Zero Breakdowns With WCM at Unilever & Contract Pharmaceuticals

Episode 14

Maintenance Management Podcast


About this episode

Alek Zelnins draws on his 12 years of experience as Maintenance Supervisor at Unilever to share his views on achieving the ultimate goal of world-class maintenance and zero breakdowns with a skilled team of mechanics.


Matt (Host): Hi, everyone. Welcome back to the Comparesoft Podcast. It’s great to have you here with us yet again. Today, our guest is Alek. Alek is the Maintenance Manager at Contract Pharmaceuticals Ltd. Alek has worked with well-known companies including Unilever and Gay Lea Foods. Alek has great knowledge surrounding equipment maintenance and repairs. He has strong experience with managing preventative, predictive, and corrective scheduling with the aim of minimising downtime. So, it will be great to get his take on maintenance management. Welcome to the show, Alek, how are you doing, sir?

Alek Zelnins: I am good. Thank you for inviting me to participate in this podcast. Glad to be here to share the knowledge and maybe help some other similar managers in the maintenance field to resolve the issues.

Matt: Excellent. Well, it’s our pleasure. So, let’s jump straight into it. Can you tell us what you do in a little bit more detail?

Alek: So, as you mentioned, I work at Contract Pharmaceutical Limited. It’s a pharma company. We make, obviously, pharmaceutical products. I can’t really go into details of the things that we make, but all of us go to the pharmacy and we once in a while use the products of the pharma industry.

I’ve been there for about six months, now. It’s a fairly new industry to me, but kind of new learnings about the process. Because I had vast experience in maintenance management in manufacturing, it’s an easier transition into this role. My previous roles were in food. I started as a mechanic. I worked on packaging, manufacturing, different aspects of the food manufacturing business as a mechanic. Then an opportunity came. I became a supervisor. I started to manage the people that I was working with, while I was a mechanic.

Then, another opportunity came and I became a manager. [The] manager’s role is a bit wider. You don’t just manage the trades. You manage the other resources that report to the maintenance manager. The other members of the maintenance team like planners and schedulers and buyers and other auxiliary stuff, the technicians, some companies. A manager looks after the cleaners of the equipment. That’s pretty much my overview of my experience. As I said, it was always manufacturing. The majority of the time was food and now I have exposure to pharma.

Matt: Okay, marvellous. Well, let’s jump straight into the meat of it. How do you go about setting a good maintenance culture then?

Alek: I would like to start with the definition of how we see maintenance in manufacturing. The aim of maintenance is to raise [a] company’s productivity by lowering the cost of the equipment that is used to manufacture things in a way that the oldest stages of that costs, whether it’s the initial purchase of the equipment and design of that equipment. Once we get the equipment and then we start using it, we need to have a proper programme in place. We need to have people who can take care of that equipment. All of these factors at the end of the day will help the company to successfully, with profit obviously, manufacture the product that they do.

To get there, your equipment must be available and ready whenever it’s scheduled to run to make that product. You will need to have a trained team that is capable of managing the equipment, whether it’s a preventative maintenance programme or dealing with issues day to day that you change from one product to another and you have a bit of an issue. You need to have people that are available to resolve the issue quickly and return the equipment back to production so it can resume.

Basically, you aim for a couple of things, is you wanted to reduce or the ultimate goal will be zero breakdowns or reduced hours. Significant reduction on the radars, and the maintenance cost reduction is the other one.

Matt: Sure, and then how would you recommend the best way to plan maintenance activities?

Alek: I would like to answer this question with looking at the steps that you need to take in order to have a successful maintenance team. Sometimes we hear the word world-class maintenance. WCM is the ultimate goal of any maintenance team in manufacturing that you’re trying to achieve. You first need to develop and train production workers, meaning that you help them to understand how the machines are working, whether is the way to find abnormalities. So, they would have kind of a basic skill of the mechanic to be able to identify issues early, or even when the issue is occurring because the operator is running the line all the time. They know already 50% of the problem. When they call a mechanic to the machine, operators that have that knowledge and experience, they deliver already 50% of the solution for the mechanic. They know what’s happening and what to tell to [the] mechanic what needs to be fixed.

Like I said earlier, you need to aim for zero breakdowns. You need to establish the maintenance programme, whether it’s going to be a time-based [or] condition-based maintenance. Lubrication of the equipment is very important. You need to watch your cost of the repairs, spare parts, and labour used for setups and troubleshooting and other things.

The most important part is the skill of your team. You need to have the team cross-trained. So, you don’t have just one mechanic looking after one line, and this mechanic goes on holiday tomorrow and you will have less experienced people to be able to deal with that particular line. So, scale is one of the important things, as well.

