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The Continuous Journey

Successful capital-intensive industries have realized a highly effective maintenance organization will increase shareholder and stakeholder value. Studies have shown dedication to maintenance excellence will positively impact safety, environmental stewardship, customer satisfaction, cost, productivity and return on invested capital. The most effective operations are those that have established excellence in maintenance. Hibbing Taconite Company in Minnesota is committed to being one of those companies.

Hibbing Taconite's journey to maintenance excellence has been a long road covering the past couple of decades. The 1980s were difficult years for Hibbing Taconite Company. A large percentage of the American steel industry and the iron ore industry that supported it had been shuttered. Along the way, many maintenance professionals had retired, been laid off, or simply walked away to other more profitable industries. Hibbing Taconite survived the 1980s, but employment levels had been reduced and critical maintenance had been reduced or delayed to save money. There were still many thoughtful and dedicated maintenance professionals remaining at Hibbing Taconite, but at that time, survival was the preeminent measure of its success.

In the 1990s, the markets improved, but it was recognized that the iron ore industry was changing and the mines needed to get better in all phases to compete. Our safety performance needed to improve, our employee relations needed to improve, our product quality needed to improve and we needed to be more efficient in our processes to reduce costs for the future. Considerable efforts were made to improve the key drivers of Hibbing Taconite's success. Maintenance of the large mobile equipment fleets and plant equipment was one of several areas selected to be improved because of its obvious impact on the entire operation.

In 1994, a consultant was brought in to audit our maintenance practices and determine our first steps of improvement. The result of that audit indicated our best first step would be to develop a maintenance planning process. Based on the consultant's definition of maintenance planning, an organized effort in this area was lacking and would pay the biggest rewards. Over the next year, an effort was made to redirect the efforts of the existing maintenance planners. Their work at the time consisted of more scheduling and little of planning the work, which included organizing parts, tools, procedures and labor requirements. There was a work culture battle underway, one that was to go on for years.

Initial successes, although limited, gave us a better understanding of where we wanted to go and they whet our appetites for further improvement. Cliffs Natural Resources, managing company and part owner of Hibbing Taconite, provided the additional impetus for maintenance improvement. In September 1995, a corporate-wide maintenance leadership team (MLT) was organized to champion maintenance excellence uniformly throughout Cliffs. The work of the MLT set the foundation for our current maintenance and reliability systems.

Considerable effort was made over several years to determine key maintenance processes, select the best practices and implement them. Cliffs' employees went anywhere they heard of maintenance success to find out what the company did and we told each other to "steal shamelessly" from them. If the practices were as good as advertised, they were put into our maintenance operating processes standards book, which became the bible for what would be expected from our maintenance departments.

Through the late 1990s, progress was being made as we matured in our maintenance practices and changed our organizations to go with them. Upgraded information management systems came on line in 1999 that had been tailored to better support maintenance. Educating employees in the maintenance system became more widely embedded and their skills improved.

The severe economic downturn from 2000 to 2003 slowed us down, but did not sidetrack us. Cliffs Natural Resources' MLT and Hibbing Taconite continued to focus on maintenance system improvement. At Hibbing Taconite, the success seen to date provided all the impetus needed to continue on the path we had chosen.

In 2002, another huge step was taken by the addition of reliability engineers in each of the three major departments at Hibbing Taconite Company. Their direction was to develop, direct and support equipment reliability processes. The reliability engineers were charged with answering two fundamental questions: How is the equipment failing? and What are we doing about it? At the same time, a visit by the Cliffs MLT to a Canadian steel company that had a reputation for maintenance success opened our eyes to the front-end of our maintenance systems. The process of "Identification of Maintenance Work," the first step in the maintenance process cycle, was recognized for its power. The reliability engineers were directed to focus on this process and develop the use of the many new predictive maintenance tools and practices that were maturing around the world.

As the iron ore industry and Hibbing Taconite Company boomed from 2004 to 2008, many new employees were hired and matched to the maintenance systems. Their enthusiasm, computer literacy and education levels provided an additional boost to our maintenance and reliability systems. Continued tweaking of the maintenance organizations, a focus on predictive maintenance and emphasis on precision maintenance only added to the maturing of the maintenance processes.

In addition, our reliability department reviewed the preventive maintenance (PM) and predictive maintenance (PdM) work being generated in our computerized maintenance management system (CMMS). We found that through the years of open access to the system and system upgrades, the preventive maintenance system needed to be cleaned up and standardized before we could get a true measurement of how well our PM efforts were performing. The reliability engineers were charged with the task of cleaning up the system and rewriting the PMs for the proper content, sequence and timing. This effort provided Hibbing Taconite a clean and manageable PM structure to build our reliability systems.

