MENTION "3M" – once in a distant past known, almost quaintly now, as the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company – and almost every time you are guaranteed a positive response. The company is one of those global giants which never lost its quirky reputation for quality and innovation, as it burgeoned into a world-leading enterprise.
Add to that brand-awareness and the company being a highly-desirable place to work, and it becomes clear they must be doing many things right.
So when you learn that the local subsidiary, in Auckland’s Glenfield industrial park, is rating up at the very top of 3M’s improvement chart when it comes to "least water usage for products manufactured" and the "least waste by-products" across the 3M world and are achieving their best energy efficiency for a decade, you have to appreciate that some smart Kiwis have put their heads together "to outperform the outperformers".
The local operation produces adhesive foil tapes and develops and supplies a range of copper, tinned-copper, aluminium and lead tapes internationally. A large part of the manufacturing site is hazardous and rated for flammable liquids (class 1; zones 0-2)
Amongst those helping the local 3M operation to scoop the awards that typify modern organisations running at the peak of health, safety and sustainability standards is System Controls Limited (SCL), an Avondale, Auckland-based, turnkey industrial electrical service provider, committed to enabling the full range of electrical technology to give business the edge.
"The electrical industry in New Zealand ranges across companies specialising in providing industrial electrical services; those that concentrate on machine and process control, using PLC and SCADA; through to those purely providing MES through back-end servers and databases," says Hayden Stoddart, electrical manager of SCL.
"System Controls has developed a complete industrial offering with our ability to provide turnkey services – enabling us to supply clients with a ‘one-stop shop’, covering the full range of services needed by a modern and progressive industrial enterprise."
Quality and consistency are key factors behind the success achieved under Brian Mason, 3M’s engineering manager. When he took over the position some years ago, he immediately set about improving the level of documentation in the plant and put the manufacturing operations through a carefully planned and implemented upgrade – achieved while maintaining production at consistent levels.
Stoddart notes in a much understated manner: "We were fortunate enough to make contact with 3M some five years ago and secured their electrical maintenance on contract. That grew to include electrical support, projects, PLC and SCADA programming and development, and later evolved to electrical control systems design work and plant documentation – particularly in the hazardous areas, where we are acknowledged experts.
"Since March 2002, SCL has been the primary industrial electrical service partner for 3M. During that time, we have done a large amount of challenging work from putting PLC backbones in place; a full SCADA upgrade; new isolation barrier panels in the hazardous areas; and the replacing of variable speed drives. Plus we have also installed our building management system, Smart Works, to take care of the air-conditioning and general environment."
One of the many challenges they faced was to either ensure every installation conformed to New Zealand engineering standards or 3M’s, whichever was the most stringent.
Mason lists the other projects undertaken by SCL, which he regards as significant:
Electrical design and construction of a flammable liquids storage depot;
Coater Emergency Stop System (E-Stop) design, install and commissioning;
HVAC control system upgrade;
Wind up system plus laminator unwind station upgrades;
Plant documentation project (2004-6);
Significant PLC and SCADA software redesign and development.
He attributes the record improvements to his staff, operators and engineers, updating equipment and the various strategies they have employed. He also credits the work undertaken by SCL, along with some non-electrical suppliers, under an independent verifier, Bruce Potter – giving 3M effectively "peer-review" on all design, specification and installation. The parties jointly agree what needs to be done and then SCL do it, with Potter reviewing completed works.
"We are now in a position where we can make one input adjustment and the effect of that cascades throughout the system, which adjusts itself to minimise our energy usage," says Mason. "Our operation has evolved to become very flexible and also very adaptable and ‘self-minimises’. This all comes from seizing opportunities as we have implemented the necessary equipment upgrades, improved design and the way we operate."
3M gold award
"Last year we achieved an international ‘3M gold award’ for energy usage," says Mason. A four percent site-wide reduction was the cut-off point for that award, and we achieved 16 percent – four times the target. This year we finished at about six to seven percent, which achieved another gold award – bearing in mind that these are all compounding each year and production levels have been consistent over the period."
Stable processes have eliminated wastage, thereby "not having to make product twice". Systems are better controlled and more adaptable, delivering the highly-prized extra flexibility.
"We are also making better use of the technology in terms of using variable speed drives and getting valuable support from equipment suppliers like Schneider Electric. When you add that to the support we receive from ECB Engineering plus SCL and – especially, our own people – you can appreciate we have a tremendous team effort to rely on at all times.
"All of them are committed to making 3M New Zealand the very best operation possible."
Given the 3M reputation, surely the entire electrical services’ industry in New Zealand would be trying to edge SCL out?
Stoddart again: "Our major point of difference is being able to provide the best technical experience on site, 24/7, plus having adequate back-up for the individual experts providing same. SCL employs upwards of 60 people, many of whom are multi-skilled, multi-disciplined engineers, with high levels of software experience – not simply IT experts without the essential engineering background. This is highly attractive to many clients where quality and consistency is paramount."