Archive | Preventive Maintenance


6:34 pm
October 11, 2016
Print Friendly

Keep MDRs Rolling

1610rmcpowertransMotorized-drive roller (MDR) conveyors have come a long way since being introduced to material-handling industries. The days of loud, clunky systems that were complicated to set up and run are gone. Modern MDRs are quiet, energy efficient, and simple to operate. According to Ray Kozlowski, director of service and support for Milwaukee-based Hilmot (, these systems are also easy to maintain.

Today’s MDRs are designed to keep pace with manufacturing and distribution centers that operate around the clock—sites that can’t afford critical conveyors to go down, for any length of time. Such situations are less of a worry where proper inspections and preventive maintenance (PM) procedures are regularly performed.

As with other systems, the key to keeping MDRs up and running is preventing problems from occurring or catching them before they become major issues. The right way to do this, Kozlowski stated, is to establish an inspection and maintenance schedule that coincides with PM checks of other machinery in your facility. He offers the following tips.

randmInspect these items weekly (at a minimum).
The rubber O-bands that loop between MDR rollers are common wear items. (They’re what move the rollers and propel packages and other items along the conveyor.) Much like tires on a car, O-bands deteriorate and occasionally need to be replaced. Visually inspect them for signs of wear, cracks, frays, or loss of elasticity.

Inspect other mechanical components to make sure everything is tight, in place, and serviceable. These inspections should include:

  • checking MDR roller speeds, and readjusting as needed
  • checking strip and full-width belts on belted-zone conveyors for proper tension and tracking, and adjusting as needed
  • checking divert pins, timing belts, and hardware, and replacing as needed
  • checking support legs and guard rail for stability
  • checking end plates, divert mechanisms, and carrier rollers.

Inspect the MDR electrical system to make sure components are clean and free of dust. These inspections should include:

  • checking drive cards for proper function
  • checking photo eyes, and adjusting beam path as needed
  • checking that system LED lights are green, not red
  • removing covers on power-supply enclosures and blowing clean air through them to remove dust and debris.

Manage parts and tools to minimize downtime.
It’s a good idea to keep a bench stock of common replacement parts. In addition to O-bands, consider stocking electrical components, since it can be difficult to predict when they might fail. Typical items include:

  • drive cards
  • power supplies
  • motorized rollers
  • photo eyes.

A basic set of tools will suffice when performing preventive maintenance on MDRs. Your tool set should include:

  • 3/8-in. drive ratchet and sockets
  • matching wrench set
  • standard flat-tip and Phillips screwdrivers
  • terminal screwdrivers
  • wire stripper
  • channel-lock pliers.

Stay abreast of best practices.
To aid in the inspection and maintenance process, some MDR manufacturers offer instructional how-to videos on YouTube and elsewhere. They can be an important resource for your plant. After all, adhering to best-practice inspection standards and catching (and dealing with) issues before they become bigger problems is an effective approach to keeping your MDR conveyor—and facility—rolling along. MT

—Jane Alexander, Managing Editor

For more information on motorized and conventional conveyor systems, including questions about their maintenance, visit or email


2:40 pm
September 27, 2016
Print Friendly

Nordex Turns to Drones for Wind Turbine Hybrid Maintenance Approach

Two wind turbines at work over the Harbec facility in Ontario, NY, help the operation provide 80% of its power needs.

A big trend in the manufacturing space for the last twenty years has been Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) 3rd party services, such as remote oil and gas exploration, equipment monitoring and more.

Now, you can add drone monitoring of wind turbine blades to the list.

The wind turbine manufacturer, Nordex Group,  created a partnership with Lufthansa Aerial Services (LAS) last week to start offering unmanned aircraft systems— drones — to inspect installed wind turbines and help customers with more efficient maintenance approaches — a cross between predictive and preventive.

Rotor blades on wind turbines are regularly inspected by rope teams and they look for erosion defects due to wind, weather and stress.

According to Nordex, this [new service] provides additional possibilities for continuously monitoring the status of rotor blades using the very latest technology. While not explicitly an Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) application, sensors should play a big part in this development.

LAS is a new division in the Lufthansa Group and belongs to Lufthansa Consulting GmbH. The company offers the commercial operation of drones and related data management for the inspection, measurement and monitoring of infrastructures. Wind energy is one of the industrial sectors on which LAS focuses.

“Apart from the close-up inspection of rotor blades, monitoring the progress of the construction of new wind farms is another area of application,” says Dr. Andreas Jahnke, Managing Director of Lufthansa Consulting GmbH.

>> Related Content | Joe Barkai Interview: IIoT Implications for the Outcome Economy

1601Iot_logo>> For more IIoT coverage in maintenance and operations, click here! 


6:55 pm
September 12, 2016
Print Friendly

Old-School Approach to New-World Technology

Colorado window and door manufacturer creates sophisticated, energy-efficient products with tried-and-true maintenance and operations best practices.

All of Alpen’s fiberglass insulated frames are custom made in various shapes, sizes, and with a variety of operational moving parts.

All of Alpen’s fiberglass insulated frames are custom made in various shapes, sizes, and with a variety of operational moving parts.

Continue Reading →


9:30 pm
August 9, 2016
Print Friendly

In the Jungle, Advanced Software Comes to Life

An advanced CMMS program helps manage the maintenance of a complex and diverse park facility.

The zoo’s carousel must be maintained with strict safety standards to keep visitors protected and happy. Photos by Michelle Segrest

The zoo’s carousel must be maintained with strict safety standards to keep visitors protected and happy. Photos by Michelle Segrest

By Michelle Segrest, Contributing Editor

The Solar-Array Data Display shows park attendees and staff the benefits and energy savings of solar power.

The Solar-Array Data Display shows park attendees and staff the benefits and energy savings of solar power.

Maintaining a 23-acre park with attractions, indoor and outdoor facilities, fountains, special exhibits, irrigation and landscaping, and more than 700 live animals—some of them deadly—requires coordination, diversity, and special tools.

The Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society in southern Florida must accomplish all of this while also honoring its mission to inspire others to act on behalf of wildlife and the natural world. With a full-time maintenance staff of just six professionals, facilities manager Jason Witmer must carefully coordinate the many job requests that range from checking and repairing safety latches to maintaining complex filtration systems, coolers, and HVAC equipment.

Using computerized maintenance management software from Mapcon Technologies Inc., Johnston, IA, Witmer can roam the grounds and receive maintenance alerts from anywhere in the park with a mobile app. Customized to the park’s needs, the technology can send him an alert from “Asia” that maintenance is needed on the Malayan tiger’s habitat, or he might be notified that the carousel is not functioning properly. Or, perhaps it’s time to maintain the filter on the two baby grizzly bears’ swimming pool.

Witmer can then virtually assign the task to one of the maintenance professionals. He is also notified when the job has been completed, along with a report of the job’s details. At any time, he can retrieve data that allow him to predict future maintenance and schedule non-urgent requests.

“We use Mapcon in at least 100 different ways throughout the zoo,” Witmer said. “From the conservation aspect, we use it to keep meter readings for our electrical panels. We have several throughout the zoo from which we can take manual readings and enter into the program. We track our water meters and keep data of our well usage, which we have to report to the city. This is important because all of the plants on the grounds here have irrigation. One little leak can cause a lot of water usage without even knowing it for a while. We even use Mapcon in our commissary to order food for our animals.”

The pink flamingos entertain park visitors every day around the main-entrance fountain, which is powered and controlled by a pumping system that must be maintained by park staff.

The pink flamingos entertain park visitors every day around the main-entrance fountain, which is powered and controlled by a pumping system that must be maintained by park staff.

Data are entered bi-weekly and monitored against previous-month trends. The software also monitors the amount of waste that goes to the compost pile, which is then used in the sustainability garden.

The software also allows users to automatically bill job tickets to the appropriate departments.

Preventive maintenance

Urgent maintenance requests are those that apply to the safety of the animals, park staff, and park guests. However, some maintenance can be planned.

Witmer uses the zoo’s Mapcon CMMS program to provide monthly work orders on all of the HVAC units, which require regular filter changes. The park’s many vehicles also require routine work. These orders are generated automatically and assigned to the appropriate technician.

All of the maintenance at the Palm Beach Zoo is coordinated through a highly sophisticated CMMS system that operates from a mobile app.

All of the maintenance at the Palm Beach Zoo is coordinated through a highly sophisticated CMMS system that operates from a mobile app.

“Zookeepers inspect the animal exhibits every day–especially the dangerous animals,” Witmer said. “Once a month, we have a work order that has to be completed for the actual maintenance inspection of the exhibit. This is an extra layer to keep our animals and people safe. We like to have a fresh set of eyes other than a zookeeper’s. We go over everything pretty thoroughly, down to the basics of checking each chain link.”

General park maintenance

Non-urgent maintenance situations can include anything from landscaping and other activities classified as “zooifying” to make the park beautiful. Even members of the administrative staff carry the CMMS app. For example, if a tree branch has fallen, a work order can be immediately entered into the system by an administrative or maintenance staff member.

Each maintenance professional has special skills, and Witmer easily assigns work orders to the appropriate technician.

The zoo’s hydraulic systems are connected to complex drives that must be maintained on site by zoo staff. Facilities manager Jason Witmer is shown performing routine checks.

The zoo’s hydraulic systems are connected to complex drives that must be maintained on site by zoo staff. Facilities manager Jason Witmer is shown performing routine checks.

In addition to the major systems, the maintenance staff also maintains all of the building equipment for the restrooms, restaurant, administrative offices, and animal hospital. The fountains, water features, and cooling systems also must be properly maintained.

The power of solar

The Palm Beach Zoo takes advantage of the boiling south-Florida sun, which burns bright all year long. The park has three solar arrays. One feeds directly into the main pump room and supplements the power for the fountain pumps. Another is at the animal hospital. The third is in the parking lot.

The Solar-Array Data Display shows, in real time, the power that is being drawn from the sun. It calculates ambient temperature, module temperature, radiance, and wind speed.

Pumps control the large fountain at the park’s entrance and all of the activity is automated. All water features have filters. The solar power interacts with the hydraulic equipment to provide the best-possible energy efficiency.

“This is just a supplement to the power, so we have power whether or not we have sun,” Witmer said. “However, any power produced by the solar arrays is stored for future use. We are not just conserving wildlife. We are also conserving natural resources.” Power from the solar panels accounts for about 13% of the electricity used at the zoo.

Dangerous animals

When operating a facility with predatory and dangerous animals, special care must be taken when maintenance is performed in those areas.

“The animals must be shifted so that the maintenance can be performed,” Witmer said. “We have animal experts here and they coordinate with the maintenance staff. They lure the animals to another part of the exhibit or habitat, usually with positive reinforcement, to shift them to a secure enclosure, so that the maintenance professional is safe.  For example, it’s tough to clean the glass with alligators in there.”

Keeping the park’s ancillary buildings, such as the animal hospital, cool and in good working condition is one of the responsibilities of the Palm Beach Zoo’s maintenance staff of six technicians.

Keeping the park’s ancillary buildings, such as the animal hospital, cool and in good working condition is one of the responsibilities of the Palm Beach Zoo’s maintenance staff of six technicians.

Another example is when maintenance is required for the black-bear-exhibit pool filter. “We use ozone for the water to keep it clean, and it is filtered,” Witmer said. “It turns out that when bears get in the water, they have a lot of grease and hair that needs to be filtered out. We use strainers and sand filters to keep the water clear. With the amount of hair and oil that is removed from the water, the filter needs a lot of maintenance.”

Zookeepers help with this by backwashing a few times every day.

The maintenance staff is also has responsibibilities at the animal hospital, including plumbing, general maintenance, and HVAC systems. The lab equipment is sent to outside vendors.

Special attractions

Along with the natural habitats and building services, there is other special equipment that must be maintained. That includes the zoo’s large carousel.

