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Management Side
Week of 6 March 2023: A Maintenance Travesty

Email Jim at jim.thompson@ipulpmedia.com

If you have taken an automobile to a dealer's repair shop lately, you have no doubt noticed how clean and neat the facility is. I have been wheeled into operating rooms in prestigious hospitals with more clutter and cobwebs than one will find in the typical auto dealer repair shop.

Automobile dealers work at a high charge out rate, out of a rate book. They have a constant struggle between the profitability demanded by their owners and the resistance of the customers to high prices. The repair shop is a profit center.

The repair services provided by the maintenance department in your pulp or paper mill are treated as a cost center, a cost center the mill does not want to own. Big difference from the automobile dealership repair shop.

Perhaps this is at least one reason why pulp and paper mill maintenance centers are so unkempt and trashy. The customer is captive, and the owner would prefer they not exist. Maintenance Centers go through the fad of the day (5S, portions of Six Sigma, etc.) but they soon revert to the lowest common denominator. This red-headed stepchild approach to maintenance excellence keeps consultants and training courses busy. By the way, we are going to talk about one of my favorite consultants in this business before this maintenance month is over.

However, beyond the wretched conditions I have described thus far, there is a growing practice among pulp and paper mills that is even worse.

That is this: abandoning obsolete equipment in place. Why is this done? To reduce the costs of new capital projects.

What does it cause?

Well, if you are lucky, it only causes your maintenance costs to be unnecessarily elevated from now on, as your maintenance staff works around this junk, or, even worse, extends their electrical, pneumatic, or fluids troubleshooting time and costs when correcting the current equipment involves a detour through some abandon equipment.

That was if you are lucky. If you are unlucky, that abandon equipment is the genesis of a fire, collapse or other disaster harming people or assets. In the worst cases, it puts you out of business.

Abandon equipment is the sign of weak management, perhaps all the way to the top of your organization.

Up until age 12, I lived next to the railroad tracks. This was the New York Central System. I thought it was the greatest place to live in the world...I had a ringside seat to the conversion from coal to steam. I also saw the decline of the railroads of those days. We not only lived next to the track, it was a four siding yard that went along for about four blocks in Troy, Ohio.

As business declined, they pulled up two of the sidings. They obviously pulled these up to reuse the rails and ties elsewhere. Yet, the railroad never came along with a grader or anything like that to smooth out the indentions where the old ties were. So, every summer after that, they sent an employee with a tractor and mower to drive over these indentations and cut the weeds (I suspect this was at the demand of the city). That mower operator would get so mad driving over those indentations. All because the company would not spend half a day grading the land.

For you youngsters, the New York Central joined with the Pennsylvania to become the Penn Central, which immediately failed and was folded into Conrail, the government owned railroad (see "The Wreck of the Penn Central" by Peter Binzen). This was eventually divested into the major railroads we have today.

I don't know if the abandonment of equipment in our pulp and paper mills is a cause or effect, but some of you are reminding me of the railroads of the 1960's and 1970's.

Your maintenance is in trouble because of your capital practices.

The entire New York Central assets left Troy, Ohio decades ago. That patch across the town where these assets used to be is now a well-maintained green space.

In twenty or thirty years, your mill site could be a green space, too. All the signs of such a future are there.

Be safe and we will talk next week.

March Maintenance Platinum Sponsor: RMR Mechanical - We perform as planned! 770-205-9646

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