maintenance activity and worked performed
  • A proactive maintenance management system
  • Increased management capacity and effectiveness based on the application of fundamental management principles in the work environment
  • A balanced set of Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) that enable all levels of management to more effectively manage, control, and measure performance. This includes measures that are meaningful to coordinators, planners, and technicians for work accomplishment at the point of execution.
  • Upgraded Decision Support tools (management processes and systems)
  • Documented and streamlined maintenance work processes incorporating best practices
  • Master Scheduling and dispatch processes and disciplines
  • A reduction in re-work, duplication of effort, hand-offs and all the non value-added activity observed during the assessment phase.
  • Implementation/reinforcement of problem-solving tools and techniques that permanently address the root cause of problems
  • A project management system that is now used to effectively manage and control maintenance engineering and shut down activity.
  • A Maintenance Management System training program
  • Dedicated individuals to specific pieces of equipment during major shutdowns
  • A formal and rigorous maintenance inspection process for the April maintenance outage and all future outages
  • Steering Committee sessions with Corporate representation from Europe
  • Weekly updates and working sessions with the Director of Operations and Maintenance, and with the GM (top Client)

KCB’s value add also included more than 2 dozen key maintenance improvement recommendations that were delivered to the Client. As a result of all this, and more, the on-line operating time for the bottleneck sector for the first 6 months was 93% (including downtime in April/May for the planned maintenance outage) and improving. On-line time for both operating lines in the bottleneck operation, excluding the outage, is in excess of 99%. Furthermore, as a demonstration of his belief in the program, the Director of Operations signed a commitment that on-line time in the pilot sector in 2006 would exceed 94%, inclusive of planned shutdowns.

With the know-how and systems imparted by KCB, and with the hiring of a first rate Director of Maintenance, dedicated solely to maintenance improvement, KCB feels the client is now proactively managing its maintenance practices and should continue to reap the benefits by further institutionalizing the progress in the pilot sector and transferring it site-wide to the other sectors in the complex.