Asset Management System

What a reliability office can do for you: Part 1

Get measurable savings and fix longstanding problems with a holistic approach.

By Jeffrey Ng, Kimberly-Clark Corp.

It’s well-known that performing maintenance on a condition-based or reliability-centered basis is the preferred method for plant maintenance operation. This is the safest and most cost-effective method, and it’s the objective for most organizations. But how does one begin the journey?
why a reliability office?

In 2012, Kimberly-Clark’s Fullerton, CA, mill was operating on a reactive maintenance basis. Equipment was in continuous failure mode. The mill repaired the equipment on the premise of getting it running as soon as possible, and subsequent failures of the same equipment were not considered. The years of reactive maintenance caused the mill to become the worst performer in its fleet, which in turn lowered the mill’s morale and raised operations costs.

As part of the mill revitalization effort, the movement from reactive to condition-based maintenance was identified as an important step. From this movement, a reliability office was created. The reliability office is a team of personnel trained in condition monitoring techniques and technologies whose work is dedicated to searching for equipment faults and pending failures. This team recommends corrective actions for its findings and performs root-cause analysis of failures.

The original team consisted of an engineer, two mechanics, two electricians, and a lubrication attendant. The reliability office’s focus was the tissue manufacturing department. As the team demonstrated success and reduced delays in tissue manufacturing, it added members and expanded its responsibilities to other areas of the mill. The expanded responsibilities led the team to grow. Today the reliability office consists of a team leader, a mechanical engineer, three mechanics, two electricians, and two lubrication attendants.

Defining the mission and vision

The broad assignment for the reliability office was to improve equipment reliability in tissue manufacturing. As a team, we developed a common vision of the end state we were attempting to achieve: “to drive the Fullerton Mill from a reactive/preventative maintenance culture to a proactive/root-cause elimination maintenance culture.”

Now that we had our vision, we had to define how to make it a reality. We created a mission statement that would define our actions and we connected it to our mill’s objective:

“Through the creation of sustainable best-in-class condition monitoring programs, we will increase the reliability of the Fullerton Mill assets to deliver business results.”

How and where to begin

Simply having a vision and mission statement would not be enough. We had to execute. With a daunting mission and a wide range of tactics and strategies available to employ, this could have been overwhelming. Immediately implementing all of the various condition monitoring technologies – vibration, lubrication, ultrasound, motor current analysis, etc. – did not appear to be the best strategy. We decided to focus on two or three technologies at the start, become very proficient with these, and then add another strategy each year. We knew that with whichever technology we selected, a sustainable program would require proper equipment, training, systems development, and documentation.

The Fullerton mill previously had a similar condition-monitoring program, which was suspended by mill leadership in a cost-cutting effort. As a result, we didn’t need to create everything from scratch. To that end, we started with three questions.

1. What equipment did we already have?
Answer: four laser alignment tools, four handheld vibration analyzers, and two infrared cameras.

2. What previous training or experience did we already have?
Answer: one to two people trained and experienced with vibration analysis, two to four people who had laser alignment experience, and one individual with infrared camera experience.

3. Were any condition monitoring systems currently in place?
Answer: No formal condition monitoring programs existed, but we did have SAP. Within SAP, there existed routes for lubrication, oil sampling, vibration, and infrared at various intervals.

Based on the answers to these questions, we decided to begin with lubrication, vibration, and infrared. We had a base knowledge, equipment, and some routes in SAP for vibration and infrared, which made these two technologies a good choice. We prioritized lubrication over laser alignment, since it affects almost all equipment and can be practiced every day. Laser alignment is a higher skill that can be taught, but it offers only limited opportunities for practice. Lubrication is the foundation upon which all other condition monitoring technology programs are built. Without proper lubrication, it would not matter what other condition monitoring programs were in place, as all of the equipment would be in a constant state of failure.


Before the reliability office was instituted, equipment lubrication was operators’ responsibility. The operators had little to no lubrication training and there were no checks in place to confirm that lubrication activities were completed. The mill would regularly experience equipment failures because of insufficient or improper lubrication. Some failures were minor; others were catastrophic to the equipment and/or asset.
We began our lubrication program with a third-party audit and an assessment of the mill’s lubrication program. All team members were trained to Machinery Lubrication Technician Level I.

