Author Archive | Michelle Segrest

56

6:33 pm
July 12, 2017
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Powering Auto Production

A highly sophisticated electrical protection-and-control system helps Mercedes-Benz keep the power running and its people and equipment safe.

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By Michelle Segrest, Contributing Editor

When electric current flows through an air gap between conductors, it creates an arc flash. Sparks fly, equipment can explode, and anyone who happens to be nearby can be injured—or even killed.

“The heat and light energy radiating from an arc flash is so intense it can do extensive damage to the equipment and can pose a very dangerous hazard for workers who are exposed to it,” explained Randall Sagan, an electrical engineer who is responsible for designing the power system for the 8.5-million-sq.-ft. Mercedes-Benz U.S. International Inc. (MBUSI) facility in Vance, AL. “The faster a breaker can trip to turn off power and extinguish the arc, the less energy is emitted and, therefore, the risk from injury is reduced.”

Engineer Randall Sagan provides more detail about the Mercedes-Benz power system he designed.

The risk of an arc-flash event is one of the reasons power-system maintenance is the single most dangerous activity technicians perform in a year’s time at this facility. “The maintenance teams don’t normally work on the power system very often,” Sagan said. “When you consider utility substation crews working on substation equipment every day—they are very good at it because they practice the same types of activities over and over. Our maintenance teams may be working on chillers, air compressors,  pumps, or air filters most of the time. And then once a year, they go do power-system maintenance. Now they need to open and close breakers, rack breakers out of their cubicles, and put safety grounds on the cables. This is not something they do every day. The danger is real and these guys understand the risks involved.”

Historic Alabama plant

Mercedes-Benz is a global automobile manufacturer—a division of the German company Daimler AG, headquartered in Stuttgart, Baden-Württemberg. The brand is known for its luxury vehicles, buses, coaches, and trucks.

In 1994, the company broke ground in Vance, AL, to build its only North American manufacturing facility. The company chose the 1,000-acre spot between Tuscaloosa and Birmingham because of its proximity to the interstate, a railroad, and utilities. Alabama Power worked as a partner and built an on-site substation to provide power only to this Mercedes-Benz plant, which produces more than 300,000 vehicles annually. The facility manufactures models GLS, GLE, GLE coupe, and some C-class sedans.

The company hired Sagan for his experience designing power systems at Kentucky Utilities and the Georgetown, KY, Toyota Motor Manufacturing facility. “When I got here [MBUSI], this was just a big muddy field, and the power system was a blank sheet of white paper,” he recalled. “You talk about an engineer’s dream come true!”

Mercedes-Benz U.S. International Inc., produces more than 300,000 vehicles a year in Vance, AL.

Mercedes-Benz U.S. International Inc., produces more than 300,000 vehicles a year in Vance, AL.

A need for redundancy

For Sagan, the main focus for the original power-system design was redundancy. “I knew that this would give us more flexibility for performing maintenance, as well as providing a more-reliable system in the event of a failure,” he said.

Sagan explained that mechanical systems typically use “N+1” redundancy. “If you need three pumps, then you install four. That way if one of the pumps fails, you turn on the backup,” he said. But for a power-distribution system to be fully backed up, “2N” redundancy is required. This means every major piece of equipment has a backup installed—one-for-one.

“Alabama Power fed the plant with two substation transformers,” Sagan said. “We essentially designed two complete power-distribution systems in the plant. Each one is a mirror image of the other and is fed from each of the Alabama Power transformers. This 2N redundancy approach was carried all the way down to the 480-volt bus duct distribution systems in each of the shops.”

Tie breakers at the main switchgear and at each unit substation provide the ability to back feed a section if something fails or needs to be shut down for maintenance.

A 2N redundancy approach assures that power is always available for the assembly line and all other areas at the Mercedes-Benz plant.

A 2N redundancy approach assures that power is always available for the assembly line and all other areas at the Mercedes-Benz plant.

Massive power, reliability, safety

A recent plant expansion to accommodate an increase in production capacity created a need for increased power. The original power system Sagan designed has operated efficiently and effectively for the past 23 years, but the increased load was going to exceed the capacity of the main “M1” switchgear and require a new lineup of medium-voltage switchgear, “M2.” Sagan used this opportunity to implement a safer and more reliable protection and control scheme.

“The original concept was to copy what we had on M1 and make M2 match,” explained Sagan.  “I met with relay manufacturers and asked them to show me what features were available in this day and age. There was some pretty impressive stuff, but it seemed like everything was focused more on reliability. I was more interested in improving safety. While reliability is certainly important, a lot of the protection schemes they were showing me were way more complicated than what I thought I needed for a car plant.”

During an internal presentation, a sales engineer mentioned how faster circuit-breaker tripping times improved power-system reliability. That caught Sagan’s attention, and he asked about the impact on arc-flash mitigation. From that point forward, the discussion focused on a protection scheme that emphasized safety.

“Of the hundred or so different options available, I picked out the six or seven that made sense for this project,” Sagan said. “Without making it overcomplicated, we came up with a design that utilized much more advanced components and would achieve a safer system. This is the safest medium-voltage switchgear in any Mercedes-Benz facility in the world.”

The M2 switchgear is the safest medium-voltage equipment in any Mercedes-Benz facility, worldwide.

The M2 switchgear is the safest medium-voltage equipment in any Mercedes-Benz facility, worldwide.

Communication-assisted protection and control

One of the main features that makes switchgear so safe is the communication-assisted protection and control scheme. Sagan explained that all of the relays are connected by a fiber-optic network to an automation controller. The automation controller is located in an HMI (human-machine interface) cabinet a safe distance away from the switchgear. This allows an operator to open or close circuit breakers from the HMI screen rather than operating a control switch while standing right in front of the breaker.

“If there is a fault or a problem with the breaker when it is opened—like an arc-flash event—and you are standing right in front of it, you are at risk of being injured from the arc flash,” he emphasized.

Another major component that improves the safety of the M2 switchgear is the arc-flash-detection system. This system uses 44 arc-flash sensors embedded throughout the switchgear. Each relay has four sensors connected by fiber-optic cables. If an arc flash occurs on the part of the circuit protected by a specific relay, light is transmitted to the relay from the sensors. This, along with the fault current detected by the relay, causes the relay to trip its circuit breaker extremely fast.

“This is the fastest any relay can detect and issue a trip command on any Mercedes-Benz power system in the world,” said Sagan. “Because the relays are able to trip circuit breakers in less than 7-milliseconds, the arc-flash energy is drastically reduced.”

Each feeder relay also has arc-flash sensors in its main bus section. In this case, if a short circuit occurs upstream of the feeder breaker, the relay transmits a message through the fiber-optic network to tell the main relay that an arc flash has been detected. This allows the main breaker to trip and extinguish the arc flash 10 times faster than is possible on the M1 switchgear.

Most industrial plants rely on traditional time-current-coordination protection schemes for their medium-voltage switchgear. In this type of scheme, relays on the main breakers have a time delay to coordinate with downstream relays. This prevents the main breaker from tripping for a fault on one of the feeders and shutting down the whole bus. But, if the fault is on the main bus, the main breaker still has to trip.

“The breaker may delay as much as one second before it trips,” Sagan said. “That is a long time in the arc-flash world, which means that you could be severely injured or even killed if you are exposed to the energy from that arc flash.”

To overcome the time-delay problem with the main breakers, Sagan again used the high-speed fiber-optic network communications. “Because all of the relays can communicate with each other, the system is able to distinguish between a fault on one of the feeders from a main bus fault. This allows the main breakers to trip much faster, thereby reducing the arc-flash hazard.”

Power-system functions are conducted at the HMI (human-machine interface) module, located safely away from the switchgear.

Power-system functions are conducted at the HMI (human-machine interface) module, located safely away from the switchgear.

