Worthington Industries, a global diversified metals manufacturer, recently finished a complete transformation of the maintenance department at its Columbus, Ohio, steel processing facility. In 2012, with maintenance accounting for the highest percentage of facility downtime at 7.2 percent and a growing open order backlog topping 280, the team decided it was time for change.
In just over five years, the maintenance department has gone from firefighting and reactive maintenance to a first-class operation focused on planned and preventive maintenance. Through the implemented changes, the department cut maintenance downtime 82 percent and open work orders by 96 percent.
To achieve these results, the maintenance team employed what the company calls its “Transformation 2.0” methodology. It’s about using lean principles to accelerate change through rapid improvement events. The team started by identifying gaps or areas for improvement. Next, they pinpointed activities to experiment new ways to perform work. Experiments or methods that result in improved metrics or reduced waste are implemented as standard work.
Using the Transformation 2.0 framework, the maintenance department identified opportunities in three areas that were driving up their metrics and contributing to firefighting drills. They were: communication, staffing and technology/equipment. Here’s a look at the practices the team implemented to deliver significant performance gains.
It Starts with Communication
In 2012, when a work order came in, a maintenance manager assigned it to a technician. This process occurred for every work order submitted. There was little communication happening between maintenance and operations. Through a gap analysis, the team realized this was not the most efficient process. To avoid the firefighting mentality, they needed to be more integrated and aligned with operations.To reach that goal, maintenance assigned a technician to each individual line or machine. This not only allows the maintenance technician to become an expert on that machine, but it has given the technician an opportunity to be part of that operations team. Attending daily operator meetings, maintenance technicians get to hear pain points firsthand. Hearing about issues early on has paved the way for more preventive maintenance efforts.
As relationships and teamwork strengthened, another positive result occurred. Operators began volunteering to take on more basic machine maintenance. Using standard work, maintenance technicians trained operators on these tasks. This freed up the technicians to take on other jobs and work down their order backlog.
In addition to facilitating more communications with operations, the maintenance team established weekly meetings of their own. This has been a game changer. Having these regular touch base meetings allows the group to plan ahead. Each week, they prioritize their workload for the next week. They also solicit feedback from operations when prioritizing the schedule.
Increased visual communication also has been a key to maintenance’s success. The team built a maintenance communication board, which has become the central hub for sharing and tracking information. On the board, maintenance team members can see a list of all open work orders, what’s been completed, or what is ready for the taking. Scheduled machine downtime is also tracked, along with updates from each shift, allowing those who’ve been off a shift to quickly get up to speed. The board has been a great tool for standardizing work and providing accountability.
Resources for Success
As members of the maintenance department set their sights on pushing the needle from reactive to preventive maintenance, they decided it wasn’t enough to get everyone moving in the same direction. They needed a leader whose job was dedicated to planning, tracking and guiding these efforts. In 2012, the Columbus facility hired a maintenance planner. This addition has been instrumental in driving these initiatives.To get out of the reactive maintenance cycle, staffing was also critical. As tenured maintenance technicians near retirement, the department realized it needed to be ready by planning ahead. However, finding skilled maintenance talent is often easier said than done. The maintenance team decided to take action and help develop new talent.
Worthington’s maintenance team started a training program with five local trade schools and colleges. The department’s maintenance manager teaches classes, providing students with hands-on experience of the skills needed. To date, Worthington has hired three of these students. Out on the manufacturing floor, new technicians are paired with senior technicians for continued learning. They’re also rotated through different machines to build their experience. Today, the Columbus maintenance department is fully staffed and set up for success, with a pipeline of future talent.
Tools of the Trade
To drive all these changes and, more importantly, to know if they’re working, it’s all about metrics. In 2015, maintenance implemented a new computerized maintenance management system (CMMS). Through the CMMS, they create and track a full year’s downtime schedule for all plant machinery. They also run weekly and monthly reports to view performance on downtime and open work orders. Everyone on the team can see these dashboard reports, which provide accountability and a challenge to beat last month’s metrics.
Recently, maintenance also added some new equipment in the form of transportation carts. These carts help reduce response times by giving technicians access to the tools they need right where they need them. In looking for every opportunity to eliminate waste, minutes and seconds count.
Overall, the performance gains achieved through focused efforts around communications, staffing resources and equipment didn’t happen overnight. It’s been a continuous process of incremental year-over-year improvements. The reason it works is because employees are driving the ideas and the company has created an environment where it’s okay to try new things and fail. The only way to get better is by not staying the same. That mind-set has allowed the team to achieve 80 and 90 percent improvements, cutting maintenance downtime to just 1.3 percent and the number of open work orders to 11.And, they’re not finished yet. The maintenance department has a list of action items they’re always working to improve, along with a wish list. Once one action item gets completed, an item from the wish list gets moved over.
You know you have a successful, sustainable process in place when you’ve already achieved 80 to 90 percent reductions and employees are saying, “We can do better than that. We can cut this metric in half again.”