HVAC/Boiler Systems Reliability

Profiles Reveal Reliability Trends

Michelle Segrest | January 13, 2017

Maintenance programs take center stage as manufacturing facilities use key trends to improve reliability.

In 2016, we traveled from West Palm Beach, FL, to Delano, CA, covering successful reliability and maintenance programs at diverse manufacturing facilities throughout the United States. Whether manufacturing snack foods, EPS foam products, drivetrains, construction tools, air-movement equipment, pumps, energy-efficient windows, electrical wiring, oil refining, or maintaining zoo operations, the best practices for maintenance programs have evolved to include advanced technology and critical strategy.

Some key trends for 2016 include:

• culture change

• converting from a reactive to a proactive style

• leveraging continuous improvement

• driving change with powerful CMMS

• utilizing Kaizen events

• strategic planning and scheduling.

Looking ahead to 2017, Dr. Klaus M. Blache, director of the Reliability & Maintainability Center and research professor, College of Engineering, Univ. of Tennessee, Knoxville, predicts that manufacturing assets will be more connected and data driven, resulting in improved operational effectiveness. 

“Greater real-time data, better learning algorithms, 3D printing, high mobility, numerous aids, and apps will mean faster and more intelligent decentralized decisions,” Blache said. “For these reasons, I think that manufacturing in 2017 has a positive outlook. However, there are some critical challenges. There is a shortage of people (leaders, engineers, trades/technicians) who are both capable and are interested in a manufacturing career. Companies also need to understand how best to align millennial interests with business needs to enable this critical part of their workforce.”

Blache said that the past 25 years provide evidence that there is no shortage of ideas, tools, or methodologies. However, more than 70% of these implementations (such as lean, reliability, and TPM) fail. “The most important thing that a company can do is to find or develop people who know how to implement with an engaged workforce.”

Efficient Plant will continue to track effective trends and feature robust maintenance programs at manufacturing facilities in each issue in 2017. If you would like to have your facility featured, please contact Michelle Segrest at michelle@navigatecontent.com. Following is an overview of some of the best practices we discovered in 2016.

Manufacturers must find ways to integrate new and old equipment while incorporating a preventive-maintenance program.

Manufacturers must find ways to integrate new and old equipment while incorporating a preventive-maintenance program.

Changing culture to increase performance

A transformation in management and culture, combined with an investment for future growth, revitalized Empire Level, a 97-yr.-old tool-manufacturing company.

Richard Gray, senior vice president and general manager of the Mukwonago, WI, company, a division of  Brookfield, WI, parent company Milwaukee Tool Corp., said that with a focus on culture, buy-in became infectious throughout Empire Level’s 120,000 sq. ft. of manufacturing space. The arrival of new equipment, upgrades to old equipment, new people, training opportunities, and efficient processes made it tangible.

“Our revitalization is not just new paint on the wall,” Gray explained. “The change is coming from within. It’s a feeling. It truly is an obsession that is built on trust. The result of these efforts is the complete transformation of a U.S.-based company through people and technology.”

Empire Level’s new management team found many opportunities to reconstruct and rebuild the company’s culture, as well as the equipment and processes. Starting with a blank canvas, the team members were able to craft their own renovation story without being crippled by processes that didn’t work. “Our biggest challenge was that we didn’t just want to fix things. We wanted to improve them and continue to grow the company,” Gray stated. “We not only had a factory full of machines and assets that were way beyond their useful life, but we didn’t have any systems in place to monitor and improve. There was no base foundation, so we started from scratch.”

The team’s first challenge was to establish a culture that would inspire ownership and empowerment among all employees. “Change is hard, and it can be especially hard for people who have been doing the same thing for many decades,” director of operations Steve Lallensack said. “We knew we needed a culture that was agile and could help our people to adapt to changes—not only changes in equipment and technology, but in attitudes and responsibilities.”

The team began with candid meetings that clearly defined the plan for growth. They made sure that employees had an understanding of what was coming so no one would be blindsided by changes they didn’t anticipate. “This gives people a feeling of ownership and helps them to feel more comfortable with the changes. We said what we were going to do, and then we did what we said we would do,” he said.


