NewPage paper mill in Duluth, MN

NewPage paper mill in Duluth, MN cuts costs while improving machine reliability.  NewPage is the leading producer of printing and specialty papers in North America, with a total annual mill production capacity of about 3.5 million tons.  Instead of relying on reactive maintenance, NewPage views lubrication as foundational to its equipment maintenance best practices program that improves reliability, saves them money, reduces production line downtime and lowers equipment maintenance costs.

The mill is improving plant performance with a proactive approach to maintenance and lubrication that provides benefits and efficiencies that extend well beyond traditional approaches such as using spreadsheets or the preventative maintenance (PM) capabilities of computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS) or enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems.

Although plants spend billions of dollars annually on equipment reliability initiatives, many overlook lubrication as an area of opportunity worthy of specific focus.

MORE THAN 100,000 ANNUAL LUBE TASKS – Lubrication is often viewed as nothing more than a quick series of simple, repetitive tasks like hitting a grease point or topping off a reservoir. However, a single plant will have hundreds to thousands of pieces of equipment, each having multiple lubrication points. In turn, each lubrication point can have multiple tasks, all performed at differing intervals. From daily lubing, to semi-annual oil sampling, to yearly tank draining/replacement, the total of lubrication tasks to perform can surprisingly number into the hundreds of thousands annually.

To address this issue, many plants utilize spreadsheets or CMMS systems in an effort to manage lubrication. Unfortunately, although CMMS systems work very well for managing preventative maintenance (PM) and corrective jobs at the equipment level, they are not built for detailed tracking of individual lube tasks. Yet, the information contained in these details—when properly structured to the specifics of lubrication— enables best practices to improve machine condition, extend life and uptime, identify equipment issues proactively and boost employee productivity—all in a manner both experienced and inexperienced personnel can easily follow.

AT THE NEWPAGE MILL – “With the volume of activities that need to be performed and the complexity of managing all these different types of activities with different lubricants, time frames and procedures, we have to be able to store and easily access detailed information on each lube point,” says Tammy Needham, NewPage’s Machinery Lubrication Technician.

Needham oversees all aspects of lubrication including lube tasks, inventory and testing for the Duluth paper machine. In addition to 25 years of experience, Needham has continued her education and is certifi ed as a Machinery Lubricant Technician (MLT) and Machinery Lubricant Analyst (MLA).

“When I started in lubrication, I immediately realized the benefit of handling all the lubrication tasks on time and getting the right amount of grease into the right place every time, to increase the longevity and reliability of our equipment,” says Needham.

A number of years ago, Needham’s manager decided it was time for the Duluth plant to upgrade to comprehensive lubrication tracking and management software. After investigating several options on the market, they selected LUBE-IT from Issaquah, Wash.- based Generation Systems.

With LUBE-IT, each lube point is inventoried as to component type, location, capacity, number of fittings and the lubricant to be used. Each point is then associated with the individual tasks required. Details for each task include the activity to perform, frequency, duration of each task, route, procedures, and shutdown requirements.

Using this essential information, the software continuously manages lubrication throughout the plant by tracking the status of each individual task. This is in contrast to outmoded approaches such as spreadsheets or tracking collections of tasks across an array of CMMS PMs. Each week the system’s automatic work planning process evaluates every task, individually releasing only those that are appropriate. Tasks not previously completed are highlighted as past-due and included within the current week’s work.

For Needham, the advantage of this approach—instead of relying on human memory—is to reinforce a culture of excellence and to protect the accumulated knowledge and best practices of the lubrication program at NewPage’s Duluth mill.

With all of these details documented in the system, plant personnel and management also have one-click access to the history of any lubrication point, which can be invaluable for analyzing failures. This includes: when individual tasks were completed, a reason if not completed, the number of weeks past due, who was assigned, the lubricant used, and notifications of equipment issues identified during the lubrication activity.

OPTIMIZED ROUTES – Optimized lubrication “routes” are another benefit of having detailed lube point information and can dramatically increase the speed and efficiency of maintenance.

Using the information in the system, the program sets up a labor-efficient, step reducing route for specific personnel, from start to finish. Each lube task along that path—incorporating all tasks due to be completed regardless of frequency—and the various types of lubricants that will be required, are outlined in a logical walking sequence.

“You can move from a pump to an agitator to a hydraulic system all in walking sequence with detail information on each lube point on the route, what lubricant is required, and so on,” says Needham.

Needham finds the routing feature useful as a reminder of tasks that are required less frequently, such as semiannual or annual lubrication activities. The routing system is so efficient that basic care tasks not related to lubrication are often incorporated, such as cleaning a piece of equipment or adjusting a shim along the way.

Although many lubrication tasks might have minimal safety implications, some can have very serious implications if proper procedures are not followed. With LUBE-IT, safety related procedures and requirements can be associated with a specific task and clearly presented to personnel prior to performing the task.

“If there is a safety procedure that needs to occur before the lube task, a technician can look at the sheet and see exactly what steps needs to occur first,” says Needham. “I want to make sure that nobody is going to get hurt.”

MANAGEMENT FEEDBACK – According to Needham, NewPage management now has access to detailed reports and KPI information relating to the lubrication effort, that it never had before. The  feedback she has received from management has been extremely positive.

Although Needham has been working with LUBE-IT for over a decade, the capabilities and detail in the program have dovetailed nicely with NewPage’s recent corporate initiative to implement equipment reliability best practices to improve efficiency and uptime in all of its seven plants.

“There has been a big push lately to really get everything documented,” says Needham. “Management felt that by really looking closely at the lubrication aspect of all its plants they could discover some cost savings and ensure the equipment lasts longer. We were able to accomplish many of our lubrication goals because of the support we received from Management.”

Needham’s success with LUBE-IT was instrumental in NewPage’s decision in early 2012 to purchase the soft ware for additional plants. “Being able to put down all of this detailed, documented information in one place that was easily accessible, is a tremendous benefit to our company,” adds Needham. “It is so foundational to our entire lubrication eff ort that I don’t believe you could put a price tag on it.”

Bill Correll is in Sales and Business Development for Generation Systems Inc. Contact him at: 800.613.5525.

This article was first published in Paper 360 Magazine – Best Practices in Equipment Reliability

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