By the middle of 2007, the systems work was completed and we began to track and analyze our system performance metrics. The four metrics tracked were PM, schedule compliance, schedule loading hours and break-in work. Analyzing these metrics on a weekly basis provided clarity as to where to focus our floor activities.

Improvements were embedded one work group at a time over the course of three years until all work groups were stabilized under our current best maintenance and reliability practices. Once stable, we turned our focus to improving process capability. Maintenance and reliability systems improvements have been our focus since late 2010 and continues to be our focus going forward. These improvements are defined in our maintenance and reliability process at Hibbing Taconite by the engineered maintenance tactic (EMT) program. This program is an operations, maintenance and reliability engineering approach to develop a maintenance strategy that produces improved and consistent operating and maintenance standard work.

The EMT process begins with the data collection of the following items:

  • Delay data from the delay accounting system (DAS), mobile equipment dispatch, CMMS, or a combination of the three where it is applicable.
  • Failure mode effects analysis (FMEA) of the piece of equipment being assessed. If a FMEA doesn't exist, one is built. We do not perform a FMEA as the FMEA process was originally designed to assist the airline industry. Unlike a traditional FMEA, we do not cover every failure mode of each nut and bolt on a piece of equipment. Our current standard is to try to assess what the main failures are for each major component on the piece of equipment and how it affects the system or process. From this assessment, a risk number is generated. This number focuses efforts on the right systems. We are able to associate what work needs to be performed to that component or system to either prevent or identify failures.
  • As corrective measures or detection methods are identified and implemented, the risk number for that system drops and efforts are put forth on the next highest risk component. These FMEAs are the building blocks of our engineered maintenance tactic process.
  • Original equipment manufacturer (OEM) maintenance and operational input on the piece of equipment.
  • Site experience from mechanics, electricians, management and operators. This step often provides critical information gathered from the people who interact with the equipment on a day-to-day basis.
  • Current work review, which consists of reviewing the current state of the PMs, PdM work, daily inspections and standard jobs in our CMMS. The goal here is to analyze the content and estimate its value to the system.

These points do not represent all the data collected, but are generally the majority of the data. The above points typically are the most readily available and provide the most data to be analyzed.

After the collection of data, the next step in the process is to review all the data and use it to establish a target condition of the maintenance system. This may require modifications to how all the above points are defined, performed and controlled. This consists of correlating the problems (e.g. delays) with the work that is or is not currently being performed. The target condition will find ways to prevent or identify some of the common delays.

Next, the various predictive maintenance technologies are evaluated. From this evaluation, we implement best practices in predictive technologies, such as oil analysis and lubrication, vibration analysis and thermography. These technologies are the foundation of our condition-based maintenance strategy. We also moved our maintenance philosophy for our most critical equipment to proactive maintenance and condition-based component change-out. Through early detection, we believe we have the ability to prevent failures in many critical areas.

Finally, a review of the newly implemented system will take place about six months after the implementation date to reassess the program's affects and determine whether adjustments need to be made to the system. This is part of our continuous improvement process. If this process is skipped, the current process will become stagnant and improvements to the maintenance system, in most cases, won't be made. It is worthy to note that process improvements are communicated through the proper channels as they are identified. This allows the suggested improvements to be considered and acted upon in real time. The improvement process does not need to wait until the six-month time, as the craft/hourly and front-line supervisors or planners have the ability to elevate improvement suggestions to middle management as the deficiencies in the system are identified.

Hibbing Taconite Company firmly believes that through investment in our employees and their engagement in the improvement process, an effective maintenance and reliability team has been established; a team that uses a tried-and-true maintenance system to provide reliable equipment that ensures the safety of our employees, protects the environment and meets the production needs of Hibbing Taconite Company.

Nick Maki, Reliability Engineering Manager at Hibbing Taconite. He has worked in the mining industry for seven years. He has a Masters Degree in Manufacturing Engineering Technology.

Jack Croswell, has worked 32 years for Cliffs Natural Resources at Hibbing Taconite Company, currently as Area Manager - Mining. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in Mineral Engineering and a Masters degree in Infrastructure Systems Engineering.

Dean Weiberg is an Area Manager of Business Improvement for Cliffs. He has spent over 20 years in the mining industry. From 2007-2011, Dean was the maintenance and reliability manager for Hibbing Taconite Company. He has a Masters degree in Management.

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