In just over 10 years, this facility has established itself as one of the top manufacturing operations in the world, especially when it comes to maintenance.
Drivers traveling Interstate 40 through west-central North Carolina can’t see the award-winning Baldor/Dodge manufacturing facility just off exit 85 near Marion. Tucked into a bluff above the highway, Baldor Electric Company’s low-slung 174,000-sq.-ft. plant is at the end of a short access road that first passes two smaller, and noticeably less busy, industrial operations. Ringed by a security fence, parking and green space, the Baldor operation is a quiet dynamo. Its 105 employees can turn out more than 4700 individual types of Dodge-brand mounted tapered and spherical roller bearings for OEM and end-user customers worldwide.
Built in late 1996, the Marion facility became part of Baldor with the company’s 2006 purchase of Rockwell Automation’s Reliance Electric business, which included the Dodge line of power transmission products.
The plant was an instant feather in Baldor’s cap. It already had been recognized as a top industrial facility by a well-known business magazine and was poised to win the prestigious NAME (North American Maintenance Excellence) Award for the efforts of its world-class, nine-person maintenance team. The sculpted-glass symbol of the 2007 NAME Award shares Marion lobby space with framed evidence of the operation’s many internal citations for excellence—all of which serve to inform visitors that they have entered one of the best manufacturing facilities on the planet.
But as anyone involved in competing for the NAME Award knows, such recognition doesn’t come easily in the manufacturing environment. Reaching the point where the Marion operations could win the NAME award for its maintenance program, for example, required as much learning pain as any other plant—new or old—needing to define its maintenance practices from the ground up.
If it ain’t broke…
“I start out talking about maintenance by explaining our mission statement,” notes Harley Freshour, Marion’s maintenance supervisor. “For three years we didn’t have one. We just fought fires. And if it wasn’t broke we didn’t fix it.”
Despite the abundance of new (largely CNC) equipment at the plant, Freshour recalls: “As time passed, we were putting band-aids on to keep it running. It got to be pretty aggravating.”
The aggravation was two-fold: first because of the machine failures that began to accumulate after months of three-shift operation with minimal maintenance, and second, because blame for the failures was automatically assigned to maintenance. “It was easy to pinpoint us,” Freshour says.
He had not come to the plant with maintenance experience. The Marion native was hired as a material handler at age 18, when the plant opened, and six months later was recruited into maintenance as a PM technician. But he had quickly recognized the need for a structure that didn’t exist.
Freshour remembers it well. “As a technician, you knew when you came back the next day or the next shift that you would have the same problem you already had. We felt like they wouldn’t let us really take care of the problems. And we didn’t know how to make that possible.”
But, in the grand scheme of things, he says, “Somebody had a plan and knew what they were doing.”
Spotlight on maintenance
By the Marion plant’s third year of operation, growing company-wide emphasis on lean manufacturing had led to changes in both production and maintenance. Management wanted to make maintenance a “spotlight” area, according to Freshour, signifying an understanding that a maintenance department in a reactive mode could not sustain the advanced uptime levels the company required. A Maintenance Mission Statement was written to clarify and formalize the department’s responsibilities with regard to new requirements for one-piece-flow manufacturing processes.
“Their mission statement helped the maintenance department realize that it has a customer,” explains Tony Sparks, Baldor’s senior lean engineer, responsible for ensuring lean success at the company’s 28 plants worldwide. “That customer is production and they (maintenance) have the responsibility of delivering the highest value to their customer in a very lean sense.”
The process began in earnest at Marion with performance tracking and a TPM program that focused on refurbishing the plant’s 53 pieces of CNC equipment—its most critical equipment asset. “We had run this equipment for three shifts for three years and we were really behind,” Freshour says.”Our CNCs were not performing as they had been. When TPM was introduced, we wondered what we were doing,” he adds, “but we grabbed the bull by the horns and started.”