“Along with keeping the ride safe, of course, it is inspected daily by our maintenance team to look for anything that could be a safety hazard,” Witmer explained. “We recently found a way to conserve substantial energy. The carousel contains 1,690 light bulbs. We have changed them all from 10-W to 0.7-W lamps. This has reduced drastically the amount of electricity that it takes to run the carousel on a daily basis. This is also in conjunction with our mission of conservation. The cost of the bulb change will pay itself back in electrical savings in about eight months, which is incredible.”

For Witmer, maintaining the zoo provides daily rewards. “It’s a very rewarding feeling knowing that you are an active part of conservation, for animals and the environment, while maintaining such a beautiful facility like the Palm Beach Zoo,” he said. “We always put the safety of our guests, animals, and employees first, and routine and preventive maintenance is such a big part of that. Mapcon is such an incredible tool to have and help manage the diverse maintenance challenges in a zoo environment.” MT

Michelle Segrest has been a professional journalist for 27 years. She specializes in the industrial processing industries and has toured manufacturing facilities in 32 cities in six countries on three continents.

A Typical Day at a Historic Zoo

A typical morning for Jason Witmer begins with a walk through the park to see if anything catches his attention before the zoo opens to the public. He may stop with a group of children on a field trip from a local school to watch the pink flamingos play. “The best part about working here is that no matter how frustrated or busy you may get, you can always walk around and watch the animals, and the stress goes away,” Witmer said.

The Palm Beach (FL) Zoo had its beginnings in the 1950s when Paul Dreher, parks director for the City of West Palm Beach, FL, developed a lush botanical garden in what was then known as Bacon Park. Dreher decided to add a barnyard petting zoo for the children of the community.

With just $18, he opened his zoo with two ducks, a couple of chickens, a goose, and a goat. The collection was located on 1 1/2 acres and became known as the Dreher Park Zoo. The attraction soon became a favorite place for families, and the collection grew to include many more animals. In 1969, a group of committed citizens created the non-profit Zoological Society of the Palm Beaches and assumed responsibility for operating the zoo.

The zoo began charging a 25-cent adult admission in 1970. Within 18 months, attendance reached 125,000 visitors. In 1971, the zoo grew to its current size of 23 acres, and continued to increase the animal collection. 

The facility now houses more than 700 animals from Florida; North, South, and Central America; Australia; and Madagascar. More than 314,000 people visit each year.

In October 2013, the zoo’s name was changed to the Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society. The addition of the “& Conservation Society” helps the facility bring many conservation programs it is working on to the forefront in an effort to inspire people to act on behalf of wildlife and the natural world.

A Meaningful Mission

To better fulfill its mission to “protect wildlife and wildlife habitat, and to inspire others to value and conserve the natural world,” the Palm Beach (FL) Zoo began working with the Palm Beach County school system and in 1981 established a formal education division.

This was the foundation for a successful program that now offers animal encounters, field trips, on-site classes, teacher training, summer camp, overnight adventures, and outreach programs. The zoo’s education division now presents more than 2,400 programs each year that reach more than 128,000 individuals. An additional 113,300 persons are reached by keeper talks and other animal-care staff initiatives.


9:09 pm
June 13, 2016
Print Friendly

Leveraging Continuous Improvement

Pattern assemblies for exhaust manifolds are still in their molds.

For an EPS foam manufacturer, redundancy and consistency are crucial to creating a sustainable production process and a winning culture.

By Michelle Segrest, Contributing Editor

It’s made from 98% air, but it can provide support for a multi-level parking garage. It protects highly sensitive electronic equipment; insulates the foundation, walls, and roofs of skyscrapers; supports the infrastructure of railway systems; and can keep food and medications at just the right temperature.

Expanded polystyrene (EPS) is a lightweight, rigid, closed-cell material that withstands load and back-fill forces, minimizes water absorption, and is a sustainable product that can be recycled again and again.

For more than 40 years, ACH Foam Technologies has been a leading manufacturer of EPS for construction, geotechnical, packaging, and industrial applications. From its nine locations in eight cities across the United States, the family-owned-and-operated company has the capacity to produce 80-million pounds of foam annually.

“We like to say EPS foam is engineered air. This is the magic of our product,” said Todd Huempfner, vice president of operations at the ACH Foam Technologies’ Fond du Lac, WI, facilities.

The two locations in Fond du Lac utilize 170,000 sq. ft. of manufacturing space to produce a diverse line of products made primarily from engineered air, water, and steam.

Click here for more videos on ACH Foam Technologies.

Screen Shot 2016-06-13 at 3.48.45 PMA winning culture

In the mid-1960s, Huempfner’s father, Don, a 20-year veteran of the railroad industry, noticed a special kind of resin being shipped on one of the rail cars. He researched the intriguing product and envisioned potential for a better life for his wife and family, which eventually included 10 children. He took the plunge and opened an EPS manufacturing facility in northern Wisconsin. It quickly became the family business.

“My dad (now 88 years old) is inquisitive, from the school of hard knocks, and he is truly entrepreneurial in spirit, with tons of energy and enthusiasm,” Todd Huempfner said. “He had a lot of mouths to feed. He took a chance at 40 years of age and started the business. With 20 years in the railroad he could have been safe and just retired doing what he was doing. But he had a dream. It’s a great American story.”

Three companies (Advanced Foam Plastics, Contour Products, and Heartland EPS) merged in 2005 to form ACH Foam Technologies. Todd Huempfner’s older brother, Mike, is the chief executive officer and operates from Montana. Mike’s nephew, Jacob Huempfner, is the director of shape operations in the Fond du Lac facility.

With the equal partnership formation of the three companies, ACH faced the challenge of merging three different cultures.

“When you go through a merger like this, you must go through a cultural cleansing,” Huempfner said. “You have to marry three different systems. It’s not a revolution. It’s an evolution. At the grass roots level, it’s all about employee engagement and communication. We have done a good job over the years of having a culture of continuous improvement. At a fairly high level, we understand the systems that we have in place. We know how we want to continue to improve throughout the organization.”