Matt: Okay. And then so, kind of a similar question but slightly different. How would you recommend the best way to implement an effective maintenance plan?

Alek: So, all of these things that I listed above, they will only happen if you have the leadership of the company or one particular facility if one facility is a company. That they will agree and support you with [the] implementation of this plan. Because if you’re trying to achieve better results and you don’t get support from the leadership team, you most likely will not be successful. That’s one of the important things to implement; the plan.

Also, you need to invest time and resources in your people. So, you got the agreement with big folks, and now you need to go down on [the] production floor and make sure that your team members who actually are doing the work agreed with that strategy and they would follow it.

Matt: Okay, some great insight there. Now, moving on from that, what do you think about software tools? Are they useful for managing maintenance activities?

Alek: I believe, yes. I started more than 20 years ago when a lot of stuff was on paper. Paper is longer to fill. You need storage for paper. You need to mechanically move the paper from one source to another. If you need to find the record, you need to go into a storage and retrieve that paperwork.

When we talk about software, that everything is in one place. You log in to your system and you have an exposure for all the equipment, all the trades, all the spare parts. It depends on what kind of software you’re using. You can have the, for example, breakdown analysis history where you can go and see if, for example, the same occurrence happened in the past. If you will do this on paper, you’ll have to go back to the binder and go through the pages of records to be able to locate that.

In terms of the software, you can change the asset ID for whichever way it’s represented in the programme and you will have a whole history. Who worked on it? What parts were used? How long it was down? What was done to mitigate the issue? Why the issue occurred? And what were the countermeasures to prevent the issue from reoccurring?

So yes, I believe software tools are very, very useful for what we do and it will save a lot of time, not just for maintenance managers, for maintenance planners, for coordinators, for everyone who is connected to the maintenance department.

Matt: Alek, you’ve worked in various different industries. Could you tell us a little bit about how maintenance varies in those industries?

Alek: I don’t believe is a huge difference for the maintenance itself. I believe there is more focus on the regulatory stuff, the documentation. Every little step that we do needs to be documented. It needs to be verified because pharma is a bit more serious than food. People use prescription medicine or over-the-counter, whatever that is. It’s supposed to deliver the result. It changes some processes in our bodies and it has to be dosed correctly. It could have severe complications if it’s not done properly.

Don’t get me wrong, food has also great focus on quality. If I will compare the food and pharma [industry], for obvious reasons, the safety of the workers is number one priority in any facility. In food, we would say, quality is number two. In pharma is not number 2, it’s 1. It’s as critical as the safety aspect. Like I said, the focus is on making sure that every step is done properly and it’s verified. As opposed to food manufacturing, you don’t have the verification process of, for example, a mechanic had to instal the screen on the product feeding line. So, the mechanic does this and there is no verification that mechanic installed the screen on the product delivery line. In pharma, there is. There is a person who is installing something, and there is a person who is verifying that this is installed correctly and it’s number 50, or whatever the size that is. So that’s, I would say the core differences.

But the machines are the same. They deal with the dry product, liquid product. They fill the bottles. They fill some sort of a plastic container. They fill the blister packaging. Everything goes into a carton and the case is shipped to the final customer. It’s very, very similar, but pharma, I would say it’s a bit stricter than food.

Matt: All right, and then so moving on from that, how do you see connected technologies changing the way we work in the future?

Alek: Well, I would say the future is already here. Some of the companies, they do implement technology more than others. This is related to the prediction of equipment failure. The older [the] setup is, we have an inspection every month or every quarter, every half a year. We go and inspect that bearing. If we see there’s nothing wrong with it, we write in the work order the bearing is still okay. Or if we see that there’s deterioration or early deterioration is discovered, then we might write a note or [the] mechanic might write a note that [says], “This bearing needs to be replaced.”

Using the technology, you can put a vibration and temperature sensor and monitor the condition of that, as you run the equipment, which is basically the best way of monitoring the condition. Because when the mechanic goes and the work order says inspect that bearing. You have to lock out the machine. You have to kill the sources of the power. You don’t want to get [the] mechanic injured. [The] mechanic will inspect that particular bearing while it’s not running, but it’s not a true representation of the state of the bearing. The bearing needs to run in order to be in a current state, whether it’s starting to deteriorate or not.