The team reviewed all of the lubrication routes that existed in SAP. Equipment that was no longer in service was removed from the routes documentation. Routes were consolidated for ease of application and collection for the lubrication attendant. The lubricants for the mill were consolidated where possible to minimize the total number of lubricants in use – a move that offered several benefits, including reduced inventory and a lower risk of using the wrong lubricant.

To implement visual management in the lubrication program, color-coding of the lubricants and labeling of equipment was done across the department. Devices including desiccant breathers and water sediment collectors were installed on equipment for ease of daily inspections of lubricant condition.

The mill had a lab under contract for oil analysis, but the test slate was a general one that didn’t match the application of the mill’s oils. The standard response time from sample collection to receipt of results was 10–14 days. A new test slate was devised from the application of Machinery Lubrication Technician Level I training. The test slate was the basis of request for bids from a number of oil analysis laboratories near the mill. A laboratory was selected, trialed, and then placed under contract. The time from sample collection to receipt of results was reduced to 3-5 days, and the cost per sample was reduced by 63%, equivalent to $26,000 annual savings.

As part of this effort, we standardized sampling activities. Sampling of critical equipment was conducted on a monthly basis; for most other equipment the sample rate was set to bimonthly. Sampling routes were created to meet the intervals defined, and for ease of collection. The routes were leveled to have close to the same number of samples taken each month. Leveling ensured that the sampling technique was used regularly and performed consistently. This also allowed ease of adding samples to routes for follow up sampling or additional monitoring of particular equipment, as needed. The sampling procedure was formalized and documented to ensure consistent samples and identical training for each lubrication attendant.

The daily rounds and oil analysis results drove corrective actions. Corrective actions were as simple as repairing lubricant leaks, and as complex as large bearing changes. To reduce the frequency of oil changes, two oil purifiers were purchased. The purifiers were moved between equipment to perform kidney filtering of the oil while the equipment continued to operate. The added benefit of the lubrication attendant rounds was all the other corrective actions found, from water leaks, to unusual equipment vibration or temperatures.

One of the largest benefits of the lubrication program, other than uptime of the equipment, was the reduction of oil loss in the department. Over the past three years, oil loss has been reduced from 65 gallons per week to 45, a 30% reduction. That is an equivalent of 988 gallons of oil a year, with a cost savings of $10,000 a year. The oil loss reduction positively affects not only operational costs but also the mill’s safety. Oil on the floor and on equipment presents slipping, fire, and environmental hazards.

The program’s long-term sustainability has been improved by the recent construction of a world class centralized lubrication room and the development of formal procedures from the receipt of the lubricants to initial testing of the oils, subsequent handling, filtering, and dispensing of the oil. All of these procedures have been captured in written documentation for regular auditing of the process and for future training.


Before the reliability office launched, a single mechanic sporadically would perform vibration rounds. The findings from the vibration analysis would often go ignored, leading to equipment failures.

The reliability office revitalized the vibration program by going back to basics. The mill changed the vibration operating system to the corporate standard equipment and software. This allowed for ease of sharing of information, learnings, and techniques among the mills. Routes were standardized on four week intervals, and reconfigured for ease of data collection. All vibration technicians were trained and certified to ISO Level II.

In the following months, an online vibration monitoring system was installed and critical equipment within the asset was wired to the online system. This data was collected once every 24 hours and was reviewed each day. The vibration measurement points that were not easily accessible or could not be collected without violating safety rules had permanent mounted sensors wired to a local switchbox. All wiring for the online system and the local switchboxes was documented in the corporate drawing system, and all boxes were labeled. Other manually collected points had targets installed to facilitate consistent sensor placement for manual routes.

The vibration program was more complex than the lubrication program, primarily due to equipment and software required. The vibration technicians received additional training on the equipment and software direct from the OEM. A full system and program description was written to document the flow of data and the function of each piece of hardware and software. Procedures and documentation for all vibration data collection were formalized. Included in the documentation were the special vibration test techniques, such as phase analysis, and synchronous time averaging. The use of the advanced vibration analysis techniques aided in the identification of equipment faults such as unbalance, misalignment, and soft foot.

Through continued training on the vibration equipment and software, we have discovered other applications where the equipment can be utilized. The vibration system has been expanded to perform minor motor current analysis and infrared monitoring. These other applications have been set up in the database and for regularly scheduled routes.

Read "What a reliability office can do for you: Part 2"