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CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT


July 1, 2000
By Pulp & Paper Canada

Alberta-Pacific Forest Industries Inc. (Al-Pac), Boyle, AB, is well known in the pulp and paper industry for its maintenance excellence. The mill has instituted many improvement efforts over the years…

Alberta-Pacific Forest Industries Inc. (Al-Pac), Boyle, AB, is well known in the pulp and paper industry for its maintenance excellence. The mill has instituted many improvement efforts over the years in its maintenance departments and has had great success with those programs. Most recently, Al-Pac won the 1998 North American Maintenance Excellence (NAME) Award.

With all this success, it might be expected that the mill would be satisfied with how maintenance is approached. However, Al-Pac refuses to sit on its laurels. It is constantly looking for new ways to further improve its maintenance procedures and continue to surge ahead of the competition.

Alberta-Pacific Forest Industries Inc. is the operating division of an Alberta-based forest products company owned by Mitsubishi Corporation (70%) and Oji Paper (30%). The operations include a pulp division with a bleached kraft pulp mill, a log yard/woodroom and a woodlands division that handles forest management. Pulp production is primarily hardwood — 500 000 air dried metric tonnes annually (t/y) with some softwood pulp, 65 000 t/y, operating 24 h/d for 365 d/y. Al-Pac has a forest management area of 58 000 km2, managed for sustainable harvest of approximately 2 000 000 m3 of fibre. Al-Pac currently directly employs 425 people.

In its first three years of operation, Al-Pac established its operations as a benchmark for others in the areas of production, environmental performance, forestry research and ecosystem management. The first bleached kraft pulp mill specifically designed to use chlorine dioxide as a bleaching agent, it was classified by the US Environmental Protection Agency as ‘best available technology’ at the time of construction.

Maintenance organization

Al-Pac manages its maintenance work using a self-directed work team concept. The mill has a mix of a central shop and five distributed business unit teams. Skilled trades include millwrights/machinists, welders, pipe fitters, electricians, and instrument mechanics totaling 95 trades people. Contracted labor is used for specialty services and during the major annual one- week shutdown.

Maintenance day shift coverage is four days per week at 10 hours per day. Off shift coverage is provided by one millwright and one electrician for each of the four operating teams. Predictive maintenance is coordinated millwide by the reliability team and includes the use of vibration, lubrication and infrared thermography technologies. Maintenance specialists for mechanical, electrical and instrumentation provide technical and systems support and process review on a millwide basis. The annual maintenance budget is more than CDN$30 million.

Continuous improvement is the “core” business

Continuous improvement is core to Al-Pac’s management philosophy. Goals and performance targets are set by all teams covering five key areas: safety, environment, quality, production and cost. The five-year business plan sets the direction; annual operating plans focus the goals and targets to provide alignment between all levels of the operation. Weekly team meetings and formal monthly and quarterly reviews are scheduled. “Business Boards” are used by all teams to track key performance indicators. A continuous improvement process has been instituted as a part of daily business and is supported by trained facilitators. A high priority is placed on training for all employees for both hard and soft skills.

A computerized maintenance management system is used for all physical work performed in the mill, integrated to purchasing, inventory, accounts payable and finance. Production opportunity and analysis reporting software are linked to the mill’s distributed control system to record events that affect production. This also provides an audit trail that records value lost and cause as determined by the operator in charge at the time of the incident. A plan of action is then developed and implemented to prevent a repeat of incidents that result in lost production. A management-level review of this process occurs weekly.

A reliability-centred maintenance (RCM) process is in the early stages of implementation and will help optimize existing equipment maintenance plans, operating procedures and capital renewal programs. This will be discussed in more detail later.

External consultants are used for audits and reviews of business processes and performance. All incidents that result in lost production are recorded and a formal investigation is conducted to determine root causes.

Winning the NAME

Alex Munro Sr., the mill maintenance manager, proposed the goal of winning the NAME Award as a means to evaluate the mill maintenance process performance as the company moved from the initial start-up phase to the advancing/sustaining phase. Al-Pac submitted its first application for the 1996 program with the objective of using the information and feedback provided in conjunction with other benchmarking activities. The third application was the charm, as Al-Pac won the award in 1998.

The NAME Award program provided Al-Pac with an opportunity to think outside the box, i.e., it is not industry-specific, but is a composite of best practices from a broad range of industries. Just generating the data required for the application can make the applicant review the relevance to actual performance — the old standard: “you cannot manage what you cannot measure”.

RCM: The next step

Continuous improvement is core to the way that Al-Pac approaches its business. Therefore, it is not surprising that despite the success Al-Pac has had with its maintenance performance, it is not satisfied. The mill is constantly striving to find new techniques and technologies to become even more efficient and effective in its maintenance work.

Al-Pac has just started a strategic initiative to evaluate reliability-centred maintenance (RCM) as a possible method to take its maintenance processes to the next level. The mill is working with Ivara Corp. (Burlington, ON), an Aladon-certified RCM consulting company as well as a developer of advanced maintenance software systems, on a pilot project that will help determine what benefits can be gained from RCM.

“We are always looking at improving how we do things,” said Jim Russell, Reliability Engineer at Al-Pac and the driving force behind Al-Pac’s RCM initiative. “RCM appears to be the most rigorous and complete methodology available for building comprehensive equipment maintenance programs for your assets. We knew that we were doing a good job at keeping our assets from breaking down, but we wanted to go through a process that would help us to determine if we were really mitigating all the risks to our business, not just from an operational standpoint, but also from a safety and environmental integrity standpoint.”

John Moubray, president of Aladon Ltd., defines RCM as a process used to determine what must be done to ensure that any physical asset can continue to do what the user wants it to do, in its present operating context. RCM provides a view of failure that creates a new paradigm for many organizations. Historically, failure has meant breakdown to most maintenance organizations. However, RCM professes that this approach is not enough. Organizations need to broaden the scope of responsibility of the maintenance function to include not just keeping assets up and running, but to ensure that the assets are performing their intended function, at the required level of performance, in the most efficient manner. This is really a shift from a breakdown culture to an asset management culture.

“By taking an RCM approach to asset management, companies are identifying potential risks to the business posed by their equipment and taking proactive steps to mitigate those risks before anything happens,” said Ron Thomas, Senior RCM Coach at Ivara Corp. “I have been involved in hundreds of RCM analyses over the years and in every one of them the RCM process has uncovered some major risks that companies were either not aware of or did not have a failure management strategy to address thos
e failures modes. In all cases the failures had the potential for serious or even catastrophic consequences if they were to occur and had they not been identified in advance using RCM.”

“At this point we have identified a critical area in our plant that we have started to pilot RCM on,” added Russell. “Our expectation is that this pilot will be very successful and will then be rolled out to the rest of the plant. The pilot is to prove the concept and to give senior management first hand proof that RCM will accomplish the business goals we have set for ourselves. The benefits that we expect to gain from RCM include:

increased production capacity by decreasing our downtime;

reduced maintenance costs since we will be even less reactive and will not be doing a lot of non-value added work;

improved quality by having assets producing to their optimum operating specifications, all of which will result in a higher profit margin for the company, which means better return on our shareholders investment.

“I am looking forward to the challenge of making this project a success.”

Conclusion

By adopting a continuous improvement process, Al-Pac has positioned itself to have a significant competitive advantage over the competition. It will be able to produce more for less, which is always the objective of any good management team.P&PC

Jim Russell, Reliability Engineer, Alberta-Pacific Forest Industries, Boyle, AB; David Liptrot, Marketing Manager, Ivara Corp., Burlington, ON.


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