For the Huempfners, a driving philosophy has remained at the forefront—an ideology from management guru Peter Drucker: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

“We focus a lot of our energy and effort around front-line employee engagement and empowerment,” Todd Huempfner said. “We understand the cornerstone of the roadmap to our future. Our biggest focus is building and maintaining a winning culture. This starts with continuous improvement, so we have made a significant investment in this.”

These assembled lost-foam foundry patterns are ready for packaging. The stripe in the patterns is the glue applied by assembly machines.

These assembled lost-foam foundry patterns are ready for packaging. The stripe in the patterns is the glue applied by assembly machines.

Driving continuous improvement

In November 2015, ACH created a new position, Director of Continuous Improvement, to enhance its core competency to always strive to make its product and processes better. Brad Zenko, P.E., brought more than 25 years of engineering, operational, and leadership experience to fill the role.

“Continuous improvement is not an activity, and it’s not a technique,” Brad Zenko stated. “It’s a result.”

The effort is never-ending, he said. “If you are in operations, every day is not just about what went wrong. It’s about how to keep that from happening again. The whole idea behind predictive and preventive maintenance is continuous improvement. From a broader perspective, if you look at maintaining a competitive advantage in business, you have to really embrace continuous improvement because someone is always trying to out-smart you, out-service you, out-something you. You have to be nimble.”

This can be a difficult task, he said. “When you finally master something, you want to stop and take a deep breath. You have about 10 minutes for that, and then you have to think about what’s next on the horizon. How do we make it even better? Even if you have had a really big achievement, you can’t rest on your laurels and say you are done. You never quite get there.”

Zenko works with a team of maintenance and operations professionals and fills the pipeline with everything from simple ideas to game changers. “My job is to find ways to make our processes better, faster, cheaper.”

Ideas for improvement are prioritized into three buckets, Zenko said—business, functional, and organizational. The business side is obvious and includes customer, sales, and market opportunities. Ideas for lean tools and return on investment represent the functioning aspect. On the organizational side, the human element takes precedence with regard to improvements in safety, ergonomics, and finding exceptional, experienced labor.

Full-sized expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam blocks are shown in storage. Heat curing accelerates the curing process of the freshly molded blocks and assures that the material is dimensionally stable.

Full-sized expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam blocks are shown in storage. Heat curing accelerates the curing process of the freshly molded blocks and assures that the material is dimensionally stable.

Zenko operates at a corporate level, so critical improvement implementations are shared across all nine ACH facilities.

“Redundancy is key,” he said. “We don’t want to reinvent the wheel. There is a sense of pride at each site, so sometimes we just look at an improvement from a different perspective. To really multiply the efforts you must put systems in place that do not have to be started from ground zero every time. It’s important to create consistency. Take Starbucks, for example. The taste profile of a Starbucks coffee is consistent from location to location. This is achieved through their quality procedures that outline time, temperature, and roast curves. Consistency of quality and culture is crucial. For ACH, building a culture to do better in all areas is a core goal.”

Zenko said he counts on the people who work on the manufacturing floor to provide the critical insight needed for substantial improvement.

“Improvement starts with asking people what will make their job easier,” he said. “Some people look at continuous improvement as projects, like getting a new machine with more automation that just goes faster. That is an improvement, but it’s the people who interact with the equipment every day. It’s the people who make the difference. Operators see millions of pounds of product go through those machines. We try to help create the standard work, keep people safe, and make sure they are part of the process. This is really powerful.”

Some of the current ACH continuous-improvement projects include initiatives to reduce mold change times, create visual workplaces, build standard systems, and develop 3D modeling to create molds. Some ideas are simple, but impactful.

“For example, we were meeting with some of the operators and talking about how difficult it is to wire down the steam traps,” Zenko said. “One guy who worked previously in construction said he had used pre-looped rebar ties with a spinner tool rather than cutting pieces of wire and spinning them like a bread bag. We bought some twist ties and tried it. Then someone else realized it would be better to have longer ties, so we found 8-inch ties rather than 6-inch ties. It was a team effort, and this is how simple ideas can make a big difference.”

According to Zenko, ACH believes in the Franklin Covey philosophy of being effective with people and efficient with processes. “We may come up with 2,000 things that produce incremental results, but the next idea could be a game changer.”

A coordinate-measuring machine (CMM) is used to confirm 3-D dimensions of lost-foam foundry part.

A coordinate-measuring machine (CMM) is used to confirm 3-D dimensions of lost-foam foundry part.

Product diversity

The two ACH Foam Technologies Fond du Lac facilities create three different types of EPS products—block, shape, and lost foam.

Block represents production of large 3-, 4-, and 16-ft. blocks of EPS produced in big molds to be stored as supply for the cutting lines. They are cut to custom sizes according to customer specifications. A big part of the block business is perimeter, under slab, slope-to-drain roofing systems, and other major construction applications. The company is a leader in manufacturing Foam-Control for Geofoam applications, used where there are unstable soil conditions or for lightweight underground fill. Some examples include a commuter rail in Salt Lake City, UT, where thousands of cubic yards of EPS are encapsulated under a concrete rail, creating a stable infrastructure that will not be compromised with shifting soil.

EPS is also a more time-sensitive solution than traditional soil fill, which requires months of waiting for the soil to settle after filling. Unlike soil fill, Foam-Control Geofoam doesn’t have the challenge of heaving from the earth shifting.

This pattern-assembly machine dips the top portion of this lost-foam part in glue and fits it to the bottom portion.

This pattern-assembly machine dips the top portion of this lost-foam part in glue and fits it to the bottom portion.

Chicago’s Millennium Park is one of ACH Foam Technologies’ high-profile projects.

“We have thousands of cubic yards of Geofoam product underneath that park,” Todd Huempfner said. “You notice that the landscape is beautiful, and it flows evenly. The advantage is the contractor can quickly install the product while avoiding the time required to complete earthwork, such as surcharging, pre-loading, or staging. Under the parking deck is lightweight Geofoam fill under the concrete. It has a tremendous strength-to-weight ratio.”

Shape represents specific custom molding and engineering tooling for a three-dimensional part. This could be DuraTherm PLUS+ qualified shippers for pharmaceutical products, DuraTherm temperature-controlled coolers for the food industry, and DuraTherm protective packaging for anything from wine bottles to electronics and appliances.

