FLEXIBLE packaging producer Huhtamaki New Lynn’s printing plant maintenance program is one of the mainstays that give the company the edge to remain successful in today’s competitive economic environment.
The company’s core business is gravure printing on packaging material, with some of the printing presses measuring between 30 and 40 metres long – with a web length of 180 metres – and containing up to 800 rollers.
The printers have thousands of small moving parts and bearings that need constant lubrication and are sensitive to the abrasive solvents and ink the process uses. In addition, the printing substrate scratches easily, so a small anomaly can potentially result in huge production losses.
The engineering team measures its success from month to month, and the trend keeps everybody happy – excellent production output. This is the result of not only the printing team’s hard work, but also shipshape printing presses that do the job without problems and with less than one percent downtime.
This in turn is the result of a dynamic maintenance operation that focuses on reducing downtime due to engineering faults. The maintenance function has the full confidence of all company employees to maintain and optimise the plant. The shift from ‘adequate’ to ‘outstanding’, however, took seven years of singular focus, says chief plant engineer Jeff Griffin.
Turning chaos into a fresh start
Historically Huhtamaki New Zealand operated from sites in East Tamaki, Napier, and New Lynn. In 2000 company management decided to combine the three sites into one operation in New Lynn.
The consolidation of the plants took two years, and left the engineering department short staffed and in disarray.
“First the engineering team had to rebuild itself, then it had to gain the trust of the printing team, and then show it could last the distance...not an easy process. But we had the full backing of management throughout, and this was crucial to drive acceptance for the process on the floor,” Griffin says.
The plant is complex and requires the services and skills of electricians, fitters, and electronic, hydraulic, instrumentation, and pneumatic engineers. During the consolidation period the New Lynn plant relied mostly on contractors. The skills shortage in New Zealand was at a critical peak. The engineering team consisted of only two permanent employees, both inexperienced in the printing industry.
Once the combined production systems were settled in the New Lynn factory, the engineering function needed to regroup. At the time, Griffin worked for Huhtamaki New Lynn as a lamination operator. The company advertised a position for an engineering manager, and extrusion manager Ruth Murphy (nee Crossley) encouraged Griffin to apply.
Griffin however, believed the company needed an engineering supervisor. Explaining to Murphy why, he also shared his vision for rebuilding the engineering department with her.
“Over the years in all the places I worked I built up a mental wish-list of what I’d do if I ever had to start up an engineering department. The situation after the consolidation was a nightmare, but also a unique opportunity for a fresh start,” he says.
A qualified and experienced engineer, Murphy understood how Griffin’s approach would add value to operations. She sold the concept to the rest of the Huhtamaki New Lynn management team. It involved that Huhtamaki New Zealand would completely overhaul and ‘professionalise’ its maintenance function. It envisaged the company would employ a full-house team of engineers on a permanent basis and support the team to grow its skills base and performance.
“This would result in the creation of the ‘GO TO’ factor – in other words, production would be able to ‘GO TO’ an engineer when they experienced problems on the machines and get immediate attention,” Griffin explains. The plan also called for something daring at the time: the implementation of a scheduled shutdown and maintenance program.
Management gave the green light. Murphy and Griffin decided he would step into the role of engineering supervisor until the department was on its feet again, appoint a successor, then move into the engineering manager’s role. Murphy negotiated the appointment of two engineers from the UK, both skilled in high-speed machine maintenance, on two-year work-to-residence visas.
With Griffin as engineering supervisor and a qualified fitter charge-hand to handle maintenance administration, the fledgling engineering team now needed a maintenance software package that would enable it to track and plan the plant’s maintenance program. A word of mouth recommendation led Griffin and Murphy to Auckland-based Maintenance Transformations’ door, where sales manager Craig Carlyle introduced them to the BWM software package.
“Craig helped us to set up and tailor a package to our needs, from maintenance prediction to stock control and purchase orders,” Griffin says. Carlyle, Murphy and Griffin set up the maintenance system to enable the production supervisor to log onto the engineering system, advise the engineering department of problems with the machines, and enter job requirements. This enabled the engineering charge hand to add these jobs to the maintenance program and print out job cards for the engineers.
With this in place, Griffin took the maintenance function to the next level. “Up to this point machinery maintenance had been attended to on an ad hoc basis, which leads to excessive downtime that adversely affected production. So we decided to institute a system for shutdown and planned maintenance every Wednesday for 12 hours.
“Obviously we continued to deal with urgent issues as they arose, but the regular scheduled maintenance soon paid off. The printing team had trust issues at the start of the scheduled maintenance program, because of urgent production requirements and because their previous experiences with the engineering function had not always been positive.
As the engineers work through their job cards on Wednesday shutdowns or callouts, they note on a manual work order what they did and the spares they used. A data capturer types the information into the engineering maintenance system. This is a valuable management information tool, and proved especially beneficial during the early stages of planned maintenance to analyse maintenance issues, how these had been fixed and with what spare parts, how long it took, and how such issues could be prevented in the future.
With the systems phase in place, the next phase was to train an instrumentation engineer to take control of all PLC and SCADA systems, including process control. This meant all PLC work was done in-house rather than contracted out, which reduced downtime for PLC faults from up to 24 hours to two hours, saving time and money in the process.
Now it was time to optimise the role of the engineering fitters.
“We needed to identify critical spares and service requirements, both vital if the fitters are to carry out their functions as fast and efficiently as possible,” Griffin says.
Griffin divided the plant into areas and made each fitter responsible for an area on a three month rotation roster. “They were tasked to ensure they got to know their area like the back of their hands. They learned the name of each machine in their area, how to operate it, and the name of each machine’s operator.
“Learning to work the machines helped them understand the operator’s requirements and how they as engineers could ensure optimum production levels together with the production team.”
Griffin and the engineering fitters had regular meetings to discuss their areas, feedback on the maintenance requirements, and reliability issues that needed attention.
“This system worked really well. The rotation meant all the engineers got to know the entire plant. The result was good communication between the engineers and the production and auxiliary departments; a continual sharing of problems, solutions, and new ideas. We could see the ‘GO TO’ factor was starting to happen,” he says.
Griffin believes well chosen technology partners also keep the plant running optimally. Auckland-based Electric Motor Solutions visits the plant annually to do vibration analysis on all electric motors above three kilowatt, and biannually to do thermal imaging of all electrical panels. Luke Edkins from Calibration Services annually checks that all the temperature probes and temperature controllers are within the specified calibration range.
The maintenance function now has continuity. On the occasion the engineering team has to employ new members, the systems in place make it easy for them to hit the deck running. The men also now have an electrical and a mechanical apprentice under their collective wing – in Griffin’s words “young, motivated people that represent the future of manufacturing and maintenance in New Zealand”.
Every year management allocates funds for training and upskilling engineers.
“We’re in the process of cross-training and utilising the skills we have to the fullest potential,” Griffin says. He also supports the short courses on offer from institutions such as the Manukau Institute of Technology. “We’ve found these courses are good motivators, give the employees a day away from the working environment, and help them network with peers.”
He says technology in the maintenance arena is now very much in the forefront.
“There’s a drive for fewer but better trained people to do more work for better pay.” Huhtamaki New Lynn still very much needs the engineers it has, but Griffin is looking to introduce more sophisticated technology in the printing works to facilitate even better reactive time reduction.
To this end, the team is developing the PLC network to send engineers text messages when the plant’s operational indicators move outside certain set parameters.
“We’ve done the hard yards and now it’s all about continuous improvement,” he says. “But,” he adds, “at the end of the day it is the philosophy of the engineering department that our people are our biggest assets.”