The Marion operations had enough experienced maintenance veterans that, when combined with capable newcomers like Freshour, could tackle equipment rehabs and establish the department as an effective participant in the company’s new strategy. Maintenance began by breaking down overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), which indicated the units that needed to be addressed first. Crews would then spend up to two weeks tearing down equipment and making it like new.
“This was a learning curve because the technicians were now getting to replace some of the major-wear items that we had noted needed to be replaced when we didn’t know how to do it,” Freshour continues.
Alignment processes had to be learned, new tools acquired and spare-parts inventories expanded so crews could schedule and complete rebuilds with minimal disruption, all of which bumped up costs. “We found that it does cost to get back to a baseline level,” Sparks says. But, company commitment to achieve the improvements was firm, and payback was not far off.
“After the first department, we had spent a substantial amount of time and money to achieve higher uptime, and we thought we’d never get to do it again,” Freshour says. “Then productivity for that department went up five points, and we knew our work had something to do with it.
So now this operator is loving it because his productivity is above goal and the supervisor’s not bothering him.”
As a result, news of the productivity gains from rehabbed machines soon “spread like a virus” through the plant. After two years, according to Sparks, each value stream and the critical assets on those value streams were returned to a like-new or better condition.
Aligning costs, building experience
Progressing from reactive maintenance through TPM boosted capacity and uptime at Marion. It also created new unknowns, such as the amount and frequency of maintenance needed for refurbished machinery. In the search for the proper level, Sparks reminded the crew to avoid the trap of over-maintaining assets after years of not having maintained them enough. One way to do that was to switch from annual to time-based PMs that reflected actual machine hours run. To accomplish this for the plant’s many CNC units—which run for varying periods in all departments— the team installed large, visible, digital countdown clocks on the tops of key CNC machinery. The clocks are set to begin tracking at 5000 hours, the period the crew believed was prudent between major PMs, and run down from there.
“When the clocks hit 1500 hours,” Freshour says, “we go in with our predictive tools and take an ‘MRI’ of that machine. We call this the mini-PM.” These mini-PMs provide stopgap checks on the way to the major PMs to ensure that major work is not required before the 5000-hour mark. The clocks make plant personnel aware of an impending shutdown/teardown on a piece of equipment by visually showing the hour countdown, and by changing color (green to yellow to red) as numbers decrease.
According to Freshour, after two years, the crew fine-tuned assessments to the point that it is doing the right amount of maintenance, when needed, at the right time. “We’ve also driven costs back to a minimum, which is a lean element for us because we don’t have waste. We don’t make repairs now just because we did it last time.”
The crew’s efforts are tracked on a baseline that began in 2000. Among other gains, this baseline shows:
• equipment uptime now at 98%;
• a 50% reduction in maintenance costs since 2000; and
• a 90% reduction in the use of outside maintenance contractors, thanks to a strong internal training program.
Similarly, each machine has its own trending chart. “Each time you test a specific machine, you update the trending chart for, say, circularity [a CNC machine's deviation from norm], and you’ll see the trend,” Freshour explains.
“Once you’ve made an adjustment or changed a part, you can see where you stand from original, then it will start trending down again. The trending chart helps you predict what’s going to happen, even before the tool shows it.”
To ensure that all current and future technicians understand equipment needs from the same perspective, the maintenance team also began to record unique information about plant machinery. “We developed machine-specific training manuals that use our own words, not just the machine maker’s,” Freshour says.
The manuals combine basic information from standard troubleshooting manuals with notes taken by each maintenance technician to address the specific ways in which the CNC machinery is used in the Marion plant. They include in-house photos taken to illustrate various procedures, such as setting up test equipment and how to make alignments. “This may sound simple,” Freshour says, “but it ensures consistency so are all doing it the same way.”
Tools and techniques
Of the many items in Marion’s maintenance toolbox, several have proven critical to the plant’s world-class efforts. One is the ballbar test, a main component of the mini-PMs. The ballbar test is used on CNC equipment to measure variations in a circle radius as the machine runs a programmed test circle. By comparing actual measurements to the programmed value, accompanying software can calculate a machine’s circularity as well as serve as an indicator for positioning accuracy.