Expansion requires new infrastructure

The 1.2-million-sq.-ft. body shop expansion project also required increasing the assembly and paint shops. Several loads were re-circuited to the new M2 switchgear to free up capacity on M1. New circuits were then installed at M1 to feed the new body-shop expansion.

“By doing this, I was able to rebalance the plant loads and maintain the full 2N redundancy throughout the system,” Sagan said. “We literally now have the ability to fail half the transformers in this plant and still run full production.”

Sagan explained that his experience earlier in his career made him realize how important backup redundancy was for the power system.

“Not only does this provide flexibility for supporting production in the event of a failure, but it also allows us to shut down major parts of the system for maintenance,” he said. “Instead of having to schedule maintenance blackouts, we simply transfer the load using the redundancy. Then we can perform maintenance testing during the week on straight time, instead of having to make a mad dash to get it all done over a weekend.”

Technology’s safety benefits

Safety was a major emphasis for Sagan when designing the new unit substations for the plant expansion. Power-system studies revealed that the most dangerous arc-flash hazards in the plant were found at the 480-V main breakers at the unit substation transformers. A typical unit substation steps down from 13.8 kV to 480 V for distribution in the shop areas. In a conventional transformer protection scheme, the primary disconnect switch has fuses that protect the transformer.

“The problem is that if there is an arc-flash event when someone is opening or racking out a 480-volt main circuit breaker, you are relying on the fuses on the high side of the transformer to blow to turn that arc flash off,” Sagan explained. “Because the fault current has to go through the windings of the transformer, the fuses are operating in their time-delay range. The amount of current available at the transformer, and the longer clearing time of the fuses, result in extremely high levels of arc-flash energy. There is no personal protective equipment available that can protect a person in that situation.”

To mitigate such dangerous levels of arc-flash energy, Sagan used a transformer differential protection scheme on the new unit substations. The fuses in the primary disconnect switch are replaced with a medium-voltage vacuum circuit breaker. A differential relay measures the current going in and coming out of the transformer. If there is a difference between the two, then the relay assumes there is a short circuit inside and issues a high-speed trip command. The relay also has the ability to detect fault current on the 480-V main breaker. 

“Because it can trip the primary circuit breaker so much faster than fuses would operate, this scheme reduces the arc-flash hazard to much safer levels,” Sagan explained. “All of the new substations utilize that scheme. And, with the addition of remote-control panels for all of the circuit breakers, the whole unit substation is much safer to operate.”

A substation such as this may have between 15,000 and 20,000 A of fault current available. The arc flash that would be created could be between 30,000 and 35,000 F—four times hotter than the surface of the sun.

“We are definitely dealing with extremely high levels of energy,” Sagan said. “It can be extremely dangerous to workers who have to interact with this gear. By utilizing protection schemes that are designed to reduce the arc-flash energy levels, we are also in effect making the system more reliable. An arc flash with that much energy could kill somebody and is also doing a tremendous amount of damage to the equipment. So, if I can reduce the amount of damage to the equipment I may also be able to reduce the cost to repair or replace it.”

Sagan achieved his goals to make the power system safer and more reliable. With almost four decades of experience, he said he considers this the greatest engineering achievement of his career.

And it all started with a blank page and unlimited opportunity.  MT

Michelle Segrest is president of Navigate Content Inc., and has been a professional journalist for 28 years. She specializes in creating content for the industrial processing industries and has toured manufacturing facilities in 46 cities in six countries on three continents. If your facility has an interesting maintenance and/or reliability story to tell, contact her at michelle@navigatecontent.com.

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12:43 pm
July 12, 2017
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Voice From The Field: Following the North Star

Working in various locations around the globe, KRATON’s Ron Bitely keeps all focus pointed at a target that never moves.

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By Michelle Segrest, Contributing Editor

Ron Bitely believes that everyone needs to have a North Star.

Screen Shot 2017-07-12 at 1.38.16 PM“We should all have direction in whatever we are doing,” he said. “I don’t like to use the word ‘vision’ because many people consider this just another buzz word that has little meaning. But people can relate to following a North Star that remains constant. Targets move. People need direction so they can make decisions that will create value for their company.”

For Bitely, the global electrical and instrumentation reliability manager for Houston-based KRATON (formerly Arizona Chemical), having common direction is especially important. He is responsible for reliability at the company’s global sites, which includes five sites in the U.S., and international facilities in Brazil, France, Germany, Taiwan, Sweden, Japan, and Finland. He generally stays at one site for about a week (unless working on a project). Then he changes his focus on the next opportunity to create value for the company.

“Reliability encompasses a lot of things,” he said. “It’s not just one thing. There is a distinct difference between maintenance and reliability. A lot of people combine the two, but these are very different disciplines. The biggest difference is that reliability is just as much about people and culture as it is about technology. A good reliability program combines these elements. It’s about the people and the capabilities that you develop in that culture of understanding what ‘good’ looks like.”

Keeping reliability a priority across the company’s many facilities involves careful consideration of various cultures, languages, different geography, and individual company protocol.

“It’s a challenging role because I’m always working through others in order to be successful,” he said. “People don’t like to change, but this becomes easier when you understand why change is necessary. I believe in communicating why we do what we do so that people can align to it. Of course, they can also challenge it. This is okay, too.”

Like the actual North Star, Bitely’s figurative North Star never moves. The target remains constant with the ultimate goal of aligning all best practices across sites, even though at this point, each site is at different points in the journey.

Remembering that every individual is unique and each culture represents some variation of the path that is taken, the father of two teen-agers approaches management like raising children. “You need to be fair, but everyone may not be motivated by the same things,” he explained. “Different people react to different motivation and discipline. It’s important to understand different people’s hot buttons—the good ones and the bad ones.”

Regularly visiting multiple sites creates many challenges. “It can be difficult, because some people view global resources like seagulls—they swoop in and then leave you a big to do list,” Bitely explained. “You just can’t do that. I’ve learned to roll up my sleeves and lead by example. I first show them how to do it, then explain why we do it, and try to show the value that it creates for us. We are the global resources that are leveraged to the sites assisting their growth and value creation. We are breaking through that barrier; our mission is to provide technology and be collaborative.”

Early experience

Bitely’s approach to implementing change is the result of a long and diverse career that includes experience in the pharmaceutical, biotech, chemical, mining, and pulp and paper industries.

After graduating from the State Univ. of New York-Canton, Bitely worked at a small paper mill in upstate New York as a process- and quality-control engineer. “It was a good-ole-boy operation where we just did whatever it took—and sometimes that meant fixing things a million times,” he said. “This experience got me started down the path of doing things right the first time. I wasn’t officially in the field of maintenance and reliability yet, but I was indirectly.”

It didn’t take long for him to understand how this method of doing things over and over could quickly increase costs and consume resources.

He later spent time in electrical construction, and then spent 16 years working for major pharmaceutical companies. “This is where I really began to understand what it looked like to have good engineering practices and the importance of getting things right,” he said. “Working in pharmaceuticals can really create a fear in everyone’s mind about FDA recalls, so you learn to double- and triple-check things. This is where I really got a good education in using engineering best practices. It was an overall discipline. The longer I was there, the more I learned. I began to understand the importance of having a process. There is a rhyme and a reason for why you do things. I also learned a lot about risk mitigation.”

He then gained more diverse experience working as a reliability leader at Georgia Pacific, Atlanta. “Working in a variety of industries has helped me learn how to approach things, and has helped in my ability to coach and mentor people because the experience is so broad,” he continued.

For KRATON, Bitely influences the local teams to maintain all of the manufacturing equipment and also promote reliability within the operations, safety, and quality units for the global facilities. “Reliability touches everything,” he said.

Best practices

Screen Shot 2017-07-12 at 1.38.24 PMFor consistency across all sites, KRATON uses SAP for its CMMS. The company also incorporates the use of many maintenance and reliability tools within every site, for example, vibration analysis and monitoring, infrared, ultrasound, and other technologies for best predictive practices.

