Level Up Your Reliability Skills: Get Certified! Boost your career now!

Elevate your industry profile at The RELIABILITY Conference.

Sign Up

Please use your business email address if applicable

Making Ice Cream More Reliably - Wells Dairy - In the Midst of the Journey

Instead of seeing a program at the pinnacle of its maturity, where the culture has already changed, and the processes are producing consistent positive results, we will explore a program that might look a lot like yours, one that is in the middle of the voyage. We will share the struggles and the victories we have had, and what we have learned thus far.

Within the journey of reliability there are many specific and viable perspectives of what increased reliability means to a company. Take, for instance, the difference between production staff on the floor to the maintenance managers in the office. From each perspective reliability looks very different. Of course this all depends on your knowledge and background, but it also depends on your vantage point. If I were viewing from far above a stampede running full bore towards a cliff, I would want to stop them because of the danger I can see for them. If however, I was in the midst of the stampede I am only going to want to go with the crowd so that I don't get trampled. Not knowing, of course, the impending danger just in front of us. Without continuous training to the entire organization, and clear direction from an overall view, we can easily perform great things but still be heading, as an organization, in the wrong direction.

I would like to first introduce you briefly to my company. Wells Dairy, Inc. has been in business since 1913, and is still a family owned business today. Since I joined the company 22 years ago, our sales have always increased. In fact, they have doubled in the last 10 years and the company has changed drastically.

In this rapid growth environment, and in our maturation into a larger family owned company, we have gone through some super-fantastic changes. A great deal of these items, combined with our basic Midwest culture, lead us to be very busy people that like to get things done with high activity. In other words, for those of you that know anything about Birkman, we are basically a RED company. This gives us an advantage in that we are high energy, high activity, so we do a lot of work.

The down side is that we do a lot of work, so it is not always planned out as well as it could have been. Much of it also does not have structure and sustainability. Additionally, we are a very innovative company with a definite lean towards technology and automation. From what I have heard from some of our vendors, we are probably the most advanced technological manufacturer of ice cream. With that said, we have a great need in today's business environment to reduce costs and also to increase throughput. In my eyes, that is a perfect equation for the need for reliability. That is why we are where we are today. Let's define journey:

journey: 1: A trip or expedition from one place to another. 2: A gradual passing from one state to another regarded as more advanced, e.g. from innocence to mature awareness.


Understanding your starting point for your journey sets the direction for how to get to your destination. In a company, each department, asset, work group and, yes, each person has their own starting point, a beginning of their own journey. Remember each of us brings to the table a different perspective of what reliability is.

Some don't have a clue that reliability efforts should even exist. In psychology, I believe that has been called Unconscious Incompetence (ignorance is bliss). Others have been living it every day, and have either Conscious Incompetence (Loss of Innocence) or Conscious Competence (culture shock). Each of our vantage points, background, knowledge, position, or history, gives us a unique view of what has taken place in the past, which helps to condition, or filter, our view of the possibilities in the future. This is one area to be cognizant of if the intent is to change the culture from one of a reactive nature, complacency; ignorance is bliss, to one of a proactive nature, accountability, or mature competence. Our filters need to be adjusted in order to open our minds to the possibility of change needed to set our course in the right direction.

WDI DT% of Run Hours

In most organizations like ours, we have to leave what is behind us, behind us! Lose the innocence and begin moving toward what is ahead of us, which is competence with accountability. Press on toward the goal to accomplish a win-win situation for both the company and each person involved, which is what most companies should want to do.

Employers are determined to figure out what makes employees, processes, and equipment more productive and more cost effective. I believe a large part of accomplishing that can be achieved by reducing the variability in each area, or in other words, by becoming more reliable. Part of that is becoming an employer of choice. Part of it centers on having a solid business plan with reliable processes, and part of it depends on our equipment reliability capability and discipline.