As Freshour describes it, the ballbar led to “the biggest success for us.” That’s because, in about 10 minutes, this methodology can determine the status of most moving parts of the machine—which, without the ballbar, could only be revealed through a teardown.
“We try to use it (the ballbar test) as much as possible,” Sparks says, “because it really does talk to the repeatability in three axes of what that piece of equipment is doing. It gives you a thumbprint of its accuracy, and by the traces you get, you know that different parts are beginning to fail or need adjustment. From a maintenance standpoint, you can now plan better. You know what you’re going to have to do before you go in, so you can pre-stage parts you’re going to replace, if you need to do that. This has helped us get some machines running better than brand new.”
Other key maintenance tools at Marion include infrared, ultrasonics and, critically, oil analysis, which Freshour ranks nearly as high as the ballbar in importance. Hydraulic-oil samples are routinely drawn and sent to an outside lab for analysis. But rather than discard oil that is determined to be dirty, the Marion maintenance team filters it on-site, thus shielding its budget from rising oil costs. To enable the filtering process, the crew installed oil valves on machinery, then built a portable filtration cart. The “toolbox platform on wheels” includes a filter and pump, Freshour says, and can filter 50 gallons of hydraulic oil in about 20 minutes. The cart not only gives the team quick access to equipment, it filters oil cleaner than brand new.
Another key maintenance tool is the laptop computer. The company provided one for each technician, who positions it on his personal tool cart. The portable laptops greatly expand the technicians’ efficiency by allowing them to fill out work orders on the spot, instantly review spare-parts inventory, and quickly gather other information without having to walk or call elsewhere. Freshour says getting them “was a big win for us.”
Recognition and validation
It wasn’t long before Tony Sparks saw the Marion plant’s potential to achieve recognition beyond the company. When the facility became the first among all Baldor/Dodge plants to receive Power Maintenance certification—the most rigorous of internal assessments—Sparks began a search for a new way to both challenge the plant and validate the Power Maintenance program. After considering various manufacturing award programs, he settled on NAME because most of Baldor’s plants are located in North America. “And this plant stepped forward,” he says. “They (Marion) did all of the paperwork. We submitted it and received the audit.” The audit, he notes, indicated that the plant “was spot-on in terms of our emphasis” and also pointed toward new possibilities.
Freshour says the NAME Award process helped him understand the importance of treating his department as a plant. “I started to see where I am responsible for everything that happens in my department,” he says. “For example, if my spare parts come in, and they’re rejected, I’m responsible. Manufacturing had someone checking its parts, but I didn’t. It (the NAME experience) opened my eyes to the entire scope of the maintenance processes.” Freshour has since established his own incoming and receiving inspection, his own budgetary goals and his own shipping procedure, “just like it’s my own plant.”
His superiors confirm that Freshour’s initiative has created a department that not only plays a key role in the plant’s achievements, but that functions nearly without oversight. “I just make sure they’re staying the course,” says Randy Rampey, manufacturing services manager. “Early in the year we do a machine assessment for the whole shop and come out with a strategy plan for achieving our objectives. But day to day, I let these guys do what they need to do.”
Plant manager Mark Earley has a similar take. “Our maintenance practices parallel very closely with our manufacturing processes, meaning that the more decisions we can allow to take place at the value-add level, the leaner we are with delivering quality service to our customers,” he says. “These guys run the business.” Earley adds that the maintenance team has helped make the Marion plant “what all the Baldor plants strive to be.”
In Tony Sparks’ view, making that strong connection between production and maintenance is an often-missed fundamental.”Without maintenance, you can’t really be lean,” he stresses.”It’s the foundation that allows you to move to one-piece flow, and to drive your organization into a well-constructed operation that delivers profit, but also service and value to customers.” Noting that he hasn’t found other companies that combine these elements in the same way, Sparks adds, “I like to think it’s unique to us.”