PM Keeps Coating Company Operating
Michelle Segrest | November 13, 2017
Weekly planned maintenance and continuous improvement drive reliability for a finishing company that works on an extraordinarily tight schedule.
Situated in the middle of the production process for its customers, Linetec, based in Wausau, WI, relies on critical processes, complex scheduling, and all systems working in sync to get products in and out of its finishing facility at lightning speed. To make this happen, production keeps moving at all times. The clock only stops one line at a time—in 12-hour weekly increments—for critical preventive maintenance.
“The important story that we have to tell is one of reliability,” said Andy Joswiak, Linetec’s vice president of engineering and technical services and a 28-year company veteran. “We are right in the center of our customers’ business. We need to be reliable, and we need to be up. We have a maintenance staff that runs all the time with multiple and creative schedules.”
Linetec was founded in 1983 by its parent company, Apogee Enterprises Inc., Minneapolis. Apogee’s companies specialize in glass, coatings, and architectural products. The increasing demand by architects for windows of different colors was the inspiration for Linetec. As few companies were specializing in coating architectural products, this was a niche waiting to be filled. The company started with a single paint line, 20 employees, and 40,000 sq. ft. of manufacturing space dedicated to applying enamel, acrylic, and Kynar paint finishes.
“We don’t really manufacture anything. Basically, we finish our customers’ material and then send the components back to them so they can finish their manufacturing process,” Joswiak said. “The value that we bring is aesthetic and longevity of their products through our finishes. Our customers create building art, if you will…they make buildings look nice. They produce the skins of the buildings, and we coat them.”
Linetec finishes extrusions for windows, curtainwalls, and storefronts. It also finishes column covers and decorative aluminum sections and anodizes aluminum window frames for city buses. The anodization process—creating a nonconductive oxide coating on the surface of aluminum—is a unique and key element of its business.
Working in the middle of the manufacturing process, Linetec must be aware of its customers’ production process on the front and back ends. “Reliability and on-time delivery is tantamount in our business,” Joswiak explained.
With a typical lead time of about five days, sometimes customers need their products turned around in less than a day. With more than 400 customers, the company receives the equivalent of eight full truckloads of aluminum frames each day. The company may coat the heads of screws and bolts, extrusions, brake metal, sheet stock, fabrications, ornate structures, or as many as 1,600 pounds of hand rails. “No job is ever the same. We work with all types of aluminum materials,” said Joswiak. “We never know what our customers are going to send us.”
With a maintenance team of just 26 people, keeping the 750,000 sq. ft. of manufacturing space and it’s more than 1,000 assets operating at peak efficiency requires tight scheduling and regular planned maintenance.
“Reliability is the name of the game,” Joswiak said. “If we are not reliable, then our customers are not reliable. We need to have a proper PM program, the right parts on the shelf, and a dependable supply chain. Without any of those things, we are sunk.”
Maintenance manager Todd Andreshak, a 32-year company veteran, is responsible for keeping the machines running, with the help of Joswiak and engineering manager Chris Lannoye. They all depend on the entire team to make it happen.
Like many companies, there was a time at the facility when maintenance was reactive. Now, the focus is on anticipating what’s going to fail and replacing it before it does.
A robust preventive-maintenance program, combined with an investment in crucial spare parts, is the key to success, Andreshak said. “Sometimes it’s all a matter of how fast can you pull it out of there. We have spares on the shelf and we know how to anticipate what to do to minimize the down time. We have what we refer to as our little ‘crash carts.’ If there is an electrical issue you take the cart out with you—don’t keep going back and forth..”
Maintenance works closely with engineering to also ensure that processes are continuously improved. Lannoye is responsible for keeping the company abreast of the latest technologies, improving efficiencies and ergonomic safety, and adding new equipment when necessary.
Because of the diversity of its business, Linetec must be flexible and adaptable. “Our schedule is very dynamic,” Joswiak said. Typically we don’t establish the schedule until the day before we are running. For example, we won’t establish the schedule for tomorrow until 3 o’clock this afternoon because we have no idea what will be on those trucks.”
The company uses I-Maint (imaint.com, Athens, Greece) software to manage spare parts, track assets, and maintain PM schedules. It also tracks the reliability of the equipment. Joswiak said the secret sauce for reliability is scheduled maintenance, mixed with Linetec’s ability to replace parts before they fail.
With a target of less than 24 hours of non-scheduled maintenance in any given year, the commitment for scheduled maintenance is crucial, particularly with its anodizing lines—one of two key segments of its business.
“We do things like vibration analysis for motors and pumps and wholesale replacement of specific parts—even if they are at 40% to 50% of their lifecycle,” Joswiak said. “Replacing the parts is less expensive than being down.”
With the largest architectural anodizing operation under one roof in the United States, the company’s three lines operate around-the-clock. Line 3, built in 2015, is the biggest and most productive. It shuts down for 12 hours every Monday for preventive maintenance. “Monday is a heavy production day, but for us, it doesn’t matter because we operate 24/7,” Joswiak explained. “For us, it makes sense to do this on Monday because if we find an issue, vendors are open, suppliers are open, and we can get parts very quickly. We have other days for scheduled maintenance on the other lines.”
“Operations wants to reduce downtime and get more on the line,” Joswiak continued. “Maintenance wants to make sure they have enough time to take care of the PMs, but also in the event they catch something and have to replace something, like a DC motor. Knowing that time is always scheduled for downtime, it just works for scheduling. It works for sales, operations, production, and maintenance. Even IT, for example, knows they can do work on that line during that time.”
Another major shutdown happens at the end of each year for major repairs, equipment moves, and large projects.