Culture change was a common theme in 2016.

In Fond du Lac, WI, three companies (Advanced Foam Plastics, Contour Products, and Heartland EPS) merged to form ACH Foam Technologies. Todd Huempfner, vice president of operations, said that with the equal partnership formation of the three companies, ACH faced the significant 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.”

For Huempfner, 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,” Huempfner continued. “We understand the cornerstone of the roadmap to our future. Our biggest focus is building and maintaining a winning culture.”

The merging of companies and cultures is occurring in manufacturing throughout the United States.


For Ideal Industries Inc.—a manufacturer of products for the installation of electrical wiring and conduit—that merging means consolidating operations from three facilities into one new state-of-the art, 220,000-sq.-ft. facility in Sycamore, IL. Celebrating its 100th year in business, the family-owned company is undergoing a complete migration of the people, equipment, operations, and maintenance processes of three of its Midwestern facilities.

“This is a very unique opportunity,” said facilities manager Steve Challgren. “It’s not very often that you get to build a new manufacturing facility, lay it out exactly the way you want it from the start, and get an opportunity to fully overhaul all of the equipment before you move it in. Combine this with purchasing some new equipment, and then you have a chance to carefully cross train your entire internal maintenance staff as you do it.”

Ideal’s maintenance staff will become one team, which provides unique opportunities for cross training and upgrading, Challgren said. “Over time, we are moving all of the equipment to the new facility and taking it all through a quality prove-out process. We have the opportunity to do a complete overhaul before we move it. In addition, we are investing in new equipment.”

In 2016, manufacturers across the United States found challenges in changing longstanding reactive cultures to approaches that focused on taking proactive, preventive measures to build reliable programs.

In 2016, manufacturers across the United States found challenges in changing longstanding reactive cultures to approaches that focused on taking proactive, preventive measures to build reliable programs.

Switching from reactive to proactive

In a crucially competitive market, CountryMark’s Mount Vernon, IN, oil-refinery leadership team realized the operation needed a complete overhaul to streamline processes, get control of inventory, and optimize workflow. Through a carefully conceived and well-executed plan, it is making a 180-deg. switch to a predictive and preventive structure that has already increased production, decreased equipment failure, and saved costs.

“I would describe the ‘before’ maintenance program as classic reactionary—something would break and we would fix it,” said Pat Ward, CountryMark’s vice president of operations. “You can be very good at fixing things, but working in a reactive way comes at a very high cost.”

CountryMark’s leadership fully invested in a strategic WorkPlace Excellence Program. Proactive and preventive-maintenance training began several years ago with the Charleston, SC, consulting firm Life Cycle Engineering (LCE). Coaches were brought in to train leaders in four focus areas:

• operations improvement

• work management

• reliability engineering

• materials management.

Styrotek, a Delano, CA, manufacturer of expanded-polystyrene (EPS) table-grape shipping containers, incorporated a strict preventive philosophy to drive its maintenance program.

“Our idea of maintenance is not allowing our machines to break in the first place,” Styrotek production supervisor Adan Velazquez said. “We monitor the hydraulic, steam, air, and water pressures daily. We have recently begun making these checks every shift. We monitor them continuously and, when we notice there is an issue with one of them, we immediately shut it down and repair it.”

Shutdowns have become rare rather than a normal occurrence. “In the past, we were running each machine about 21 to 22 hours a day, and we would have to shut down constantly,” Velazquez said. “Today, we are able to run machines for 23 1/2 hours, and we only have to shut down a machine to change the filters.”


The shift from a reactionary to a preventive culture translates to even the smallest details.

In Niwot, CO, Alpen High Performance Products uses a robust preventive-maintenance program to manufacture highly energy-efficient windows and doors. The program includes regular lubrication of all machines, including gears and motors, calibration of the fiberglass-cutting saws, and constant attention to all equipment.

