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The Learning Culture

We've all seen where firefighting is the norm, operations and maintenance frantically swinging between one crisis and another, often without prior warning, and certainly with no plan.

Figure 1
Figure 1 - Maintenance Maturity Arrow

Peace River Pulp
This is not to imply that Daishowa-Marubeni's (DMI) Peace River Pulp mill, the subject of this article, was in a breakdown mode, nor firefighting every event when this story unfolded early in 2005. In fact when they first defined their maturity based upon the SKF Client Needs Analysis Asset Management (CNA AM) survey conducted at the time, their placement was somewhere right in the middle, somewhere between Stabilizing and Optimizing, somewhere between Maintaining and Promoting.

As a culture DMI was intent upon avoiding failure and striving for uptime. Of course there were pockets of firefighting behavior, there were still some unexpected breakdowns and workers responding, very well at times, to the task at hand, but in general there was planning of work being performed, based upon preventive time-based inspections as well as condition monitoring (predictive) activities.

Like any manufacturing site there is personnel turnover, some at the management level and even more at the shop floor level. Needless to say, high attrition compounds the risk for an already difficult task, e.g., to improve the performance of the site.

Add to that the unstable global pulp market and highly competitive, state-of-the-art facilities in Latin America and Southeast Asia producing bleached hardwood kraft pulp used by the world's paper and tissue manufacturers.

Redefining Expectations
These were the conditions when DMI's mill management approached SKF about interest in a performance-based contract fashioned along the lines of SKF's highly successful Integrated Maintenance Solutions (IMS) contracts among Latin American chemical pulp mills.

Economic conditions for this mill changed dramatically during this contract due to certain issues:
• A dynamic, rapidly-changing global market pulp business.
• Competition from significantly lower cost regions.
• Rapid decline of a domestic (North American) market.
• An expanding (almost exploding) job market in the region, creating the loss of over 500 years of skilled experience in a matter of months.
• The global recession.

Improvement Motivation
Continuing to do business under these ‘current state' conditions using the same old strategy is not an option. Quicker response to recurring problems will not improve the mean time between failures. Instead some ‘step change' must occur in order to achieve a ‘desired state'.

In the case of DMI realization that a change was necessary to avoid rising costs, business decline and potential job loss was the prime motivator.

The mill already had many of the correct work processes in place and is a relatively modern facility technology-wise. Lacking was a unified culture seeking, among others, improved reliability and the discipline by the participants to follow through on expectations; a culture that learns from their experiences, and that identifies and follows through on correction of recurring issues.

Mid-contract the mill's management participated in a workshop facilitated by SKF. This workshop first sought to establish a consensus of understanding for the intent of the IMS, performance-based contract previously signed by the former management team.

From this workshop appreciation of the contract goals led to a commitment endorsed by the management of the mill and SKF to provide support and resources to apply the discipline needed to move the mill's culture to a more reliability-focused effort. This burden, in the past, had been borne by the predictive maintenance function and local SKF resource within the mill.

As a result of the workshop several processes where changed, a Reliability Advisor position added and resourced and technology applied as required to support the improvement effort. Foremost among the programs being revitalized was their operator driven reliability (ODR), or basic care program, (Figure 2), as well as ongoing programs for review of maintenance strategies and root cause analysis. Tools enabling these initiatives are provided as needed.

Figure 2
Figure 2 - ODR Route Compliance 2008 - 2009

The various operations and services managers with support from the mill's manager stepped up the discipline applied to data collection, thus providing valuable, timely information about asset health to be used in combination with the mill's already well defined predictive and preventive maintenance effort.

Outstanding Results
The results of the continuing improvement effort are outstanding as seen in the following graphics representing the full year experiences of 2008 and 2009.

The production equipment availability continued to improve, in spite of some unexpected deviations. (Figure 3), and as mentioned the mill is focused upon eliminating failures that have potential to reoccur, so failures will happen, and a ‘learning' culture will adjust.

Figure 3
Figure 3 - Asset Availability

The spend for bearings and lubrication, for which SKF took full responsibility as part of the IMS performance-based contract was positively impacted resulting in decreasing costs per tonne (Figure 4).

Figure 4
Figure 4 - Lube & Bearing Spend per Tonne

Overall maintenance spend, e.g., labor, materials, outside services decreased significantly over the last two full years resulting in a direct savings of over 13% from the previous year's total maintenance spend.

Figure 5 shows the reduction in maintenance spend year over year by month

Figure 5
Figure 5 - Overall Maintenance Spend

While the bulk of the savings was achieved through some discretionary actions in response to economic conditions including prudent spending on annual shutdowns, use of contractors and overtime, some is due to repositioning reliability to the forefront in terms of mill priorities.

It is simply a matter of focusing on doing the right things for the right reasons with the right resources at the right time, and making the necessary adjustments as dictated by equipment performance.

The people in this mill did precisely that as part of their improvement initiative, emphasizing reliability and asset health management involving everyone in the well being of the assets, the improved performance of which ultimately delivers a competitive business providing jobs.

Additional Observations
In addition, whenever asset health is improved and this improvement results in better availability for operations, the amount of energy consumed per tonne of product decreases.

Reduced energy consumption was not directly sought from the mill's improvement effort, in fact, operations has purposely taken action to improve efficiency to reduce their chemicals consumption, but improved energy consumption per tonne is an added bonus, and while the amount of energy saved per tonne is minimal, at this point in the mill's improvement program, energy usage does represent an opportunity for the future, especially as efforts are refocused on additional improvements. In this particular chart the cumulative electrical consumption decrease represents an equivalent to that typically used annually by 12 homes in northern climates. (Figure 6)

Figure 6
Figure 6 - Energy Consumption per Tonne

Communications Key
Communication of the effort and its results is a key component of this success. Good work is identified and acknowledged; recurring failures are investigated and followed to correction and avoidance. Waste is identified and minimized. A step change has occurred and improvement continues.

This mill's culture has journeyed from ‘good' to ‘better' and is striving for ‘best'. It has been a troublesome, difficult passage thus far, but the rewards far exceed the turmoil and pain of the effort and the future is brighter than the reminiscent past. Top to bottom, the folks at DMI are committed to improving their future, by themselves, with a little help from their friends.

The author would like to thank the people at DMI's Peace River pulp mill for their valuable input and insights and supports them on their continuing enthusiasm and optimism.

John Yolton is approaching his 46th year in the industry. A many-journeyed, seasoned veteran of pulp and paper manufacturing, Yolton currently assists global paper industry clients with asset reliability improvement strategies.

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