Lost foam is similar to shape products, but represents more challenging applications such as turbo housings.

Lost-foam mold tooling requires regular light maintenance for seals, fittings, vents, and other small items. This work is completed in-house.

Lost-foam mold tooling requires regular light maintenance for seals, fittings, vents, and other small items. This work is completed in-house.

“We are one of the most diversified EPS manufacturers in the U.S. market,” Huempfner said. We have high-profile customers in the automotive and RV industry. “When you see an RV on the highway, if you were to cut it in half and see the cross-section, it would be completely encapsulated in our EPS.”

The basic difference between lost foam and custom-shaped molded products is the material that’s used and the end-use application.

“The material in lost foam is very highly engineered and specific for a particular application to be utilized in the casting industry,” he said. “The other shaped products are made with a variety of materials for a variety of applications ranging from pharmaceutical shipping containers to protective packaging components for wine bottles or small appliances.”

In the pre-expansion process, steam is introduced to the resin while an agitator mixes the expanding beads. The heat in the steam causes pentane to be released from the beads. This process takes about 200 sec. to complete.

In the pre-expansion process, steam is introduced to the resin while an agitator mixes the expanding beads. The heat in the steam causes pentane to be released from the beads. This process takes about 200 sec. to complete.

Maintenance and manufacturing

The EPS manufacturing process requires a varied collection of equipment and a high level of maintenance.

Expanding and molding equipment are the key machines used in the process, but downstream secondary applications include lamination lines, sanding lines, cutting lines, pattern-assembly machines, and other equipment. Ninety percent of the company’s maintenance functions are performed in house, said Jacob Huempfner, director of shape operations.

“Air, water, and steam are the lifebloods of our business,” Jacob Huempfner said. “Those support systems must be managed properly at the base level to avoid problems downstream. For some things, such as water and chemical systems for boilers, we rely on outside vendors to ensure we are testing correctly. We do the work, but it is a collaboration to test the water every day, and to determine the appropriate water quality for each plant.”

The manufacturing process begins with pre-expansion, according to Jacob Huempfner. Raw material comes in at a bulk density of about 40 lb./ft.3 in bags that weigh approximately 2,200 lb. The tiny bead material (0.8 mm dia.) is put into a hopper and transferred to the pre-expansion equipment where steam and pressure are introduced. This builds an internal cell pressure, which causes it to soften and then expand.

Once the material reaches the desired bulk density range of between 0.7 and 3.1 lb./ft.3, it is put into the fluid bed dryer where it is stabilized for transferring to the silo system. The product is stored and stabilized for molding in the bead-conditioning room, which is temperature controlled at between 95 and 100 F. The heat stabilizes the material and provides consistency, Jacob Huempfner explained. The boiler room next to the bead-conditioning room provides the heat and steam.

The material then goes to the molding presses, then to the cutting line, and finally to the assembly line. Some of these presses are new and use the latest technology, while others are 20 to 25 years old, according to Todd Huempfner, so they must be well maintained.

There are 10 maintenance professionals located at the two Fond du Lac facilities and about 45 throughout all nine U.S. facilities.

“One of our core competencies is preventive maintenance,” Todd Huempfner said. “Understanding our equipment and what makes it work is crucial. We work with our vendors to ensure that our weekly, monthly, and quarterly preventive-maintenance steps are put in place early within our CMMS system.”

The Kansas City operation has a custom-equipment build shop for secondary application equipment for the lamination, printing, and sanding lines. For all operations, preventive maintenance is crucial.

ACH maintenance professionals are responsible for several mold tools.

ACH maintenance professionals are responsible for several mold tools.

“Our preventive maintenance is not by default. It is by design,” Todd Huempfner noted. “In the early days, there was not a lot of thought about what equipment we would purchase to do a certain operation or what systems we would use. Today, we are trying to standardize that. It gives us better reliability because we have that redundancy. It allows us to minimize our spare-parts list because now we have spare parts in one plant that can be used in three different plants.”

The company’s preventive maintenance includes annual mold equipment rebuild and repairs. This is critical since every product produced goes through the mold equipment. Also, some valves and other parts are replaced regularly.

“We are now replacing some of our older equipment,” Todd Huempfner explained. “We look at the useful life of particular molding equipment as being somewhere around 20 years. When it reaches the 20-year mark, we begin to look at replacement of that equipment, sometimes with one or two more pieces of equipment. Sometimes we can replace two with one because of the advances in technology.”

With preventive maintenance and continuous improvement at the core of operations, Huempfner said consistency and redundancy are the ultimate goals.

“We have done a lot of soul searching in the past few years to figure out how to best implement the continuous-improvement culture throughout our organization,” he added. “We have done a very good job with this at a high level and have moved it into the engagement piece at the front lines.” MT

Michelle Segrest has been a professional journalist for 27 years. She specializes in the industrial processing industries and has toured manufacturing facilities in 30 cities in six countries on three continents.


6:02 pm
March 18, 2016
Print Friendly

Final Thought: RCM — Great Tool or Ravenous Monster?

Cklaus01By Dr. Klaus M. Blache, Univ. of Tennessee, Reliability & Maintainability Center

Reliability-centered maintenance (RCM) is a process designed to establish the safe minimum level of maintenance for each piece of machinery/equipment in a facility. It’s concerned with maintaining functionality of individual components in an entire system. Many companies are aspiring to do it. Others are doing it partially. A smaller number do it regularly. Some start and then stop. What’s going on?

While there are superficial variations of the methodology to differentiate for marketing and some differences between full or classical RCM and shortened versions, should RCM really stand for “resource-consuming monster?” Let’s first look at some key historical documents.

As summed up on the back cover of John Moubray’s 1997 RCM2 book Reliability-Centered Maintenance, (Industrial Press, New York), RCM is “a process used to determine systematically and scientifically what must be done to ensure that physical assets continue to do what their users want them to do.” RCM2 knowledge came from early studies in the military.

