How is the relationship between operations and maintenance at your plant?

Operations-production in the success of reliability excellence.

By Royce Haws and Ed Kuhn, CMRP, Alcoa Warrick Primary Metals

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In brief:

  • In 2003, Alcoa’s aluminum smelter east of Evansville, Indiana, embarked on a reliability excellence (REX) transformation.
  • The REX Model used by the consultant to help the plant implement REX emphasized the tremendous importance of REX sponsorship and plant REX partnerships.
  • How is the relationship between operations and maintenance at your location?
Figure 2. Alcoa Warrick Smelter’s R&M costs are 29% below its 2003 pre-REX base and OEE performance improvement gains are worth another $9.5 million annually.
Figure 2. Alcoa Warrick Smelter’s R&M costs are 29% below its 2003 pre-REX base and OEE performance improvement gains are worth another $9.5 million annually.

In 2003, Alcoa’s aluminum smelter east of Evansville, Indiana, was 43 years old and had the second highest maintenance (R&M) costs in the Alcoa Smelting System. Asset reliability in the plant continued to suffer, and equipment instability was holding lean manufacturing gains hostage. A formal assessment of the smelter’s R&M efforts determined a mostly reactive approach with a focus on trying to be really good at emergency breakdown response.

With strong sponsorship in 2003, the location embarked on a reliability excellence (REX) transformation. Ten years later in 2013, Alcoa Warrick Smelter’s R&M costs are 29% below its 2003 pre-REX base — 44% lower adjusting for inflation —and OEE performance improvement gains are worth another $9.5 million annually (Figure 1). A formal asset integrity audit performed by corporate-level resources in late 2010 determined that the Alcoa Warrick Smelter had the lowest percent of corrective actions needing attention in the next five years versus all other Alcoa smelters worldwide (Figure 2). This audit confirmed that cost savings gains were not from R&M deferral.

Figure 1. Operations-production played a key role in the success of reliability excellence at Alcoa Warrick Smelter, dropping normalized maintenance costs significantly over the past 10 years.
Figure 1. Operations-production played a key role in the success of reliability excellence at Alcoa Warrick Smelter, dropping normalized maintenance costs significantly over the past 10 years.

Sponsorship and partnership

The REX Model used by the consultant we employed in 2003 to help us to implement REX emphasized the tremendous importance of REX sponsorship and plant REX partnerships. These two concepts are the cornerstones in the foundation of successful REX implementation. Without executive sponsorship and partnerships, implementation of reliability excellence will be a struggle, and initial excitement and optimism in the plant population will eventually move toward indifference. And REX will become another “flavor of the month” rather than the game changing transformation it is capable of being.

When the Alcoa Warrick’s REX journey began in 2003, Royce Haws, location manager and one of the authors of this story, was the sponsor. Interestingly, Haws had attended a one-week reliability excellence overview session, and while there he was sold on the potential value of REX to lower R&M costs and improve plant OEE performance. Ten years later, he continues to be a strong supporter of REX. When there is an opportunity to speak before a plant audience or corporate-level group, he always shows strong leadership and sponsorship for REX and highlights recent cost savings we have experienced.

How is the relationship between operations and maintenance at your location? Does it feel like a partnership? What is the probability that operations and maintenance will naturally become partners in the success of reliability excellence? It’s a low probability, especially in a highly reactive R&M environment. This is why executive sponsorship is so important.

In 2003, the Warrick Smelter’s REX Lead Team articulated a target condition or future guiding principles for REX. Some important REX ideals included working 90% of R&M labor resources on planned-kitted-scheduled jobs, maintenance providing emergency R&M response only on true emergencies, periodic maintenance backlog prioritization, and work documentation for all R&M work via work requests for potential failure analysis for trends and/or abnormalities

In most cases one can say that maintenance has a responsibility in many of the REX ideals. However, for each REX ideal, does maintenance have 100% control over a successful REX outcome? The answer is most often, “ no.”

Maintenance does have responsibility and almost 100% control over the successful REX outcome of efficient, quality craft-work completion once it’s in possession of the equipment for planned-scheduled R&M work. Maintenance also has responsibility and almost 100% control over a successful REX outcome for capturing all R&M work it performs on a work ticket. Beyond these two REX ideals, it’s going to be very difficult to argue that maintenance alone has 100% control of a successful REX outcome. In the absence of an operations and maintenance REX partnership, most of the REX target condition ideals or future guiding principles will not be achieved.

Ron Moore, CMRP, managing partner of The RM Group  in Knoxville, Tennessee,  highlighted Warrick’s lack of REX partnerships very well in 2003. He asked Haws, “How are your assets operating today?” Haws turned to his maintenance manager and asked him the question. Moore used this non-REX example as an excellent teaching moment. He told us all that we had way too much maintenance involvement in our maintenance program.

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