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An old friend and I were reminiscing recently about our days together in a mill years ago. Maintenance had been neglected for years and unexpected breakdowns were frequent. I was first on the scene, in charge of maintenance, and I started spending money on maintenance like there was no tomorrow. Shortly after I arrived, a new mill manager showed up and, thank goodness, he was also a proponent of maintenance. We poured money into a backlog of deferred maintenance. Then my friend arrived and was expected to stabilize production and put us in the black.
It took some time, but the goals were all achieved. I left after a couple of years, but things were becoming fairly stable by then. Night calls had dropped off measurably. But in the midst of our reminiscences, my friend said a startling thing happened within just a few more months: night emergencies ceased, never to commence again in all his remaining years on the site.
But here is the real surprise. Most of our emergency production interruptions were caused by only one category of potential item: failed bearings. If there was one root cause of endless hours of lost production and endless expenditures of maintenance overtime, it was bearing failures. And the cause of the bearing failures was poor preventive maintenance--lubrication negligence.
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Now, there were other problems--hot spots in the old electrical systems and old motor generator sets (with vacuum tubes!) that did not want to start up after outages, but these things almost never shut us down.
In one disaster in the power house, I lost all four boiler feed water pumps. (I needed only one; the rest were spares). But the root cause of that mess was poor bearing maintenance going back twenty-five years. We lost a turbine generator, a whopping 3000 KW unit, due to bearing failure. (We repaired it, put it back on line and celebrated its 60th anniversary while I was there.)
Today we spend lots of time talking about predictive, preventive maintenance and have all sorts of seminars and software to manage this. There is no excuse for not having a strong predictive, preventive maintenance program.
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But can it all come down to something as simple as proper care of bearings? What are the root causes of your emergency shutdowns? Dig into them and see if they have the same genesis as ours did. You may be surprised, for in the frenzy of a breakdown, we sometimes do not think clearly and we may draw erroneous conclusions.
Of course, emergency shutdowns call up the specter of potential safety problems, both during the event and while effecting the cure.
Be safe and we will talk next week.
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