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Moving Down a Reliability Continuum in Pursuit of Excellence

Figure 1: Southern Gardens

Southern Gardens Mission: Continuously improve and become the low-cost supplier of high quality citrus products to our customers, while maximizing returns to our shareholders.

Southern Gardens has embarked on a journey in pursuit of achieving excellence in reliability. The key is perseverance because the road is often bumpy. Continuous improvement moves you down the continuum, so when you think you are at the end, you realize there is always room for improvement.

Overview of Southern Gardens

Southern Gardens (SG) is a bulk processor of not from concentrate (NFC) orange juice located in Clewiston, Florida. Its official grand opening was January 20, 1994. Over the course of 25 years, the orange juice industry has gone through some significant changes. In the 1990s and 2000s, the industry experienced record crops, causing SG to process 24/7 during the fruit season. Diseases and competition have affected the industry to the point where SG now processes 24/5. It is important in agriculture to process consistently while building a reliability program. Plenty of storage space allows SG to ship product to the brands and private label year round.

Building a Foundation

SG’s first two seasons focused fully on commissioning the plant and training the employees. Equipment maintenance received very little attention. Lubrication was nonexistent and less technicians were needed during the off-season. After the second season, SG hired a new vice president.

The change in leadership exposed employees to a new series of buzzwords and acronyms used to change and mold the culture. Total productive maintenance (TPM), collaboration, self-directed work teams and the five star philosophy were the concepts employees began to learn. The new VP’s vision for maintenance was to move down a continuum. Self-directed work teams were a key component to help with this strategy.

SG developed a mission statement that 25 years later has remained unchanged. It states: “Continuously improve and become the low-cost supplier of high quality citrus products to our customers, while maximizing returns to our shareholders.”

Early on, at the written request of a technician, technicians were assigned to specific pieces of equipment. Ultimately, that led to assigning the technicians to a production team, reporting to the operations team leader. This started out as a good idea and led to immediate improvement in equipment uptime. As the uptime improved, the focus for the technicians changed to improvement projects. At that time in the continuum, SG did not understand that the primary responsibility of the maintenance department is to maintain equipment reliability.

During those early years, SG had not formulated a definitive plan. It was determined to start with the basics, including lubricating equipment, hiring maintenance planners, hiring various consultants, using a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) and developing metrics.

Gaining Ground

As you move down a continuum, there will be times when you level out. An event occurs to trigger a resurgence in your efforts. In 2001, two significant events occurred that reenergized SG’s efforts and continue to shape its pursuit of maintenance excellence. First, SG submitted and received ISO certification for its food quality process. ISO certification is significant because it enforces the importance of having defined and documented processes. The other event was establishing a maintenance guru, commonly referred to as a reliability champion.

The next several years, employees attended maintenance management training, conferences and benchmarking learning about maintenance best practices and moving from reactionary to proactive maintenance. In order to continue to move down the continuum with the goal of improving cost, the reliability champion successfully convinced senior management to make four changes to SG’s strategy. They were:

  1. Centralize maintenance under a maintenance manager;
  2. Hire a reliability engineer (always a difficult request when adding headcount);
  3. Make capital planning/implementation part of the reliability champion’s responsibility to control maintenance costs;
  4. Assign reliability its own star in the five star philosophy. This philosophy was a basis for SG’s culture. Moving down the maintenance continuum is cultural change.

Immediately, a collaborative change of design process was developed for all project work, capital and expense. This process, once modified, became part of the asset management program and helps maintenance control spending. Project overruns often “hit” the maintenance expense budget. SG also hired a reliability engineer, who immediately started working on equipment criticality, further development of the preventive maintenance (PM) program, development of lubrication routes and improving the root cause analysis program.

Building a Process

Once again, SG lost momentum and needed another significant event to ignite its efforts. This happened in 2006 with the implementation of a fully integrated enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. This was impactful since the software company’s consultant helped SG map out its three main maintenance processes: work management, reliability engineering, and maintenance, repair and operations (MRO). This was the aha moment when it was decided that reliability excellence was SG’s new goal. Programs and steering committees often need names, so SG’s is REAL, which stands for reliability excellence and leadership. A success program needs leadership.