When companies strive to build both the company's and the employees' capabilities at the same time, we all become winners. Our culture is so in-tuned to the next greatest thing that normally we only give things one chance to change our world until they are thrown out on the doorstep. Have you seen how we treat professional and even college coaches? If they do not have a winning record in the first or second year of their tenure they are replaced. It seems crazy for us to have to actually work at something for a while to make it work for us. TPM, RCM, TQM, coaching and so on. Our patience and maturity are so short that many times we don't give people or processes the time they require to take root. If they don't fix the problem in the first year, we look to the next great acronym to do it for us. We don't ever look back and see the years that went into the Japanese efforts in the Toyota Production System. It was not months or quarters or even years, it took decades for them to get it where it is today. In America, we can not wait for it. Unfortunately, if we can't put it in the microwave and have it come out smelling like a roast in 30 seconds we don't have time for it.

All good things take time to take root. And guess what, if they are not given the time to take root, they will wash away in every future storm your business will face. If not given time to develop a solid foundation, they will not be sustainable. You have all heard this before, but I feel it is very applicable to reliability.

If it is worth doing it is worth doing right. And doing it right the first time is also much less costly than doing it over and over and never establishing a solid foundation. This is a race, but it is not a sprint, it is a marathon.

% of Planned Maintenance


The foundation of reliability (Basic Asset Care) is essential to the prosperity of not only the reliability program, but your company. Yet, the real change does not take place in the programs or the methods. The real change takes place in the people. To affect culture change in reliability, you first must affect culture change in the people. I believe most of us know this in our heads, yet we so often move forward with the program or process of the month without actually working with the people first. So, one of the most important things I would say is to start with ‘basic people care'. This is where we have struggled the most in the past and why it has taken so long to get momentum.

In our journey, we did start with some basic preventive measures, and invested in some predictive technology to better understand the health of some of our critical assets, or at least, what we considered critical. Our PM program consisted of things that our maintenance folks have been doing all along. We began measuring our key metrics, Downtime as a Percentage of Runtime (Figure 1), Percentage of Planned Maintenance (Figure 2), Percentage of Planned Maintenance Performed On Time (Figure 3) and Mean Time Between Failure (Figure 4). Over the last 5 years, our percentage of planned maintenance metric has increased by 60%.

Most of this is due to adding a planning staff of four people in 2003-2004, the accompanying better planning and craft utilization and performing specific tasks on equipment. Currently we have seven Planners and are looking toward to having eight or nine sometime this year. This was a huge victory for us and a great catalyst for culture change.

At about the same time we, as a company, went down the path of TPM, Total Productive Manufacturing. This effort was to target decreasing our downtime, and also affect some culture change in our company, but most of all, to increase the figures on the bottom line. Most of what we did in this effort on the proactive maintenance pillar was very effective. However, the pace at which we were tasked to perform it was very demanding.

% Planned on Time

On the positive side, we did learn quite a bit about ourselves as an organization and as a maintenance and engineering group. It also provided us some of the basic tools needed to aid us in our reliability journey. Many efforts to drive increased use of technology for condition monitoring began in 2001, so being the RED company that we are, we purchased all the needed equipment to be able to predict any failure.

We brought vibration data collection into our work group and we started to do some basic thermography, and also we started performing more oil analysis. We knew these programs were needed to get to the reliability we needed on our critical utility type assets. So we did have that going for us. The focus needs to be put on the basic asset care and the people implementing it, and not so much on the technology. We have factions of some very good basic care happening in the company and need to continue to do more of this to be totally successful.

Mean Time Between Failure

Building a Foundation

If we only knew then what we know now...we now understand that we needed to build a solid foundation. All the technology and techniques are excellent tools, but alone they can only take you so far. If we didn't know where we were going, how would we know when we arrived? We needed simple direction and purpose. What we needed was a vision and a mission statement - so we created both.

Our Vision

A skilled workforce passionate about equipment reliability and operational excellence.