The technology helps us here by monitoring the performance of this bearing 24/7. It all depends how you set up the system. You can have a monitoring software doing the readings every so many seconds, minutes, whichever the application you have. The software analyses the output from that signal. You can create a green zone, yellow zone, and red zone. So, if everything goes smoothly, you’re coasting in the green zone. Then the temperature started to go because of this deterioration or vibration issue or somebody did not adjust the machine properly. So, you have extra load on that chat, and you can see the temperature is creeping up and you will get into [the] yellow zone. You can set up the software that you will get a notification that bearing number five went into [the] yellow zone. You need to go and address it. This will help you to replace or schedule [a] replacement of that bearing before it fails. This is how I see the technology is helping us.

Matt: So, what’s your take on using spreadsheets for maintenance management? Going back a little bit old school in reverse technology. Do they still have a place? Are they still something that you use?

Alek: They still have a place. They’re used for — I’ll give an example. You have data that is being collected from, let’s say, equipment failures or your shift logs or whatever the operators are recording during the shift. This data goes into some sort of file that you can analyse using [an] Excel spreadsheet. You can do the pie charts. You can do the bars. You can see where your biggest problem is. You can do the Pareto chart to understand where you have the most of the failures.

However, if it is part of the software or programme that you’re using, then you will not be required to use the spreadsheets because your software will already give you that analysis. For example, I was talking about breakdowns earlier. If your software is capturing how many breakdowns you had in this particular timeframe week or a month, and then you have this data within the software. And then at the end of the month or a week, you can build the same chart without using this spreadsheet. It all depends how good your system is, [and] whether you will need to use the spreadsheet or not.

Matt: All right, so how do you use maintenance as a competitive advantage for the business?

Alek: Well, like we talked earlier, the technology is one of them. We get in our exposure to newer technology. We need to constantly review and look for what’s out there. All these annual exhibitions and other events that promote the technology so you can learn what’s new, and try to see if the you can implement this new in your particular facility to be able to help you reduce amount of breakdowns and prevent them from happening.

The advantage of maintenance is by reducing that amount of breakdowns, and have the equipment available. You at the end of the day, increase productivity that means. You make an order on time. There is no delays. You don’t cause any more upstream or downstream issues with the product flow. Because when the machine breaks down, it’s not just that maintenance department has to work. It puts the disruption into the entire chain of events, starting from ordering raw materials, moving them in, and shipping the ready product out of the door. You create a disruption for the entire chain of events or supply chain, rather.

So, by reducing the downtime, you help to eliminate and it will drive the productivity and obviously, the profits are bigger too. At the end of the day, manufacturing is a business and [the] business needs to make money.

Matt: So, moving into the final part of the show, what are your top three tips on effective maintenance?

Alek: I believe you need to take care of the people, the team, because we’re not at the stage where robots are making robots or robots are fixing robots. It’s people who fix, repair, and set up the machinery and run the machines [to] make the production, to make that product to the customer.

The other tip is to make sure that the equipment is available. By taking care of the team, the team will take care of the equipment and [the] equipment will be available to make the requested product on time with a minimum loss.

The other one of the important things is to have proper procedures in place [so] that whatever we discussed today is working properly. So, you have to have all of that documented, whether it’s going to be a paper process or it’s part of your software. So, you know how to train a person who is coming into [a] mechanics role, for example. That you don’t have to scramble to think [about] what you need to teach this guy to be successful. Everything should be there. All the SOPs and training materials and equipment manuals need to be available. The same thing, the process of running the department will be described, as well. The KPIs will be clear that you need to deliver.

Matt: Well, you’ve given us some amazing insight here and some fantastic information and knowledge for our listeners to take away. But wrapping things up nicely for the end of the show, what’s your favourite saying or quote, on maintenance for our listeners?

Alek: It’s not really a maintenance call, per se. It’s a quote from Taiichi Ohno. He is considered to be [the] father of the Toyota Production System, which drove a lean manufacturing methodology in the United States. His quote is, “Without standards, there can be no improvement.” Or if we use the famous Japanese word, Kaizen.

Basically, first you need to establish your standards, and then you will be able to improve on that. There is a famous picture that goes with it where the person is trying to go uphill, and they’re rolling the big rock. In order to get to that top, they develop the wedge where they wedge this rock. They put a wedge under the rope, and they roll it uphill a bit. And they watch this rock again, and they go. It is harder and harder, but at least you have the standard of putting that wedge into the rock [so] that it doesn’t fall back and you have to start from the very beginning or maybe die.

Matt: Well, there we have it. Some amazing information for all you listeners there. Alek, thank you so much for being on the show. You’ve been a fantastic guest and dropped some real knowledge for our listeners there.

Alek: All right, the pleasure is mine. Thank you so much for having me.

Matt: Our pleasure. Well, thanks to all of you listening in, again. We will see you on the next episode. Cheers.