Maintenance planning-scheduling-kitting best practices at Alcoa Warrick Smelter

Understanding the specs behind reliability excellence.

By Larry McCubbins, CMRP, and Jamey Daugherty, Alcoa Warrick Primary Metals

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In 2003, Alcoa’s aluminum smelter east of Evansville, Indiana, was 43 years old, with the second-highest maintenance (R&M) costs in the corporation’s global smelting system. Asset reliability in the plant continued to suffer, and equipment instability was preventing lean manufacturing. 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).

planning scheduling1
Figure 1. Alcoa Warrick Smelter lowered its normalized maintenance costs from 2003 to 2013.

A formal asset integrity audit performed in 2010 by corporate-level resources confirmed that these cost savings were not gained from deferral of R&M. In fact, the Warrick Smelter had the lowest percent of corrective actions needing attention in the next five years among the corporation’s smelters across the globe.

We are convinced that REX was a huge game changer saving significant costs. In fact, the Warrick smelter has been recognized by the corporation for these efforts, and our team was proud to share our REX success at the 2013 SMRP Conference.

This case study describes the maintenance planning-scheduling-kitting best practices now in use at the Warrick Smelter and how these practices are an integral part of REX at the 53-year-old facility.

Reliability excellence cost savings levers

When Warrick Operations began its REX journey in 2003, Alcoa’s consultant said that unplanned-unscheduled emergency R&M jobs were seven times more expensive than planned-scheduled jobs. Furthermore, running equipment to failure was 10 times more expensive than discovering potential equipment failures early with thinking that was focused on both preventive maintenance and predictive maintenance.

Planned-scheduled R&M jobs have the potential to be 10 times safer than emergency work because there are fewer “error traps” like time pressure, distractions, vague work guidance, poor communications, and stress. All of these conditions can contribute to injuries. The smelter’s maintenance total injury rate was 8.7% in 2001-2002. More recently, Warrick’s Smelter has lowered that to 0.9% for the past three years.

What it means for an R&M job to be planned: We believe a planned R&M job has the following characteristics. This is our REX target condition. Our six planner schedulers strive to meet all these characteristics before a maintenance job is put on the schedule for our 99 craft personnel:

  • an accurate time estimate for the job so the supervisor can have a reasonable expectation on when to assign the next task
  • accurate estimate of craft personnel.
  • listing of all equipment, JLG, welder, any special tools from the crib, and anything else needed to perform the job
  • information available (prints, permits, LOTO)
  • job step sequence, procedure, and instructions to accomplish tasks of the work
  • parts and materials kitted and ready
  • as a “built-in check” to assure a quality planned job, schedulers periodically discuss the nature of the job with the supervisors and/or personnel assigned to complete the job (This ensures there is a full understanding of scope of work and that all materials for a job package are complete before it begins).

If an R&M job is put on next week’s schedule that doesn’t meet these characteristics, what happens? A craftperson is assigned the unplanned job and now that person must do most of these steps “on the run.” What if the craftsperson cannot find parts or access special equipment or needs prints? What if the craftperson must secure equipment from operations? Is the LOTO well documented? When will the job be complete? The completion time is unknown because there are no standards for unplanned jobs.

What it means for a planned R&M job to be kitted: We have a 100-by-150-ft secure area that is dedicated to planned R&M job kits. Alcoa Warrick Smelter’s planned R&M work kitting area is secure 24/7.

This kitting area was one of Warrick’s first REX successes in 2003, and we started with an area half the current size. Previously, we attempted to kit jobs in an unsecure stores delivery area near the job site. We had more than 50 delivery locations scattered around the plant. Imagine the probability of success with that effort. Some of our jobs have dozens of components that take several weeks or months to acquire. It was common for received parts to go missing by the time we believed the job was ready to perform.

Initially our kitting area was zoned by planner and parts for a job were put on racks. We soon evolved to having a basket system and visual tag system. A red tag is shaped like a stop sign and says the kitting is in progress, not ready. A yellow tag is shaped like a triangle and says the kit is complete but not scheduled. A green tag is round in shape and says the kit is complete and scheduled.

Our approach in 2007 did not enable effective planning-kitting-scheduling. In 2007, we had only 1.5% of our craft resources performing predictive maintenance (PdM) diagnostics, and we rarely acted on our predictive maintenance anomalies. Our PM % was 31% of total craft hours, and it only generated 400 corrective work orders. This 41:1 ratio was much worse than the 6:1 ratio that one would target and expect with REX.

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