Our Mission

Establish an equipment reliability plan that; Maximizes equipment availability, Provides reliability centered direction, Enables the workforce, & Effectively manages asset lifecycle.

This was our new starting point, and also the end of innocence. We have looked at what we have done in the past, and now better understand where we need to go in the future. We have learned that if the complete focus is on the money, then short term gains will be made. The managers will is the only thing that makes this happen. However that approach is not sustainable, and it does not enable growth in the capabilities of employees or of the organization. The focus first has to be on doing the fundamental processes and practices correctly and consistently.

Things like asset prioritization, lubrication, basic asset care, operator training, ergonomics, and safety, just to name a few. Some of you will wonder why I included operator training. I believe that is just as important as our maintenance crew training. In order to build a cohesive work unit you have to have capabilities that rise above the normal, and be proactive rather than reactive.

Advances will not be sustainable without a strong foundation

From the foundational items of operational and equipment reliability, things need to progress and grow towards removing waste and variability in the processes and equipment we use to manufacture products. Without the foundation, nothing above it can be sustained for any substantial period of time. In the growth of the process you have to keep in mind that once you reach a new level you have to be able to support the foundation at the same time. You can not abandon previous processes just to move on to the new sexy or high tech process or tool.

If your foundation is not strong and sustainable your new processes will eventually fail, just like the faulty pyramid in Figure 5. It might stand for a while but the more you top load it, the more unstable it will become.

Buy in from groups outside of the engineering or maintenance group is just as critical as the buy in or acceptance of the maintenance and engineering groups as a whole. Having a plan that has diversity of function involved in it is critical to its long term success. The diversity I am referring to is that of the inclusion of operations, quality, and safety in the reliability plan. Take charge and present the need for a Process Reliability Plan or Engineering Reliability Plan. Make it a goal to bring knowledge and understanding to all levels of the organization, like teaching the VP of operations about fasteners and lubrication, all the way to actual training on condition monitoring with the line maintenance crews.

Maintenance cannot stand on it's own in the reliability arena, it takes a corporate understanding and commitment from all business units. When people begin to embrace the vision, the reliability journey is just beginning. At this point, you must have a plan to stay on track. This is when you need true leadership and discipline. Remember the journey has a destination. It is reliability.

A reliability effort like ours at Wells Dairy has had many different phases in its evolution. In some cases they are passions around the next best technology, or they could be simple things like getting all the work completed on work orders, or even completing all the PM's on time. The focus could be on vibration, ultrasonics, condition monitoring, lubrication, work flow, and so on. A company can easily get focused on too many things and become an inch deep and a mile wide. We have done this in the past and know that it doesn't work. Our vision now sets the direction for where we want to be, and our mission guides us in how we go about realizing the vision.

We have begun to build the Reliability Plan. It is still a work in progress, but I am happy to say that it is well on its way and so are we. It's interesting to note that several foundational aspects of that Reliability Plan have actually made it into our operational goals for 2008. In fact, Reliability is the first thing mentioned in the 2008 OGSP's Goals, and this is a step in our journey that is very exciting.

So, you see, you can get there. It simply takes perseverance, passion and purpose.

Larry Hoing is the Reliability & Engineering Systems Manager at Wells Dairy, Inc. He learned the basics of reliability in the US Navy, where he spent 3 years managing the Interior Communications group aboard the USS Acadia. Larry began his career at Wells Dairy in Omaha, NE delivering milk and loading Trucks. A short time later he began working in the maintenance department and eventually worked at several facilities in Le Mars Iowa for Wells. In 1997, he moved on to maintenance planning, and currently he manages the reliability, MRO purchasing, and inventory efforts for Wells Dairy, Inc. Larry has worked at Wells going on 23 years. His personal interests include his family (he says he can't wait to have grand kids) and biking (he has participated in 3 bike rides across the state of Iowa). Larry has also participated in several short Triathlons, just to see if he could. Last but not least, he loves a challenge almost as much as he loves Ice Cream!