Figure 2: Preventative Maintenance Optimization (PMO)

Figure 3: RCA – critical equipment emergencies

In work management, SG focused on developing and documenting processes for metrics; a joint maintenance/operations meeting; improvements to planning and scheduling; planners’ responsibilities in order to remove them from emergencies; and maintenance supervision. For MRO, besides developing processes around kitting, metrics and other best practices, SG renovated the parts warehouse. For the reliability section, SG developed a preventive maintenance optimization (PMO) program and a condition-based maintenance program, including predictive maintenance (PdM). It also improved root cause analysis (RCA), which included the development of RCA triggers and the formation of RCA teams. (In 2015, SG was awarded the Uptime Award for Best Asset Condition Management Program.)

SG continued to make progress decreasing costs and improving reliability. It also continued to add and/or improve its processes. A significant improvement altered the management of change (MOC) process. The company now uses the MOC process for all projects (capital and expense). The cost benefits for having such a program should not be underestimated. This process also helps with external auditors, insurance companies and regulatory agencies. The revised process focuses on collaboration, communication, commitment and consensus for all projects across all stakeholders. (In 2017, SG received the Uptime Award for Best Asset Management Program.)

Building Momentum

A successful project needs the cooperation of the entire organization. You especially need buy-in from operations. From 2011 to 2015, SG chose to develop an operations/maintenance partnership agreement. This led to an operator driven reliability (ODR) program, developed by operations. The company promoted a new vice president from within who understood the benefit of maintenance meetings. To have a successful program, it is just as important to have an executive sponsor as it is to have a maintenance champion. SG also incorporated utilities under the maintenance umbrella, developed a strategic asset management plan (SAMP) and started using vending machines for operational and safety supplies to realize cost savings.

Recently, SG started using a data historian for capturing data from its programmable logic controllers (PLCs) to help troubleshoot and diagnose upset conditions. In addition, the facility changed its approach to off-season rebuilds. The old philosophy was to rebuild everything during the rebuild. This is very expensive. Now with a proactive reliability program, SG can perform inspections on all the equipment. It rebuilds only what is necessary.

Figure 4: RCA - equipment emergency MTBF vs maintenance cost

Figure 5: MRO before and after optimization

Results and Lessons Learned

  1. Throughout the process, even when small steps were made, SG continued to reduce maintenance costs.
  2. The facility significantly reduced technician and summer help headcount.
  3. SG realized improved equipment reliability and uptime.
  4. Electrical and welding contractors were eliminated by performing the work internally. This saved costs, improved knowledge and gained buy-in due to the success of projects.
  5. Collaboration (i.e., no one person is smarter than a group) and involvement of all the stakeholders in the development of any process is extremely important.
  6. Leadership and executive sponsorship is equally important.
  7. As failures were eliminated, the facility needed to change its triggers by grouping equipment for RCAs.
  8. In 2018, Uptime® magazine and recognized SG as having the Best Overall Program.

Where does SG go from here? The reliability champion will continue the facility’s pursuit to excellence and continue to find ways to reduce costs while improving equipment reliability. One item the reliability champion has already started working on and has a lot of passion for is the digital transformation and the Internet of Things (IoT).


Organizations moving down the reliability continuum in pursuit of excellence should keep these tips in mind:

  • Always challenge the status quo and embrace change. Ask: “Is there a better way?”
  • You need a defined plan, but be flexible. The plan is not set in stone..
  • You need a defined and documented process.
  • Vision without implementation is just a dream.

One final thought: Drink plenty of NFC orange juice!


2015 Best Asset Condition Management Program

2017 Best Asset Management Program

2018 Best Overall Program

Jim Sullivan

Jim Sullivan is Engineering and Maintenance Facility Leader at Southern Gardens Citrus Processing. Jim is a trained CPMM and has received a variety of training from institutions, such as Dale Carnegie, American Management Association, Maintenance Solutions and Clemons University.

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