The reliability puzzle
The company’s commitment to reliability is visible in many ways. The scheduled downtime for PM goes hand-in-hand with the investment in spare parts and purchasing new equipment when a permanent solution dictates it.
“The difference from what we did previously is that we would find a way to make a repair to put a Band-Aid on it in any way, shape, or form, just to keep things running,” Andreshak said. “We have evolved and learned from that. We learned that if you had to use duct tape or rubber bands to hold it together, then maybe it’s better to just get it replaced. This change in mindset is the most important change I’ve seen in my 32 years here.”
According to Andreshak, another evolution is with the skill sets of the workers. “Now we have automation and almost every piece of equipment is hooked up to PLCs. We now have robotics. So our facility looks nothing like it did 30 years ago. We try to stay on the cutting edge, but this requires additional training. We find ways to get creative. We have forced our associates to think outside of the box. They need the basic skills—fabricating, designing, plumbing, and electrical—and we need key people to do the programming for our automation.”
Scheduling is a puzzle that must be put together each day so that efficiency and reliability is always the result. In addition to the robust maintenance program, this also requires engineering new processes and technologies. Lannoye works closely with the maintenance team to train and troubleshoot new equipment.
Lannoye always considers safety and ergonomics when making improvements. For example, Linetec installed floor lifts, and air-flow monitors, and replaced lighting. Reliability is at the core of all improvements and advancements. “For me, the reliability lies with my people,” Andreshak said. “It is the whole group. If you can’t count on the people doing the task for you, then you are in a world of hurt.” EP
Painting vs. Anodizing
Liquid paint and anodized metal are two core finishes applied at Linetec’s plant in Wausau, WI. Painted material is offered in nearly endless colors of high-performance paint that protects buildings from weathering, aging, and pollution. Anodizing is extremely durable and offers a hardness unmatched in aluminum finishes.
“This is why customers want to anodize their high-traffic areas like store fronts, for example,” Andy Joswiak, Linetec’s vice president of engineering said. “The anodized coating is less than one-third the thickness of a piece of paper. Other than typical maintenance, you don’t have to polish it or clean it, and it won’t scratch.”
“We actually grow the anodizing out of the aluminum,” he explained, “It is created right on the surface.”
Starting with an aluminum substrate and negatively charged oxygen ions, the material is positively charged. The aluminum and oxygen react to the aluminum oxide, which grows into the aluminum two-thirds and out one-third. The coating has about 500-billion pores/sq. in. Oxygen migrates down to the pores on the base layer and reacts. It grows at the interface and pushes up the rest of the coating.
The first-formed anodizing is at the surface, while the last that forms is at the aluminum-aluminum oxide interface. Aluminum oxide is the second hardest naturally occurring substance on earth, next to diamonds.
Anodizing also has the ability to take on dye. This process is typically used for decorative purposes. It is the same technology that is used in the textile industry.
“If you ever go into a restaurant and you see that shiny brass handrail, it’s not brass at all,” Joswiak said. “It is anodized aluminum that has been dyed and sealed. You notice those gold handrails—the rails never, ever tarnish. There’s a lot of anodized aluminum out there that doesn’t look like aluminum.”
The painting process, on the other hand, requires drying, or curing, in ovens where the components bake at 450 F. The anodizing process requires sealing at 190 F, with a rinse step following the seal.
The largest paint line has a 1,000-ft. conveyor. It typically runs from 16 to 24 ft./min.
“The paint-application area is pretty orchestrated,” Joswiak said. “The schedule comes out and everybody knows the next color is blue and the color after that is green, for example. Everybody knows not to inject something into the schedule because otherwise the blue job gets green and the green job gets blue.”
The painting process is so precise, only one pint of paint is wasted on a changeover. There are typically 35 to 55 paint changeovers each day. This precision happens thanks to a series of pumps that powers a circulation system only a few feet from the spray equipment.
The sprayers are attached to automated switch blocks. When solvent comes out clear, it stops spraying. Then there is an automatic switch to the next color block. This takes 15 seconds.
Maintenance manager Todd Andreshak said the painting line is the most challenging to maintain. It has the most equipment and also requires 32 people to operate it. It includes sprayer equipment, ovens, and conveyors.
“It’s tough to break that down, and there is only one certain way to skin a cat,” Andreshak explained. “If something goes down, there are a lot of guys standing around waiting.”
Wausau-based Linetec participates in the state of Wisconsin’s apprenticeship system, which has existed for more than a century. Businesses collaborate with state and educational institutions to ensure the development and continuation of trade skills/jobs.
In Linetec’s case, maintenance associates participate in the program to develop machine repair and millwright skills and knowledge. There are currently six technicians participating in the program who are in their fifth of the eight-semester program.
The company participates in the Machine Repair, Maintenance Mechanic, Millwright Apprenticeship, developed and organized by the Bureau of Apprenticeship Standards and overseen by Wisconsin’s Apprenticeship Advisory Committee. The program provides Linetec with a steady stream of qualified technicians.
Along with formal courses at Northcentral Technical College, Wausau and other locations, senior technicians are also continually training.
Participants follow standard semester schedules. They complete one to four courses each semester, depending on the course credit load. The course schedules are tailored to fit the schedules of the technicians.
Technicians attend nine full-day courses throughout the semester. Linetec pays all tuition and book fees, and compensates the technicians for hours spent in class.
The company also increases compensation throughout the program as technicians learn and develop new skills, culminating with the journeyman designation.
Michelle Segrest is president of Navigate Content Inc. and has been a professional journalist for 28 years. She specializes in creating content for the processing industries and has toured manufacturing facilities in 51 cities in six countries. If your facility has an interesting reliability and/or efficiency, story to tell, please contact her at email@example.com.