Strong leadership and incentive programs are also used. In every practice, Bitely encourages his early lessons of doing things right the first time. With various cultures and languages, there are many sensitivities that come into play when incorporating these best-practice processes across sites.

“How you address someone could be fine in one place and completely offensive somewhere else,” he said.

While, ultimately, the target is the same, actually defining the “North Star” at each site becomes critical. For centuries, explorers have used the North Star as a beacon of travel throughout the world. Therefore, the universal analogy translates well globally.

Special programs

KRATON creates, develops, and manufactures renewable chemicals and specialty polymers for a variety of products in a variety of industries. Bitely is working on a program to increase availability at one of its refineries, with a target of 99%. He uses a clear analogy to define what this means. “If you go to your driveway and turn the key to your car, you want the car to start for you—so it’s available to use every time you turn that key,” he explained. “Some people confuse availability with uptime. These are different terms with different meanings. Our target of 99% availability will ensure that our customers have what they need, when they need it, because we would be available to produce product 99% of the time.”

In the effort to identify opportunities to make this happen, Bitely and his teams have discovered value from electrical distribution from the power companies. “Due to failing infrastructure in the United States, availability of power can be poor at times,” he said. “If you lose power at one of your sites, you shut down. We must make sure our utilities, equipment, and systems are all reliable and with the highest availability possible.”

Work-life balance

Along with his considerable and diverse experience, Bitely uses his gift of relating to people at all levels to help achieve the team goals.

“One of my first jobs was as a custodian, pushing a broom,” he said. “So I understand that there are different levels of expertise and how important it is to explain things in a way that each individual can understand. If I’m talking to a VP of Engineering, I may be very technical. If I’m talking to a brand new planner right out of college with little experience, I try to explain things in a way that he can learn and get a clear visual of why we do things this way. It’s important to know your audience and to ask the right questions.”

While he has other interests—outdoors, horses, ice hockey, family—the theme of reliability translates from work to home.

“I’m very passionate about reliability,” he said. “Even my wife says my work rolls over into my personal life because. in everything I do, it’s always about doing things right the first time and keeping your eye on that North Star.” MT

Ron’s Top 5 Tips for Effective Reliability

1. Acquire good troubleshooting skills.

2. The smallest details make the biggest differences. The big stuff will hit us upside the head. It’s the little stuff we may miss.

3. Seek others. Don’t work in a vacuum.

4. Continuously educate yourself. Read blogs. Subscribe to Linkedin. Read forums. Attend conferences. It should be an evolution of learning everyday.

5. Use emotional intelligence.

Michelle Segrest is president of Navigate Content Inc., and has been a professional journalist for 28 years. She specializes in the industrial processing industries. If you know of a maintenance and/or reliability expert who is making a difference at their facility and would like to share their story, please email her at michelle@navigatecontent.com.

286

8:30 pm
June 15, 2017
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AZ Puts Proactive in Reliability

Biopharmaceutical manufacturing company AstraZeneca redefines reliability to streamline more-effective maintenance processes.

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By Michelle Segrest, Contributing Editor

Even though the AstraZeneca manufacturing facility in Mt. Vernon, IN, looks like a hospital surgical unit—with key equipment separated into concentrated clean rooms—for years it operated like an emergency room. When an equipment breakdown occurred, personnel jumped into action, triaging the issue and not always looking into the true symptoms to prevent future occurrences.

At AstraZeneca, separating the reliability people from the day-to-day commotion, defining the difference between reliability and maintenance, and management support were keys to a successful transition to a reliability-oriented operation. Photo: AstraZeneca

At AstraZeneca, separating the reliability people from the day-to-day commotion, defining the difference between reliability and maintenance, and management support were keys to a successful transition to a reliability-oriented operation. Photo: AstraZeneca

The company acquired the Mt. Vernon facility in August 2015. With a new reliability unit in place and an Operations Excellence Team, the site now has teams focused on preventing emergencies, instead of addressing them.

Reliability and maintenance can be a challenge when maintaining a high standard for the pharmaceutical environment. As you walk through the facility, the white walls and floors glisten against the shiny, almost mirror-like, stainless-steel equipment. Equipment and personnel rooms serve as airlocks between the corridors and the manufacturing rooms. The airlocks are guards against dust, dander, allergens, or other elements that could contaminate the critical medicine that is being manufactured. The switch from a reactive to a proactive, risk-based, approach has taken reliability in the 700,000-sq.-ft. manufacturing area to a new level.

“Our first step was to separate our reliability team from the day-to-day commotion,” explained facilities engineer Andrew Carpenter. “We had to be sure they understood that reliability is different than maintenance, and we had to all take this seriously. We had many people who were specialists and were relied upon for troubleshooting and fixing emergency issues. It was a complete mindset change.”

The new reliability team received support from upper management and buy-in from the team. Although some roles changed, the team remained headcount neutral. This, along with clear alignment of goals, became the keys to a successful transition.

“If you are starting a reliability program in your plant, call it what it is,” senior building and reliability manager Chris Nolan said. “Reliability is different than maintenance. The goal is to get to a certain utopia. As your group grows, you all become more focused on that reliability side, but when you are starting out with a reactive-maintenance program, and you want to transition to one that is reliability based, there is a different vision. This must be explained and understood.  Now we have processes in place to aid in the prevention of emergencies and more organized efforts to quickly respond should the need arise.”

With an investment in new tools and technology, including additional vibration, infrared thermography, and ultrasound training, the newly structured, two-year-old team measures its return on investment in high-quality performance and products.

“A key driver within our business is quality,” Nolan said.

AstraZeneca is a science-led, biopharmaceutical business that discovers, develops, manufactures, and supplies innovative medicines for millions worldwide—primarily in the areas of respiratory, cardiovascular and metabolic, and oncology. The Mt. Vernon site manufactures oral-solids medicines—primarily for Type 2 diabetes treatment.

The maintenance and reliability group focuses on maintaining the utilities, purified water, HVAC, manufacturing equipment, and all Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) maintenance.

Maintenance technician Dan Guth concentrates on a detailed work request in the maintenance shop.

Maintenance technician Dan Guth concentrates on a detailed work request in the maintenance shop.

A new process

The Mt. Vernon-site reliability team adopted a common mission statement from the industry. “Anyone who improves a process or a piece of equipment is a reliability leader.”

The simple vision was broken down into specific goals and targets. Nolan explained that 2015 was all about building a foundation, while 2016 was the year to focus on root-cause analysis. The team received early help from consultant group Life Cycle Engineering (LCE, Charleston, SC, LCE.com).

“In pharma, when somebody uses the word ‘criticality’ they go straight to quality,” Nolan said. “LCE helped us identify the tools we needed to show overall criticality—business cost, quality, mean time between failure. Andrew [Carpenter] led us through a criticality assessment at our site and we banked that into different categories, including equipment, water purification, parts redundancy, and packaging items. Now we do an assessment and re-rank our critical categories that need attention every year. We are in the process of doing that now. This helps us focus our efforts and has become a game-changer for us.”

The reliability group became its own entity within the plant’s maintenance organization.

“We were doing a really good job of fixing issues, but needed to work on following up after the issue, getting to the root cause, and putting processes in place to prevent the issue from happening again,” Carpenter said.

Two years in, Carpenter and Nolan are beginning to see the fruits of the team’s labor. “We can see that it is working and we have come a long way.”

Maintaining the reverse-osmosis purified- water-generation system at the AstraZeneca plant is critical to ongoing production.

Maintaining the reverse-osmosis purified- water-generation system at the AstraZeneca plant is critical to ongoing production.

Early wins

Redefining the maintenance and reliability functions was an anchor in achieving some early wins for the new team.

“We are all here to get the product out of the door, but the difference is simply the things we focus on,” Nolan said. “Maintenance right now focuses on the day-to-day activities—the preventive maintenance piece and execution of that at a high level. But when you are executing you are challenged on the day-to-day things, so it is hard to find that balance of time to take a look back on the long-term items, like the vision. For us, the difference between maintenance and reliability is that reliability is getting into the data mining of the maintenance activities. Particularly in the pharma environment, that is a big piece that ties back to the quality culture, as well. The maintenance piece is very tactical, while reliability centers around more planning and vision.”