“Because everything we do here is custom, everything that goes through the machines is a different size, so they are constantly having to be adjusted and checked,” field-tech specialist David Herman said. “Every window is cut to a different size so the saw parameters are moving constantly. Saw blades need to be changed every six months. The drilling CNC machines that cut holes for the hardware latches need constant attention.”

Ideal Industries maintenance lead Don Hardt said that the overall maintenance strategy at his facility is simple. “Be proactive in identifying and preventing breakdowns before they occur,” he said. “We have a preventive-maintenance system in place that is based on time intervals. Some of the things we concentrate on, for example, are going above and beyond when we do have a failure so that the root cause of that failure can be quickly identified. We have a proactive maintenance strategy designed to catch those breakdowns and prevent them.”

A focus on predictive, rather than reactive, maintenance is nothing new in manufacturing, Hardt said, but the focus must remain at the forefront.


“By identifying key areas, especially on this custom machinery and on some of our aging machines, it allows us to keep our machines running, and it helps to extend the useful life of the equipment,” Hardt concluded.

Maintenance professionals at Hydro Inc., Chicago, a provider of pump services, know the value of combining skilled workers, smooth coordination, and continuous improvement to keep machines running. They perform preventive maintenance with mostly outside sources and work together to prevent breakdowns.

Hydro’s overall maintenance philosophy is simple, shop manager Nick Dagres said. “We want to be proactive in identifying and preventing breakdowns before they occur and keep the machines in the best operation condition at all times.”

This is accomplished with daily, weekly, and monthly preventive-maintenance checks from all of the operators at the beginning of every shift. Various metrics are used to measure overall performance and reliability. Hydro measures overall downtime for machine availability and the costs of downtime versus utilization.

The routine checklists include inspection of the switches, cables, noise levels, and especially oil levels. Lubrication is immensely important, particularly with the older machines.

Some traditional maintenance programs allow machines to run until they break or become due for maintenance. They are then handed over to the maintenance department to make the necessary repairs. In sharp contrast, the autonomous-maintenance approach allows individual operators to perform simple, safe, maintenance routines on their machines. These activities can include lubrication, bolt tightening, cleaning, inspection, and monitoring.

Precision is paramount when combining molds and pieces into one integrated product. Equipment in optimal operating condition is key.

Precision is paramount when combining molds and pieces into one integrated product. Equipment in optimal operating condition is key.

Leveraging continuous improvement

In November 2015, ACH Foam Technologies hired Brad Zenko, P.E., as director of Continuous Improvement, to enhance the company’s core competency to always strive to make its product and processes better. “Continuous improvement is not an activity, and it’s not a technique,” Zenko said. “It’s a result.”

The effort is neverending. “If you are in operations, every day is not just about what went wrong. It’s about how to keep that from happening again,” he said. “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 outsmart you, out-service you, out-something you. You have to be nimble.”

This can be a difficult task, Zenko continued. “When you finally master something, you want to stop and take a deep breath. You have about ten 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 operates at a corporate level, so critical improvement implementations are shared across all nine ACH facilities. He 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.”

Trends that seem set to grow in 2017 include the use of automation and robust CMMS systems, and a focus on culture change to enhance asset reliability in plants and facilities.

Trends that seem set to grow in 2017 include the use of automation and robust CMMS systems, and a focus on culture change to enhance asset reliability in plants and facilities.

Driving change with CMMS

The maintenance program at the Fort Wayne, IN, facility of Dana Inc. is translating the power of effective data collection into equipment assets.

The company’s “four-panel maintenance programs,” inspired by the strategic use of its CMMS system, have reduced costly equipment downtime and expensive repairs that are avoided by preventive-
maintenance planning—all of which can be quantified by maintenance data.

“The role of the maintenance group is to keep the machines running, and as efficiently as possible” maintenance supervisor Bob McKenna said. “We have made a concentrated effort to gather data, compile it, understand it, and have been successful in strategically utilizing it to make better maintenance decisions. ”

Most useful, according to McKenna, has been the ability to track maintenance efficiency. “In all my years in maintenance, I had never seen a system for successfully tracking and quantifying an efficiency rate for maintenance activities,” he said. “However, we have been able to accomplish this by comparing the number of work orders that are written each day and each week with actual completion to calculate our efficiency rating. Our initial goal was 70% efficiency, which is really good for maintenance in this type of environment. We are now up to 81%.”