One of the most referenced documents is the 1978 U.S. Department of Defense AD-A066579 Reliability-Centered Maintenance report by Stanley Nolan and Howard Heap (both with United Airlines). Their study generated the six failure curves you see in every RCM-related presentation.

Showing that age-related failures account for only about 11% of all failures drives much of the optimization of maintenance tasking. In 1996, the NAVAIR 00-25-403 report introduced Guidelines for the Naval Aviation Reliability-Centered Maintenance Process.

I’m personally familiar with SAE JA1011 (1999), which provides the minimum criteria for what should be in an RCM process. My reliability and maintenance team at General Motors was involved with Ford, Chrysler, Boeing, Caterpillar, Pratt & Whitney, Rockwell International, and many other contributing organizations to create a reliability and maintainability guideline. The result was a 1993 publication by the National Center of Manufacturing Sciences Inc., Ann Arbor, MI, and the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), Warrendale, PA. It was titled Reliability and Maintainability Guideline for Manufacturing Machinery and Equipment (publication M-110).

Regardless of the RCM process you plan to use, know that it will consume scarce operational and support resources. It’s important to determine what time is available and put it in your business plan.

An RCM analysis, among other things, requires an FMEA (failure modes and effects analysis) and concludes with PM optimization (selecting the best failure-avoidance strategy). Preventive maintenance (PM) optimization is a streamlined methodology that identifies failure modes and develops PM tasks to minimize/avoid failures.

Based on your improvement needs, allocate adequate time for each level of RCM. For critical and complex issues, do full RCM. For moderate issues, do an overall FMEA for similar equipment/components. For less-critical areas, just doing a PM optimization will be a good start. This approach can free up resources to do more crucial problem solving and predictive and preventive tasks. Identifying the annual total time available can help prioritize the levels of analysis to do.

I’ve found that if sufficient time is spent preparing for classical RCM, boundaries are clearly identified, and scope-creep is managed during the event, full RCM doesn’t take much longer than shortened versions. Even simple things done prior to an RCM event, i.e., completing, with participant input, a draft of the three ranking scales (severity of problem, likelihood of occurrence, and likelihood of detection) can save time. If you start RCM/FMEAs without an implementation strategy, the resource-consuming monster will swallow you.

Many RCM-process variations can work if they follow SAE JA1011 and are conducted under the proper circumstances. You must do adequate readiness investigation and preparation, however, to understand the limits, risk, and consequences of your chosen path. Used correctly, RCM is a great tool. MT

Based in Knoxville, Klaus M. Blache is director of the Reliability & Maintainability Center at the Univ. of Tennessee (UTK), and a research professor in the College of Engineering. Contact him directly at


5:20 am
March 18, 2016
Print Friendly

“Pit Crews” Keep Snacks On Track

Cheetos snacks move through an accumulation conveyor at the Perry, GA, Frito-Lay manufacturing facility.

Cheetos snacks move through an accumulation conveyor at the Perry, GA, Frito-Lay manufacturing facility.

High-performance machines require highly skilled professionals who use a race-car team approach to maintenance and reliability at Frito-Lay’s largest North American manufacturing facility.

By Michelle Segrest,  Contributing Editor

Lay's potato chips move up the potato chip incline conveyor to seasoning.

Lay’s potato chips move up the potato chip incline conveyor to seasoning.

The one million-sq.-ft. Frito-Lay manufacturing facility in Perry, GA, operates like a well-oiled, high-speed race-car track.

The operations teams drive the machines, but it’s the 100 maintenance professionals on five specialized teams who work in the garage and in the pits to build, repair, and optimize the equipment—taking it from the shop to the track. They ensure the production stays in constant motion as it circles the refined Frito-Lay course, around-and-around, nonstop, 24/7.

Perry’s director of maintenance and engineering, Craig Hoffman, is the crew chief. The overall maintenance philosophy requires proactive maintenance and methodologies, he said. However, just like a race-team pit crew, they must have the ability to respond to unexpected issues.

“NASCAR teams spend a lot of time in their shops building their cars, analyzing, making adjustments, and fixing problems. We use similar techniques,” Hoffman said. “Our foundation is planning and scheduling, which is supported by preventive and predictive maintenance and root-cause analysis. We do everything we can to make sure our equipment is ready to perform.”

In a facility that produces thousands of pounds of potato chips, tortilla chips, and many other Frito-Lay products per hour, the equipment must stay in optimal condition to deliver high-performance production, he said.

“Our job is to turn the equipment over, in the best possible shape, to the operations group. But every race day there is a situation where you have to respond. When something happens, we go into the pit-crew mentality—it’s all hands on deck. What is constantly on our minds is how to keep our equipment in safe, reliable, food-safe condition so that the drivers can continue to move the lines around the track. We do a great job upfront with our proactive technologies. I would love to say we are perfect. When, however, you have as much equipment as we do, something is going to happen. And we have to be able to respond.” 

The different teams play different roles, yet all share a common goal: to produce millions of pounds of snack foods annually.

The Perry facility houses 15 manufacturing lines that produce all flavor varieties of Frito-Lay snacks, including Doritos, Cheetos, Tostitos, Ruffles, Lay’s, Fritos, SunChips, Stacy’s, Smartfood, Rold Gold, and Funyuns. Built in 1988 with just two lines, the largest of Frito-Lay’s 36 North American manufacturing facilities has built several expansions in nearly three decades, including three production lines in the past 14 months.

Maintenance philosophy

Doritos nacho-cheese-flavored chips travel through the distribution system to packaging. Photos: Michelle Segrest.

Doritos nacho-cheese-flavored chips travel through the distribution system to packaging. Photos: Michelle Segrest.

Hoffman’s team is responsible for the maintenance of countless pieces of equipment, including fryers, ovens, extruders, a fleet of automated vehicles (including cranes and robots), weighers, kettles, pumps, motors, instrumentation, packaging equipment, seasoning-application equipment, boilers, air compressors, air dryers, switch gears, bag-packaging tubes, and several miles of conveyors throughout the facility.