Carpenter said the team’s vision began to take shape when it zoomed in on the root-cause analysis program. About six months into the program’s launch, Nolan began to notice a distinct change in the culture.

“It was a Friday afternoon before a three-day holiday weekend and normally everybody was ready to scoot,” he said. “We had one of our metrology calibration technicians and engineering technicians having a serious conversation about a particular problem. It turned into an hour-and-a-half discussion of digging into really finding the problem, turning it into a root-cause analysis. That is the first time when I really thought this whole program began to click. These guys were looking beyond the fix and they were passionate about preventing it from happening again.”

Andrew Carpenter, Neil Reichel, Chris Nolan, and author Michelle Segrest (l-r), discuss reliability and maintenance operations in the AstraZeneca maintenance shop.

Andrew Carpenter, Neil Reichel, Chris Nolan, and author Michelle Segrest (l-r), discuss reliability and maintenance operations in the AstraZeneca maintenance shop.

Carpenter explained that the change involved a clear switch from simply fixing a problem to a focus on the big picture. “We are better at documenting the data and finding ways to prevent failures,” he said.

One of the areas the team focused on heavily at the start of the reliability program was predictive maintenance. Engineering technicians and predictive-maintenance technicians were sent to Level I vibration, infrared, ultrasound, and laser-alignment training. It didn’t take long to see the return on investment.

Nolan said another key win was bringing the storeroom into the reliability discussion.

“The storeroom is a key to reliability,” Nolan said. “Paying attention to what is going on in the storeroom tells you what is going on in the plant. What goes out of your storeroom is a huge check and balance of your maintenance process.”

Realizing how much can be learned from problems and mistakes also made a big difference.

“Problems are gold,” Nolan said. “Problems within your processes give you ‘aha’ moments. This allows you to bring people together to look at what is going on and talk about how can it be better. Don’t ever be afraid to share a problem because usually it can positively impact you, your group, or someone else.” MT

Michelle Segrest is president of Navigate Content Inc., and has been a professional journalist for 28 years. She specializes in the industrial processing industries and has toured manufacturing facilities in 41 cities in six countries on three continents. If your facility has an interesting maintenance and/or reliability story to tell, please contact her at michelle@navigatecontent.com.

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3:56 pm
May 15, 2017
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Training, Automation Drive Extrusion Reliability

(All photos courtesy of Aquatherm.) When designing the new extrusion plant, the team needed a solution to how best deliver the cooling water for the extrusion process. After some creative design work, it was decided to create a 300-ft.-long tunnel under the facility, specifically for this purpose.

When designing the new extrusion plant, the team needed a solution to how best deliver the cooling water for the extrusion process. After some creative design work, it was decided to create a 300-ft.-long tunnel under the facility, specifically for this purpose. All photos courtesy of Aquatherm.

German-based Aquatherm provides reliable, sustainable pipe production as a result of advanced technology, automation, and in-house design and innovation.

By Michelle Segrest, Contributing Editor

As one of the first three companies in the European market to manufacture under-floor heating systems, German-based Aquatherm, headquartered in Attendorn, has come a long way since the company was founded 44 years ago. It now leverages state-of-the-art automation and innovative energy-saving systems to drive its reliability and sustainability programs.

“Until a few years ago, maintenance employees needed to localize and correct a fault indication directly at a machine if a system error occurred,” explained Aquatherm’s Maik Rosenberg, the company’s global co-managing director. “Power converters and frequency converters could only be parameterized manually or adjusted by potentiometers. Now, we can access the central control from various places within the company. If needed, we can access every single drive of an extrusion line.”

Maintenance staff members can correct faults using smartphones and also receive repair orders directly from a tablet. They use the handheld technology to recall all the information needed for order fulfillment in a central folder, and then take advantage of the ability to choose required materials from its digitized stock inventory.

“It is possible to operate all our machines online through our production-activity control system,” Rosenberg said. “The system enables us to monitor the energy consumption of all the machines and their components.”

The use of automation has enabled Aquatherm to establish itself as one of the world’s leading manufacturers of plastic piping systems for heating, cooling, domestic water, industrial, and sanitary applications. The company was founded in 1973 by Gerhard Rosenberg for the development, production, and installation of warm-water, under-floor heating.

In 1980, the company developed the plastic pipe system Fusiotherm, which is made of polypropylene-random (PP-R) for sanitary equipment and heating installations. This innovation has been the foundation of Aquatherm’s continuous growth. The company has developed into a global business that is represented in 75 countries and is a market leader in many sectors and application fields.

Aquatherm employs almost 600 employees within the group of companies. In 2016, it manufactured more than 40,000 km of pipe and 50-million molded/fabricated components out of 18,000 ton of raw materials.

In April 2017, Aquatherm opened a state-of-the-art 160,000-sq.-ft. facility in Attendorn that features 19 extrusion lines. The building has been designed and constructed to offer space for a total of 32 production lines, underscoring the company’s commitment to future growth.

Aquatherm North America (Aquatherm NA) was established roughly 10 years ago as a sales, marketing, and support partner and operated independently until late 2015 when Aquatherm Worldwide assumed control of the North American companies Aquatherm LP (U.S.) and Aquatherm Corp. (Canada). North American operations are based in Lindon, UT, and feature a new 82,000-sq.-ft. facility that opened in April 2017. All corporate departments are housed in this facility, along with a cutting-edge Design and Fabrication Services department and quality-assurance laboratory.

This is a portion of the process-cooling system for Aquatherm’s new extrusion lines. Aquatherm pumps more than 121-million gal. each year from the Bigge River at temperatures from 50 F to 57 F. By German law, the water returned to the river can be no more than 73.4 F. The firm has three water loops running through heat exchangers—process cooling, electric-motor cooling (the largest motor is 800 kW), and heat recovery for space heating and domestic hot water.

This is a portion of the process-cooling system for Aquatherm’s new extrusion lines. Aquatherm pumps more than 121-million gal. each year from the Bigge River at temperatures from 50 F to 57 F. By German law, the water returned to the river can be no more than 73.4 F. The firm has three water loops running through heat exchangers—process cooling, electric-motor cooling (the largest motor is 800 kW), and heat recovery for space heating and domestic hot water.

Maintenance best practices

Aquatherm’s maintenance team includes 40 specialized workers—metal workers, electricians, and machine fitters. Most are maintenance foremen and technicians. Consistent and regular training is the key to keeping the team up to date with the latest technologies.

“Our maintenance workers are trained regularly, both in-house and externally,” Rosenberg said. “We empower them to perform their tasks as efficiently and quickly as possible.

The operations and maintenance teams work closely together. Short distances between the different departments make it easy to react quickly to challenges and encourage cooperation and information exchange between team members. Aquatherm is committed to keeping most of the maintenance of its equipment in house. “It is part of our company culture to do as much of our maintenance in house as possible with our highly qualified staff,” Rosenberg said. “We have a staff design team, which uses CAD to design our extrusion and injection-moulding tools. The tools are then manufactured in our tool shop. For us there is great value in using our own experienced staff to design special tools. This allows us to be highly flexible. We can react to new requirements quickly and appropriately while ensuring we preserve our high standards.”

Automation and advanced technology continues to play a key role.

“One good example of how our maintenance team made a difference for our production department and helped us to save costs is the installation of an additional measuring device at the beginning of our extrusion lines,” Rosenberg explained. “The device measures the pipe diameter and compares the pipe’s actual value with standard values. Previously, we only had a measuring device at the end of the production lines. With the new device installed at the beginning of the line, we can react immediately to variations and adjust the machine settings, as necessary. This is a simple but smart solution that has helped us reduce machine setup times and increase product quality.”

