Capacity and profitability go together like a scoop in a cone at Wells Enterprises

Feb. 19, 2014

You scream. I scream. We all scream for asset reliability.

Increased capacity means increased profits. These words are especially true at Wells Enterprises ( in Le Mars, Iowa, makers of delicious Blue Bunny ice cream and countless other related products. Despite the cold temperatures and accumulated snow outside, I could go for a Blue Bunny Caramel Champ Cone right now.

Wells employs around 2,500 people and produces more than 120 million gallons of ice cream each year. Yes, that’s a lot of capacity, and not just for production. The Wells facility also boasts the largest free-standing freezer. Imagine the frosty perseverance it takes to keep its 12 stories of capacity at -20 °F.

But what makes Wells so productive and profitable is the incredible attention it gives to equipment uptime. Larry Hoing, reliability systems manager at Wells, spoke at ARC Forum this past week about how his company uses Oracle EAM software and more than 200 maintenance technicians to keep more than 10,000 assets for 50+ production lines running as smooth as Blue Bunny’s signature vanilla ice cream.

“How do we use data?” asked Hoing. “We're always focused on what went wrong. Instead of root cause failure analysis, why not measure root cause success analysis? Utilizing all the data together allows us to make informed decisions, which increases our ability to mitigate the risks and increase our RONA. If I receive information that there's a jam on a boxer, and the technician answers the question why, that's very important information.”

What differentiates Wells from most production facilities is its use of information to sustain reliability and fully utilize assets, which results in increased capacity.

“Real-time event notification is important,” said Hoing. “We have triggers that tell us we have an event, and then we know we need a root cause analysis. We have a system in-house to see how a line is producing in real time.”

Hoing looks at leading and lagging metrics to reach the desired levels. In 2013, for example, proactive work was over 70% and PM compliance was almost at 90%, while mean time between failures (MTBF) surpassed 23 hours and downtime was only 3.4%. Consider that 1% of downtime is worth roughly $1 million. That’s a pretty significant metric.

The reliability manager credited failure mode and effects analysis for part of the success. “FMEA is taking information we've collected and determining how we can care best for the asset,” he said. “Is it going to last five years? Or can I sustain that asset for a longer period of time? The FMEA helps us to figure that out. When you have a problem, use that information.”

And Wells’ understanding of data and ways to leverage it just keep increasing. “We have assets all over the place,” said Hoing. “We have assets that are bolted down and assets that are rolled around. If I'm going to make banana split ice cream, I might have three fruit feeders. How do I know if I have that equipment available? We tag assets, check them in on the line, and then I can take the run hours and attribute those to that asset.”

Some new projects leveraging asset information include automated update of run hours for engine rooms, production lines, critical assets, and mobile assets, as well as mobile asset assignment to line for setup, run hours, sanitation, and availability. “We're updating our run hours on our critical assets,” explained Hoing.

You scream. I scream. We all scream for ice cream. And with optimized capacity, Wells can provide it for us.

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