Dana’s maintenance transformation began in 2014 when the company incorporated a CMMS program from eMaint (Marlton, NJ, emaint.com) and began collecting and tracking data to help streamline its maintenance practices. Two years into the program, the positive results speak for themselves.

“We have been able to gather more precise data that is maintenance related, which has enabled us to make better maintenance decisions,” McKenna said. “We can quantify actual cost savings relating to maintenance activities to our management, which fosters an increased understanding and support of maintenance programs.”


The goal for the facility is to have 100% preventive maintenance. McKenna is convinced that the data generated from the CMMS system will help them accomplish this goal. He noted that, since the onset of the program, they have been able to quantify six-figure savings for the plant, which has helped win support at all levels of management, maintenance, and production.

In southern Florida, 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. With a full-time maintenance staff of just six professionals, Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society 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 that is customized to the park’s needs.

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 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.”

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.

Manufacturers are continuously looking for a competitive edge when combining complex technology with strategic maintenance programs and robust reliability systems.

Manufacturers are continuously looking for a competitive edge when combining complex technology with strategic maintenance programs and robust reliability systems.

Using Kaizen events

Becoming a market-share leader for air-movement products doesn’t happen by accident for the Schofield, WI-based Greenheck Fan Corp. Through strategic and progressive capital investments in equipment, technology, and people, Greenheck thrives on living on the cutting edge.

“We actually live on the bleeding edge of technology,” said Greenheck’s maintenance-technology supervisor Paul Smith. “We are so fresh and progressive, we sometimes get technology that isn’t necessarily proven yet. We get the opportunity to make this happen, and it gives us an incredible advantage.”

This fearless approach to ingenuity and new ideas has led to a robust continuous-improvement program that helps the company process 20 million pounds of steel annually from just one of its 17 Schofield facilities.

The company sponsors three-to-five-day Kaizen events called “pit stops.” Maintenance manager Jim King said these events are critical in helping Greenheck employees learn about the new equipment and processes that are introduced weekly.

The company sometimes offers as many as five to 10 pit stops per week with two to 12 participants in each. “These include the aspect of 5S and are modeled after TPS,” King said. “This is all part of the original creation of our Greenheck Performance System (GPS). We do pit stops for formal 5S audits, business processes, equipment training…you name it. This is a program that’s almost 14 years old and is still going very strong. It is well supported and just part of the culture
here now.”

Greenheck moves fast with new technology, Smith said, and getting the team up to speed as quickly as possible is crucial. The pit stops are effective in accomplishing this goal.

“Whether it’s equipment addition, equipment removal, or an equipment move, we sometimes get one of these per day,” Smith said. “For example, we recently moved several of our large CNC turret punches from several different facilities globally to even their workload and extend their life. That would be a yearlong, planned event for some companies. For us, it’s a Thursday.”

The pit stops are well supported by the company. “We have a team of people here to train on lean manufacturing, on TPM, business processes, process flow, and to coach events—ultimately to drive the GPS initiative forward,” Smith said. “Any employee can participate in training, learn at several different levels, and get certifications. This is a tremendous resource and investment for our company.”

Having a carefully constructed plan for maintenance is a key to consistency when multiple manufacturing facilities are producing the same product from many locations.

Having a carefully constructed plan for maintenance is a key to consistency when multiple manufacturing facilities are producing the same product from many locations.

Strategic planning and scheduling

At the one million-sq.-ft. Frito-Lay manufacturing facility in Perry, GA, the operations teams work closely with the 100 maintenance professionals on five specialized teams to ensure the production stays in constant motion. Director of maintenance and engineering Craig Hoffman said that strategic planning and scheduling is the core ingredient in the facility’s ability to stay on track. He 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.”

The work comes from the facility’s 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,” Hoffman said. “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.

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 predictive-maintenance processes.

For corrective work, the plant’s 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,” he said. “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.”

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.”



Michelle Segrest

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