Aquatherm’s new extrusion lines operate three shifts a day, and ran for more than 340 days in 2016. Aquatherm engineers designed everything in the plant itself, including the control systems. The firm designs, builds, and automates their production lines, rather than purchasing complete lines, which may not be optimized for their product lines. Because they had to maintain production, it took 10 months to move the lines from the old building into the new building.

Aquatherm’s new extrusion lines operate three shifts a day, and ran for more than 340 days in 2016. Aquatherm engineers designed everything in the plant itself, including the control systems. The firm designs, builds, and automates their production lines, rather than purchasing complete lines, which may not be optimized for their product lines. Because they had to maintain production, it took 10 months to move the lines from the old building into the new building.

Building for growth

Planning and development of the new extrusion production facility was done in-house with a team of experts. From the initial planning phase, all participating departments were involved—extrusion, building-technology, electrical, metal-working, and technical-purchasing departments, as well as plant and company management.

“The idea behind staffing it was to have a cross-functional team combining the experience of all departments and to implement missed opportunities of the past in the new building,” Rosenberg said. “The ideal pipe production was planned using all the technical and organizational input of the entire team.”

All 19 extrusion lines now are located on the ground floor of the building. The material supplies, as well as auxiliary and packaging materials, are provided on the upper floor. The material supply is almost fully automated, Rosenberg said. The raw materials are transported directly from the supply silos, which are located outside the building, using seven coupled stations that move the materials through the ducts to the machines.

“All cooling, power, water, and compressed air is supplied directly to the machines through a central supply channel integrated in the floor,” Rosenberg explained. “This allows the respective areas to be clearly separated in a structured way, enabling the focus to be on respective core competencies of the involved teams. All process and building controls (material supply, cooling systems, fresh air, light, and safety engineering) were programmed and managed in house.”

The new 160,000-sq.-ft. Aquatherm manufacturing facility features 19 extrusion lines, has space for a total of 32 lines, and is all concrete to comply with German fire codes that deal with plastics fabrication. In 2016, the company manufactured more than 40,000 km of pipe and 50-million molded/fabricated components out of 18,000 ton of raw materials.

The new 160,000-sq.-ft. Aquatherm manufacturing facility features 19 extrusion lines, has space for a total of 32 lines, and is all concrete to comply with German fire codes that deal with plastics fabrication. In 2016, the company manufactured more than 40,000 km of pipe and 50-million molded/fabricated components out of 18,000 ton of raw materials.

Sustainability

Sustainability has been a core value of the company from the time it was founded more than four decades ago, according to Barry Campbell, vice-president of marketing, Aquatherm North America.

“We believe sustainability is a vital component in a company’s success,” Campbell explained. “That is why we have certified our energy-management system according to DIN EN ISO 50001 and our environmental-management system according to DIN EN ISO 14001. It is also why we are the only piping system in North America that can contribute directly to LEED v4 points. We consistently are working to reduce our consumption of energy, water, and resources, as well as lower the amount of our waste and emissions. For example, in 2015, we saved more than 42 tons of carbon dioxide. We also reduced the consumption of raw materials by more than 288 tons by reusing plastic materials in our production processes.”

Energy savings play into the company’s sustainability picture. “We use the hot water, hot air, and waste heat generated during production processes to heat our state-of-the-art extrusion building, as well as another building,” Rosenberg said. “The total heated area is approximately 15,500 square meters. The system that we have in place is so efficient, we only need additional heating for approximately 10 days a year when production is down during the Christmas holidays.”

The company also started a program to replace the lamps in all of its production and warehouse buildings with LEDs.  “To save energy, we also have installed movement-sensitive lighting in the technical basement of our new extrusion building,” Rosenberg added.

Automation triggers continuous improvement

With constant changes in technology, automation continues to be a crucial element in every one of Aquatherm’s processes.

“Automation gains more and more importance, especially with regard to quality control,” Rosenberg said. “One example is the in-line measurement of pipe-wall thickness. Monitoring data is sent to our control center and displayed as graphics on computer monitors. In the event of an error, a message is sent to the shift supervisor and an alarm warns the lead operator. This allows us to constantly minimize reaction time, helping us to guarantee product quality.”

Additionally, Aquatherm controls many physical parameters—including temperature, speed, and melting behavior—in real time.

“Soon, we will be equipping our maintenance teams with tablets, which will enable them to perform remote maintenance from home on weekends when they are on call,” continued Rosenberg.

To help ensure continuous improvement, the company enhances its automation and technology with old-school methods that still contribute to overall productivity. “We hold meetings at the end of each shift,” Rosenberg said. “In these meetings, we review the shift, analyze what went well, and discuss any issues that need to be addressed. All information is summarized and written in a hand-over report. All of our manufacturing plants communicate regularly and share best practices and, in the end, it’s a combination of all these things that make us a productive and sustainable company.” MT

Michelle Segrest is president of Navigate Content Inc., and has been a professional journalist for 28 years. She specializes in developing content for the industrial processing industries and has toured manufacturing facilities in 41 cities in six countries on three continents. If your facility has a good operational, reliability, and/or maintenance story to tell, please contact her at michelle@navigatecontent.com.

146

7:11 pm
April 13, 2017
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Pump OEMs Address Oil and Gas Trends

Pump suppliers discuss trends and challenges in the oil and gas industry involving smart technology, competitive delivery, and optimized equipment efficiency.

As the use of vapor-recovery units (VRU) at oilfield storage-tank facilities grows, so does the need to understand that proper skid-assembly installation will help guarantee their reliable performance.

As the use of vapor-recovery units (VRU) at oilfield storage-tank facilities grows, so does the need to understand that proper skid-assembly installation will help guarantee their reliable performance.

By Michelle Segrest, Contributing Editor

Speed, portability, and reliability are key factors in optimizing production times and the bottom line in the oil and gas industry, according to experts from major pumping technology companies.

Glenn Webb, senior product specialist for Blackmer, Grand Rapids, MI, a leading brand from PSG, (Oakbrook Terrace, IL) said that the most obvious positive manifestation of the ongoing oil and natural gas production boom in the United States can be seen on street corners across the nation. At the end of January 2014, the average price at the pump nationwide for a gallon of gasoline was $3.28. One year later, the price for a gallon of gas had plummeted to $2.04.

Increased production in such prominent shale fields as the Bakken in North Dakota, Eagle Ford in Texas, Niobrara in Colorado, and Marcellus and Utica in New York, Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, has increased the demand for gathering, transport, and terminal systems that can store raw crude oil and natural gas until it can be shipped by truck, train, or pipeline for refinement and consumption With these increased challenges come innovative solutions.

Smart instrumentation

Some companies offer valve and pump products with smart instrumentation to monitor factors such as motor vibration, pump vibration, inlet pressure, outlet or discharge pressure, pipeline temperature, gear-box oil temperature, voltage, amp draw, supply pressure to valve controllers, actuator blow by, and smart-wear monitoring of internal wear components, according to Todd Loudin, president of North American Operations and VP Global Sales for Flowrox Inc., Linthicum, MD.

Loudin said Flowrox has experienced three major challenges for the oil and gas industry:

The price of crude. Many oil producers, especially within shale regions, require a minimum of $30/barrel. But only about 50% of the wells in the Bakken or Permian Basin break even at $30/barrel. The other 50% break even at around $60/barrel. There are some wells that have difficulty breaking even at as high as $100.

Capital investment has been slashed by the industry. Of course, investments will occur that are imperative to continued production, but budgets have been constrained, Loudin said.

A significant reduction in work force. One solution that the oil industry has embraced, according to Loudin, is intelligent instrumentation and monitoring for the production and refining process. “Some of these systems are not ideal and useable to the people doing maintenance or rebuild work,” Loudin stated. “The main variables are typically displayed on a distributed-control system (DCS) with an operator who can provide information on pressure, temperature, flow, and other variables. However, the person in the field does not have easy access to this information. One way we are helping companies in all industries is through our Malibu Smartware. This system creates a 3D visual of the process and process equipment. Key operational information on a given asset can be viewed by an operator or maintenance person on their smart phone, tablet, or PC, wherever they are. They can be standing right in front of the asset and see operating parameters, maintenance videos, drawings, past work history on the asset and even can get confirmation about spare parts in stock for repair.”