The site’s maintenance professionals are divided into five teams that cover all facets of the facility:

  • core plant – includes all of the machines that manufacture, package, and process the larger, core products such as Lay’s and Doritos
  • bakery area – manufactures, packages, and processes baked products
  • facility – handles buildings, grounds, infrastructure, boilers, compressors, steam system, and other related equipment
  • warehouse – takes care of the shipping and distribution equipment, and all palletizing equipment, robots, and cranes
  • controls – manages the controls infrastructure, all operator interface terminals, PLC programming, and IT systems.

Hoffman teaches planning classes to all Frito-Lay employees. “I always cite the example of changing oil in the car,” he said. “Most people tell you put the car up on blocks, drain the old oil, then put in the new oil. When I change the oil, I go into my shop first and make sure I have the oil filter. I make sure I have the oil. I make sure my jack is in good condition, and I have jack stands for safety. Then I make sure it is time to change the oil. A lot of people tear right into a project without having the right parts or the right information to do the job. To me, this is all about planning.”

“Another example is when you go on vacation,” Hoffman said. “I don’t know anyone who just wakes up one morning and says, ‘I’m out of here.’ You plan the vacation. You decide where you are going to go, what you are going to do, where you will stay. You buy tickets. You put a plan together before you go tackle that vacation, just like we would put a plan together before we would tackle any job. We are making sure we have the right parts, the right information, and the right tools to go execute good work.”

The work comes from the facility’s PM (preventive maintenance) system. Operators provide insight on how their machines are running. Then the maintenance team maps out a plan to restore the equipment to the optimal operating condition. When the plan is set, they schedule and execute it. “If you don’t have a plan, you have no control. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”

Even though it is a low percentage of the time, unplanned maintenance also happens, according to Jim Northcutt who is in charge of all maintenance and engineering for Frito-Lay’s 36 North American facilities. He coordinates the facility maintenance managers from the corporate office in Plano, TX, and executes a streamlined maintenance approach across all facilities.

“The company, as a whole, runs very efficiently,” Northcutt explained. “When we do have an unplanned event, the maintenance managers get their team marshaled around making sure they have the right tools and the right expertise to get it corrected and back online. There is not a silver bullet there. It is just really good people who work in our organization who are very talented.”

Best maintenance practices

Maintenance mechanics Mike Day and Dave Maddox oversee shop rebuilds.

Maintenance mechanics Mike Day and Dave Maddox oversee shop rebuilds.

Planning and scheduling is supported with an in-depth PM system, along with highly upgraded technology such as vibration analysis and ultrasound, and carefully crafted PdM (predictive-maintenance) processes.

For corrective work, the planners and schedulers go to the storage area and check out several parts and then kit them for the mechanics, Hoffman said. Then jobs are reviewed with the mechanics. “The key here is to make our mechanics as successful as possible by giving them the right equipment, the right parts, and the right tools to maximize wrench time. This way, when they are out on the floor they have everything they need. It eliminates travel time back and forth and maximizes our ability to perform corrective work and keep our plant in a reliable state.”

When the mechanics receive a schedule, it determines the location of the kitting bin. The bins are numbered and lettered so the mechanic can easily find them and be prepared to successfully perform the job.

The planning and scheduling foundation translates across all North American facilities, Northcutt said. “If you look at it in its most simplistic terms, we plan it, we schedule it, we execute it,” he said. “As a company, throughout all facilities, planning and scheduling is what we hang our hat on.” 

Other best practices include using condition-based approaches and the previously referenced predictive technologies, i.e., thermography, ultrasound, and vibration analysis. Staffing and development is also important, said Richard Cole, director of maintenance and engineering at the Fayetteville, TN, facility.

“It is crucial to have the right people in the right place,” Cole said. “We are continuously developing their skills. We leverage local junior colleges and trade schools to bring in students as interns to work with the mechanics and get training. We have a strong focus around processes and systems, planning and scheduling, work orders, and predictive maintenance. We must always be looking at continuous improvement from scorecards and action plans. Reward and recognition also plays a role in our maintenance strategy.”

Knowing the score

To stay on track, Frito-Lay believes in knowing the score.

“We track our downtime performance here very closely,” Hoffman said. “We have the ability, through technology, to monitor our line performance almost to the minute. I challenge my managers and my mechanics to always know the score. It’s just like how a racecar driver knows what lap he is on, how much fuel he has left, and how much air is in the tires—he knows when to make a pit stop. You always have to know where you stand against the target you set.”

Maintenance planners Tim Waller, Don Reynolds, and Jeff Tuck take a break in the maintenance-parts room. Planning, scheduling, and kitting parts is a key component of the overall maintenance strategy at Frito-Lay.

Maintenance planners Tim Waller, Don Reynolds, and Jeff Tuck take a break in the maintenance-parts room. Planning, scheduling, and kitting parts is a key component of the overall maintenance strategy at Frito-Lay.

Frito-Lay’s key performance indicators (KPIs) include safety scores, such as the number of days the facility has gone injury free. They also measure total downtime, equipment downtime, operation downtime, changeovers, and material-related downtime.

“We have to have our house in order and provide a stable, safe work environment for our operators,” Hoffman said. With multiple changeovers, the quality could go south fast and our operators become extremely frustrated. If we hold our equipment reliability at the highest level, our operators have a very good chance to have a successful day. It allows them to focus on their quality metrics, how their line is running, and how we are holding our product to the highest standard. This is especially important when [it comes to] making food.”

Northcutt said anyone at any of the facilities in the U.S. and Canada can immediately see the metrics.

“I’m an old football coach, and I believe in knowing the score,” Northcutt noted. “Mechanics and those running the equipment from an operations perspective all know the score. This includes everything from planning and scheduling to inventory control to efficiency. Our ability to focus in on performance to improve performance makes us unique as an organization. On a weekly basis, the operations and technical teams come together to talk about outages or failures and then they step back and consider if it’s systemic or a piece of equipment. We call that ‘fix it forever.’”

Frito-Lay promotes internal competitions among facilities to inspire the operations and maintenance teams to keep score on key metrics. The company provides performance reports and ranks the various sites in different categories. There is a national downtime competition throughout the year that measures uptime and unplanned downtime. Winning teams are recognized through various company incentives.