This software captures data regardless of where it is stored in the facility or offshore rig and provides it at the device level with only one username and password. To further expand on the use of smart software, it can allow condition monitoring of all kinds of assets, Loudin added. Through predictive analytics, the system learns what a normal condition looks like. When anomalies occur, warnings are sent to maintenance personnel.

These solutions can be cloud based or housed on the owner’s servers or their own secure cloud. The system uses the same encryption as the Internet banking industry.  

Quality manufacturing

Mark Weidmann, vice president sales-Midstream/Downstream O&G at PumpWorks610, a DXPE Company (Houston) said that customers ask him everyday, “Do our pumps, products, and services address cost, quality, efficiency, and reliability issues?” He said the simple answer is “yes,” however, this doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

Weidmann explained that his company is experiencing seven key trends:

Speed of delivery. “The longer you wait for your pump supplier to get back to you with what you requested, the more money you lose,

“Investment in manufacturing efficiencies and getting pump selection information into the hands of customers is vital. The issue that we now face is that demand has outstripped supply. This is especially true in the case of centrifugal pumps engineered for specific applications and specifications.” 

Mergers and acquisitions. “We all see the acquisitions happening in the industry now,” he said. “The big companies get bigger and the lead times for projects are getting smaller and tighter. DXP Rotating Equipment Divisions’ ability to remain nimble and supremely focused on the engineering, manufacturing, testing, and delivery of these highly specialized centrifugal pumps remains key to our core values.”

Price. Material selection has become critical, Weidmann stated. “For example, carbon steel can save money over ductile iron,” he said. “But it’s not just about the quality of the metallurgy, it’s also about intangibles.” Companies who offer in-house engineering and testing, and extended warranties, are getting a competitive edge.

Supply and demand imbalances seem to be tightening. Most outlooks call for supply and demand equilibrium by early 2017.

Moderate demand. Global and U.S. oil demand continues to show moderate but steady growth.

LNG export. More U.S. LNG export capacity is expected to hit the market.

Cost control. Oil companies have learned how to operate in a lower-price environment, returning to a healthier focus on capital and operating cost discipline.

Weidmann said his company tackles these challenges with vertical integration of its manufacturing processes.

Vapor-recovery units

The increase in oilfield activity has also meant a corresponding increase in the amount of vapors that are created and emitted during production, transportation, and storage, according to Webb. To prevent the escape and loss of these vapors—which are saleable assets in addition to being potentially dangerous to the environment—many operators installing vapor-recovery units (VRUs) at their oilfield storage sites.

“The growth in the amount of vapors that are a by-product of oilfield production activities is not going away,” Webb said. “Neither is the attention that regulatory agencies will be paying to the levels of vapors that are emitted into the atmosphere and whether or not they can be harmful. That’s because many oilfield vapors have been classified as hazardous air pollutants or volatile organic compounds by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.”

Basically defined, a VRU is a system composed of a scrubber, compressor, driver, and controls designed to recover vapors that are formed inside completely sealed crude-oil or condensate storage tanks. During the VRU’s operation, the controls detect pressure variations inside the tank and turn the compressor on and off as the interior pressure exceeds or falls below pre-determined settings. When the compressor is running, it passes the vapors through the scrubber, where any liquid is trapped and returned to the tank, while the vapor is recovered and compressed into natural-gas lines.

As the oil and gas industry faces changing demand, low per-barrel prices, large supplies with varying extraction costs, and competition from renewable resources, producers are turning to manufacturers of pumps and related control equipment for increased reliability, efficient performance, and solutions for product handling and storage. Pump manufacturers are delivering, resulting in higher efficiency throughout the oil-and-gas handling process. RP

Michelle Segrest is president of Navigate Content Inc. She specializes in coverage of the industrial processing industries. Please contact her at michelle@navigatecontent.com.

168

6:03 pm
April 13, 2017
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A Hoarder of Information

When it comes to lubrication, Scott Arrington relies on 34 years of information gathering to ensure he always has the correct answer for his customers.

High-tech equipment helps Arrington and his team provide accurate analysis and improve the reliability of all equipment.

High-tech equipment helps Arrington and his team provide accurate analysis and improve the reliability of all equipment.

By Michelle Segrest, Contributing Editor

Screen Shot 2017-04-13 at 12.24.37 PMScott Arrington is a hoarder—a self-described hoarder of information, that is. The World Wide Web is not big enough to hold all the information upon which he relies. In fact, he has so many manuals, binders, and oil samples, he needs two offices—one to work in, and another to contain all the valuable records, documentation, and research he will never throw away.

Arrington is the Lubricants Technical Manager at G&G Oil Company, Muncie, IN. When a customer calls with a question, he wants to be sure he has the correct answer. “I have abundant resources to make sure we make the correct recommendation the first time and can quickly answer questions from customers. I keep all records of opportunities we have already experienced.” 

As a college student, Arrington worked part-time for the company painting convenience stores, bumper poles, and canopies, and performing maintenance.

“It was a great summer job, and it helped me to get familiar with the business,” Arrington said. “When I graduated from Depauw University (Greencastle, IN) in 1986, I was still looking for a full-time job and the owners of G&G Oil (Bill Gruppe, deceased; Hoyt Neal, retired; and Dale Flannery, retired) were gracious enough to allow me to come work for them in a sales position. They helped me get interviews with a couple major oil companies. I received some nice offers, but when I measured what I really wanted to do and where I really wanted to be, staying here was the best option for myself and my family.”

When making that crucial decision, the opportunity to work with people and with a smaller company were key factors.

“When I graduated from college with my science and physics background, I knew I didn’t want to spend my life in a lab,” he explained. “I was looking around at different options and the owners of G&G Oil offered me a position where I could use my science background to help sell lubricating products while not being tied down to a desk. I was able to get out in the field and see many different and interesting mechanical operations. It was something new every day.”   

Thirty-four years later, Arrington remains loyal to G&G Oil, and now makes significant contributions—in particular with his deep technical knowledge and impact on the lubrication and oil-analysis programs. 

1704fvoice04pMajor responsibilities

It is Arrington’s passion to help customers and prospects solve lubricant-related issues. “From my numerous years of experience and attendance at many major oil companies’ learning seminars, I have been able to absorb quite a bit of knowledge to assist companies and individuals with their lubricating problems,” he said. “I can also assist them with ideas and programs to decrease their total lubrication expenses.”

It is Arrington’s responsibility to answer technical questions from customers and prospects, working directly with key accounts, assisting salespeople with technical sales calls, maintaining current formulas and developing new products, maintaining and updating technical data sheets, approving all raw materials used in formulations, and approving new finished products that G&G distributes for other companies. 

Arrington’s team includes a customer-service manager, a logistics manager, a production manager, and a sales manager. He also works closely with the sales representatives to make sure they are supported with sales opportunities and assistance with current customer questions.

Many of the customer’s questions include inquiries about machine recommendations. “Customers will call in with questions about a certain brand of product for a certain machine,” Arrington explained. “I will delve into the exact specifications of the product they are telling me about and come up with a recommendation of a product we represent—whether it is a G&G Oil-branded product, a Shell Oil-branded product, or from many of the other brands of products we distribute. I try to take away the aura of the name of the specific brand, and assure them that if you don’t have that exact brand, the machine will not keel over and die. I educate the customer about my recommended product and that their warranty won’t be voided if they use another product brand. The warranty will still be in good standing by using the specification of the product, and not necessarily the brand of that product, in their machinery.”

Screen Shot 2017-04-13 at 12.24.49 PMThe importance of lubrication

Arrington said he lives and breathes with a simple philosophy—“Learn all you can, and don’t be afraid to ask questions.” For him, the importance of good lubrication is simple.

“If you don’t have proper lubrication in your equipment, it won’t run the way it’s designed, which will lead to unscheduled maintenance opportunities,” he explained. “If your machinery doesn’t run, you can’t make products to sell. If you can’t make products to sell, your business will suffer and you possibly won’t be around very long! If you are using improper lubrication practices, your machinery will not run at the optimum level. Your maintenance costs will go up because you will have to replace components more often and you will have more unscheduled downtime. Your total maintenance spend will increase if you are not using the correct lubrication product and applying it at the right time, or monitoring it at the right times to make sure your machinery is running at its optimum level.”

Arrington recommends the following lubrication best practices:

• Follow OEM instructions.

• Develop an oil-analysis program that emphasizes:

• condition of the machinery
• trending how the machinery is functioning
• tracking excessive wear of components
• information about the oil (oxidation, contaminants, additives).

If you don’t have your own in-house oil-analysis laboratory, partner with a reputable and certified independent oil-analysis provider. Even if you have your own lab you should use an independent lab to occasionally check your results.

• Use different testing procedures to ensure customers can fully see the condition of their machinery.

• Use proper sampling equipment and procedures.

“A good oil-analysis program is like having a blood test for a human. It can tell you if you have problems with a vital organ or some other part of your body that you may need to look into to take medicine for or have surgery,” Arrington said. “It’s the same with oil analysis—it tells you if the ‘organ’ in the machine is running properly or if it needs to be examined or replaced because it may have excessive wear or other problems, causing it not to work to its optimum level. A good oil-analysis program allows you to be proactive to schedule maintenance instead of being reactive to a break down.”

scottgraphic

Challenges

One of Arrington’s biggest challenges, he said, is developing and producing formulas for new products that G&G Oil can offer to its customers. 

“It’s challenging because of the many different obstacles you’re trying to overcome, especially in the metal-working and metal-removal fluids field. You’re trying to formulate a product for the customer that will have a long life span for the fluid, a good clean finish for the part, and will provide long tool life,” Arrington explained.

There are several different types of additives that can be used, depending on what kind of metal is being manipulated or type of operation being performed. “You have to use the correct balance of those additives to give you an optimum performing product,” he said. “I rely heavily on my additive manufacturers to give me guidance. When I have special projects, I consult with them. I design a product in the lab and then collaborate with my suppliers to get their opinion on whether they think it will work or not.  Fortunately they agree with me most of the time! The formulating depends a lot on what the application is. You have a pool of additives and base oils that you know about. It’s just trying to blend them together correctly to give you the best-performing product for the customer.”

Finding inspiration

Learning and then hoarding information provides constant inspiration for Arrington. As an example, he points to the adage, “Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and feed him for life.” It is advice he implements in his own work, every day.

Arrington has been married to Stephanie for 20 years and has two teen-aged daughters, MiMi and Ellie. He gives similar advice to his children.

“I’m sure they get tired of it,” he said. “I try to give them advice of the failures I have had in the past—no matter how big or how small—and remind them how important it is to learn from them. I also try to get them to look at the big picture. I want them to see the repercussions of their actions. It may seem like a small thing, but it could be a big thing down the road. I try to be a great representative of myself and my family and my company. My children are growing up in a different time with different challenges and problems, but we all need to learn from history and our mistakes.” MT

Michelle Segrest is a professional journalist and specializes in the industrial processing industries. If you know of a maintenance and/or reliability expert who is making a difference at their facility, send her an email at michelle@navigatecontent.com.

358

4:15 pm
April 13, 2017
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Reliability Changes Lives

Using skilled technicians and advanced technology, Eli Lilly and Company creates life-saving medicines and devices worldwide.

By Michelle Segrest, Contributing Editor

Throughout the halls of the Indianapolis Eli Lilly and Company facility, the corporation's brand is proudly displayed. All photos courtesy of Eli Lilly and Company.

Throughout the halls of the Indianapolis Eli Lilly and Company facility, the corporation’s brand is proudly displayed. All photos courtesy of Eli Lilly and Company.

At Eli Lilly, the motivation to improve production reliability is not just something that is tracked on graphs and charts for upper management to review. In fact, for maintenance and reliability engineer Carrie Krodel, it’s personal.

Krodel, who is responsible for maintenance strategies at the Eli Lilly Indianapolis facility’s division that handles Parenteral Device Assembly and Packaging (PDAP), has a family member who uses the company’s insulin. “I come to work every day to save his life,” she said. “Each and every one of us plays a part with reliability. Whether it’s the mechanics or the operators keeping the line running, the material movers supplying the lines with the products, or the people making the crucial quality checks, everyone is a part of it. And we all know that the work we are doing is changing lives.”

The Indianapolis site covers millions of square feet with nearly 600,000 assets that must be maintained. According to Rendela Wenzel, Eli Lilly’s global plant engineering, maintenance, and reliability champion, the company produces the medicine as well as the packaging for insulin pens, cancer treatments, and many other products and devices.

For the entire Eli Lilly team—which includes a group of about 80 engineers at the Indianapolis site—the responsibility is crucial. “If we mess up, someone gets hurt,” Wenzel said. “This is a big responsibility.”

However, it’s the human element of this responsibility that inspires an exceptional level of quality.

Team, tools, training

Screen Shot 2017-04-13 at 11.03.07 AMWayne Overbey, P.E., is the manager of the Maintenance-Manufacturing Engineering Services department. He said his team of seven maintenance technicians uses three primary technologies every day to keep the machines running—vibration analysis, oil analysis, and infrared technology. With a focus on condition-based monitoring, each team member has an area of responsibility to collect and analyze vibration data. In addition to the vibration data collector, each team member carries a small infrared camera to make heat-signature images used to diagnose and troubleshoot rotating-equipment problems.

The team also uses a digital microscope that can zoom to 3500X magnification. This helps them look closely at a bearing race, cage, and rolling elements and see what caused a failure, whether structural, corrosion-based, or failed lubrication. In addition, the group has an oil laboratory that can analyze oil and grease. 

The team performs more than 7,000 measurements on more than 4,000 rotating/reciprocating machines and performs vibration analysis on those machines monthly, Wenzel stated. The level of qualified individuals is high. “Anything that is process related, we have the equipment to look at it and analyze it,” she said. “We have people with ISO 18436-2 Cat 2 and Cat 3 verifications and even one expert with an ISO18436-2 Cat 4 certification, and there are fewer than 100 people globally with that level of certification. These guys are experienced, high-level certified professionals.”

The maintenance team increased its level of performance more than five years ago when it made the strategic decision to outsource the facilities (buildings and grounds) portion of maintenance. With about 220 maintenance professionals companywide at the Indianapolis facility, this allowed the team to focus more on production and analysis rather than the facilities, Overbey said.

The team has sophisticated data-collection routes set up as PMs and also focuses heavily on maintenance training.

“We have a difficult time finding people interested in maintenance,” Overbey said. “We have a strategic program to train people that takes 18 months to 2 years. When I was growing up, being an electrician or mechanic was a fine career, but now the attitude is that you have to have a college degree to be successful. Most of our crafts people here make more than the average liberal-arts major. As we cycle out the baby boomer work force, we need to find new talent and close the gap.”

Wenzel agreed that finding qualified crafts people has been a focus that has helped Eli Lilly in its drive for reliability.

“Wayne saw the need and developed an excellent program,” she said. “Management is supportive. He is training them and then sending them to get experience while they are going to school.”

The program is responsible for hiring 24 trainees, to date, and has been able to place 18 of them in full-time positions within Lilly maintenance groups. The remaining six trainees are still in the initial stage of the program. The training also uses basic maintenance programs provided by Motion Industries and Armstrong. Last year, there were more than 30 well-attended training classes focused on equipment used at Lilly. The company wants the training to be relevant to what the maintenance technicians perform on a daily basis.