“In this business, we like to know if we won,” Hoffman said. “If you don’t keep the numbers visible to the team, and if they don’t think it’s important to the leadership, their motivation will falter. Keeping the score is the greatest motivational technique we have in this business. Talk to any of my mechanics, they will tell you that I’m all about watching the downtime numbers with a goal of minimal downtime.”

The Fayetteville site’s Richard Cole pointed out that the friendly competitive challenges across facilities are motivational, but the teams also remember they are ultimately on the same side. Successful new processes and systems are shared across sites and the camaraderie that develops is strong. Support is given throughout the company, whether it’s hands-on, directional, or coaching to help personnel at all Frito-Lay sites improve performance.

Keeping up with new technology

Maintenance mechanic Fred Luther uses ultrasound technology as part of routine predictive maintenance.

Maintenance mechanic Fred Luther uses ultrasound technology as part of routine predictive maintenance.

Because Perry is the largest, most complex Frito-Lay facility, it has become the test site for new technology.

“If there is a new piece of equipment, we have very close contact with corporate engineering and our research-and-development team. They want to bring it here and let us try to help make it successful or let us cut our teeth on it and prove it before we deploy it to other facilities,” Hoffman said.

The Perry facility also has technically apt teams. “We are blessed with some of the most highly skilled maintenance and technology professionals in the company,” he added. “So we get all the new toys. It’s kind of cool. It challenges us.”

The teams go through rigorous training with the equipment vendors and supplement it with training at local technical schools. They also solicit other vendors and suppliers to provide training programs and classes on new technology.

Leveraging improvement, energy, and reliability

According to Hoffman, many different facets of continuous improvement are introduced at the Perry site and throughout all Frito-Lay operations. Through root-cause analysis, issues are engineered to avoid repeat failures, and improvement programs are launched to upgrade or harden pieces of equipment to increase reliability.

The team also troubleshoots how to reduce utility consumption while maintaining reliability. They study how to reduce parts costs and the overall cost of making the product.

“Our primary focus in the reliability business is just that…how do we become more reliable?” Hoffman said. “A lot of continuous improvement involves hot teams. So if there is an issue on the floor, for example, repeat failures, or if the operations team cannot get to the quality metrics they need, we will launch a hot team right there. Often cases involve managers, maintenance technicians, and operations professionals. We’ll brainstorm and come up with ideas, call outside vendors, and find some potential improvements.”

Palletizing robots prep product for distribution.

Palletizing robots prep product for distribution.

The focus becomes more than just reliability issues. Hot teams are also formed to solve issues that surround quality, safety, and operation optimization, to reduce the overall cost of the production.

“When you have a major failure or breakdown on a manufacturing line, everything sits there running,” Hoffman said. “You are still using gas to keep the ovens and fryers hot. Electricity is making all the other motors turn, but if you’re not making product, you’re just wasting utilities. If you have a reliable plant, inherently you improve your utility usage because you make product when you are supposed to.”

Frito-Lay supports other programs, including combustion tuning, minimizing fuel usage, and reducing utility consumption.

Production consistency

PepsiCo, Frito-Lay’s parent company, recently celebrated its 50th anniversary. The corporate arm keeps a keen eye on maintaining consistency throughout its processes, Northcutt said.

“Anytime you have a multi-plant environment, you have to have consistency,” Northcutt said. “A Lay’s potato chip made in California or Canada has to taste the same as the ones produced in Georgia. One thing we did well many years ago was rolling out and making sure everyone had the same tools, the same CMMS, the same inventory control, and the same purchasing process. We rolled out ultrasound as our primary condition-based tool. Consistency from one site to the other is something that becomes really important. We make sure to have consistent applications and then everyone is on the same playbook.” MT

Michelle Segrest has been a professional journalist for 27 years. She has covered the industrial processing industries for nine years and toured manufacturing facilities in 28 cities in six countries on three continents.

Frito-Lay Fayetteville Facility Earns Maintenance Excellence Award

The Foundation for Industrial Maintenance Excellence (FIME) organization is dedicated to the recognition of maintenance and reliability as a profession. FIME sponsors the North American Maintenance Excellence (NAME) Award, which is an annual program that recognizes North American organizations that excel in performing the maintenance process to enable operational excellence.

Frito-Lay’s Fayetteville, TN, site was the recipient of the prestigious award in 2011.

Jim Northcutt and Richard Cole were heavily involved in fulfilling the stringent requirements to achieve this honor.

“Jim and I are constantly looking outside of Frito-Lay to study industry trends and best maintenance and manufacturing practices,” Cole said. “It’s important to have opportunities to see what other companies are doing and research new technologies to bring back to the organization.”

Through the NAME Award process and also finding industry partners, including the Univ. of Tennessee Reliability and Maintenance Center and organizations such as SMRP, Frito-Lay has been able to connect with various colleagues to benchmark performance.

“We like to challenge ourselves to find out how good we can possibly be,” Cole said. “This benefits our own culture, as well as the entire American manufacturing culture.”

During the lengthy application and selection process for the NAME award, Cole worked closely with Northcutt at the corporate level to see how the Fayetteville site stacked up as a world-class manufacturing facility.

FIME sends four to five technical experts to assess the site in many different categories for a week. “They then give assessment and let you know how you perform and where you need to improve” Cole said. “Our processes, systems, teams, skills, and leadership hit this high level, so we were recognized for the award.”

Frito-Lay was then able to use the Fayetteville site as an example for its other facilities.

The objectives of the NAME Award, which was established in 1991 as a nonprofit, are to:

  • Increase the awareness of maintenance as a competitive edge in cost, quality, reliability, service, and equipment performance.
  • Identify industry leaders, along with potential or future leaders, and highlight best practices in maintenance management.
  • Share successful maintenance strategies and the benefits derived from implementation.
  • Understand the need for managing change and stages of development to achieve maintenance and reliability excellence.
  • Enable operational excellence.

Winners of the NAME award are site-specific. Some years there are no winners and some years there are two or three winners. It’s a rigorous process, but those who qualify earn the award.