“The whole condition-based platform makes us unique,” Wenzel said. “We have all the failure-analysis competencies. It’s a one-stop shop. We provide two-to-three day courses on condition-based technologies for crafts and engineers. The whole understanding, as far as what maintenance and reliability can do, is to increase wrench time and uptime. We are all seeing an uptake in technology.”

The Indianapolis Eli Lilly facility has more than 600,000 assets that must be maintained by its experienced engineering-services team.

The Indianapolis Eli Lilly facility has more than 600,000 assets that must be maintained by its experienced engineering-services team.

Best practices

Overbey stated that his main responsibility is to help the various site-maintenance groups improve uptime by using diagnostic tools to identify root causes of lingering problems. With a focus on training paying dividends, he said the high-quality people are what make the condition-based monitoring team successful.

The team works with the site-maintenance groups to reduce unexpected failures, so increased time can be focused on preventive maintenance. “We look at our asset-replacement value as a function of our total maintenance scheme,” Wenzel said. “We look at recapitalization and make sure we are reinvesting in our facility. We keep track of where we are with proactive maintenance. Those numbers are tracked facility to facility and then rolled into a global metric.”

Vibration analysis and using infrared technology has become a central part of the department’s reliability efforts.

“These guys have taken responsibility for the failure-analysis lab and taken it on as an added-value service,” Wenzel said. “For example, if there is a failed bearing, they take it out, cut it up, and provide a report that goes back to management. If we make a call that a piece of equipment has increased vibration levels and is on the path to failure, based on the vibration data collected, getting those bearings goes a long way in getting site buy-in when the actual bearing problem can be visually observed. Most individuals are skeptical when shown the vibration waveform (squiggly lines), seeing the bearing with the anomaly is the true test of obtaining their buy in.”

“We can compete with anyone in terms of oil analysis,” Wenzel added. “We can identify particles and have switched to synthetics. For example, when oil gets dirty, it becomes acidic. Something slightly acidic can be more harmful than something that is highly acidic because it will just continue to eat away at the material and cause significant damage before you can stop it. Something slightly acidic can really tear up bearings. The FluidScan 1100 can detect that.”

Screen Shot 2017-04-13 at 11.03.19 AM

More than 80% of the oil samples are now handled internally, Wenzel said. “As we are selling all of these capabilities to the PdM team around the world, we are starting to look at some of the potential issues at other facilities to provide extra analysis with this condition-based maintenance group,” she said. “We are sharing good ideas and processes across facilities. We now have a maintenance and reliability community.”

Eli Lilly employs Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) and the use of many chemicals requires a high level of cleanliness that is checked daily and regulated by government bodies.

Changeovers can often take weeks. “We check everything,” Wenzel said. “There is very involved and stringent criteria for how we clean a building. Regulations are a challenge, but they keep you on your toes. You don’t even notice it anymore because it becomes a part of what you do. It doesn’t faze the day-to-day thinking.”

The precision and accuracy of the facility's manufacturing equipment contributes to its product excellence.

The precision and accuracy of the facility’s manufacturing equipment contributes to its product excellence.

Operational excellence

Eli Lilly works with cross-functional teams in which maintenance, engineering, and operations are working on the overall process. Operations manager Jason Miller is responsible for running the process. Maintenance corrects the issues and performs preventive maintenance to get ahead of equipment failures and prevent unplanned downtime.

“Anytime we have an equipment failure we evaluate what happened and see what process we can put in place to get ahead of those things,” Miller said. “Line mechanics are on each shift and work with our line operators to understand and troubleshoot issues. We get ahead of issues to ensure [there is] no impact to the quality of our process.

With advanced robotics and a large amount of automation, monitoring performance and quality is key to successful operation and production, Miller stated. “Everything is captured, including downtime and rejects,” he explained. “We identify corrective actions at every morning meeting. We use the data on the line to drive improvement. The line is automated, but if there is a reject every 100 cycles, we need to take action. The robotics never stop. If you see overloads or rejects over time, this tells you about mechanical wear and other issues with the equipment. We drive data-driven decisions for maintenance.”

The preventive maintenance includes lubricating linear slides each month. When vibration is detected, adjustments are made immediately. “The machines tell us what’s going on. We just have to know how to read them,” Miller said. “We have manual and visual quality checks, but the machines also do quality checks. Reliability is critical because when patients are waiting on their medicine, the machines have to run the way they are supposed to run all the time. We have standards, and they have to be precise. This is medicine going into someone’s body. We are the last step of the process. It has to be packaged and labeled correctly, as well.”

Mike Campbell is the maintenance planner and scheduler for PDAP and has developed a system in which all preventive maintenance is performed during scheduled shutdowns.

“We develop a schedule with every piece of equipment and every scheduled PM associated with it,” Campbell said. “One line may have 50 to 60 PM work orders to perform during the week of the scheduled line shutdown. We bring in a lot of resources to do it all at once, typically requiring a day shift and a night shift.”

Advanced production technology is critical to the standard of reliability excellence.

Advanced production technology is critical to the standard of reliability excellence.

Changing lives with reliability

Wenzel said that looking at how each department interacts helps to put all the pieces of the reliability puzzle together. They have even received outside recognition of their practices in Indianapolis. In 2008, The Corporate Lubrication Technical Committee, of which Wenzel is the chair, won the ICML John Battle Award for machinery lubrication.

“It’s not only a cost piece, there is a whole asset-management piece and a whole people piece that we have to look at–not just the numbers, the metrics, the bars and charts–it’s the whole thing that makes a facility tick,” she explained. “Reliability isn’t just my job…it is everyone’s job. Every time I get into my car and turn the key, I expect it to come on. Every time I run that piece of equipment, I want it to perform the same way every time. That, to me, is reliability.”

Overbey said reliability is about being tried and true. “It’s predictable. It’s reliable every day. It’s the whole conglomeration of things that is very complicated, yet very simple. When all is said and done, reliability is a huge advantage for a company. You are only spending money when you need to. But it’s very difficult to get there.”

Wenzel said that consistency is a key to reaching reliability goals. Eli Lilly has global quality standards and good manufacturing practices that are applicable to each of the company’s sites across the world.

“Reliability means the equipment is ready each and every time it runs, and it should perform the same way each time,” Krodel said.

Doug Elam is Level 4 vibration certified, which is a rare level of qualification. He works on Overbey’s team and also tried to define reliability. “Reliability is an all-expansive subject that touches on different types of technology, the goal of which is to improve efficiency in machinery performance,” Elam said. “It requires an intense study of the background functions of the machines.”

Eli Lilly and Company uses robots on an assembly line to carefully package its products.

Eli Lilly and Company uses robots on an assembly line to carefully package its products.

Regardless of the definition, reliability for Eli Lilly always circles back to the human element.

“Patients come through and perhaps are on insulin or a certain pill, or a cancer treatment that has changed their lives,” Wenzel explained. “We listen to them, because it’s not just the medicine that matters, but the packaging and ease of use. It puts what we do in perspective. We take this feedback and incorporate it into our designs. It starts with an end user’s idea and need, goes to design, goes through production, then back to the end user. It’s like a circle of life.”

The research is carefully conducted with the end user always in mind.

“A lot of research is done to make the best fit for each subset of people,” Wenzel continued. “And at the end of the day you have a marketable product that you can be proud of. Being on both sides of the business, you understand why medicine is so costly. But when you find the one niche that helps cancer patients, or the kid who is near death, and then you can be a part of developing this medicine that completely changes his life, it just makes it all worthwhile.”

And yes, it’s personal.

“When you know people who use the products,” Wenzel said, “the work you do becomes a part of you.” MT

Michelle Segrest has been a professional journalist for 27 years. She specializes in the industrial processing industries and has toured manufacturing facilities in 40 cities in six countries on three continents. If your facility has an interesting maintenance and/or reliability story to tell, please contact her at michelle@navigatecontent.com.

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