The Road to Reducing Unplanned Events

Reducing unplanned events is high on the priority list of many industrial facilities. However, it is possible to leverage technology and talent to optimize an organization to reducing these events.

Paula Hollywood, senior analyst, ARC Advisory Group
Paula Hollywood, senior analyst, ARC Advisory Group

Georgia-Pacific’s (GP) road to reducing unplanned events leverages Industry 4.0 technologies and talent to optimize reliability. Speaking at the recent ARC Industry Forum in Orlando, Florida, Scott Carter, vice president of automation innovation, shared some of GP’s challenges to optimize reliability in such an environment.

Talent and technology costs invert
GP began its digital transformation about six years ago looking at two things: talent and technology. From the talent perspective, GP gave itself a failing grade, noting the number of experienced workers who were retiring and taking their knowledge with them. At the same time, the company was experiencing significant employee turnover. GP’s numerous acquisitions resulted in little technology standardization across 150 plants and turnover exacerbated the issue.

Carter observed that the relationship between talent and technology has inverted over time. Early on in Carter’s career, he said that talent was considered cheap and any kind of technology system was expensive. However, this dynamic has recently flipped, with talent becoming expensive as many of the systems became cheaper, due in large part to decreasing sensor prices.

All of this led to GP’s adoption of a strategy to embrace technology, including automation, sensors, and Big Data to increase productivity and improve its competitive position.

Reducing unplanned events
ARC research indicates that unplanned events are the nemesis of productivity. Equipment failure, operator error, and nuisance trips frequently cause unexpected stoppages. An unplanned event could result in equipment damage resulting in environmental harm, worker safety issues, and missed production. This can mean that the overall impact on performance is decreased efficiency and reduced profitability, lowering key-performance indicators.

As a former maintenance manager and project engineer, Carter describes himself as a “world-class firefighter.” However, in his current role as vice president of automation innovation, unplanned events have Carter’s attention. And despite the lack of standardization, GP’s goal is to move the organization from reactive maintenance procedures to more proactive and predictive maintenance. Since moving to higher levels of maintenance involves technology, Carter’s advice is to implement more sensors, generate more data, and apply analytics to provide insight into your data and how it is impacting the process.

The next step is to use the data to focus the talent on what creates the greatest opportunity for the organization. Carter believes that technology and talent can work together to provide stable, capable, and predictable operations to achieve proactive reliability.

Optimizing reliability
At the event, Carter shared the results of an exercise conducted early on in GP’s transformation journey. The exercise involved overlaying process data, production data, and real-time asset reliability data, which revealed that 50% of unplanned events are caused by the way the equipment is operated. Consequently, as an organization, GP spends a considerable amount of time on details—like appropriate equipment selection for the application, required maintenance activities, and bearing installation and lubrication.

Elaborating on the use of data to optimize reliability, Carter shared an example of a problematic pump. Each time a grade change was made in a particular process, the pump, “was getting killed,” as he described it. Analysis of vibration data alone revealed the issue, leading to the practice of annual pump replacement during a planned outage.

Further investigation, involving analysis of operations data, process data, and vibration together, showed GP a new approach to solving this recurring problem. A small win, such as this, became a big one when implemented across 150 manufacturing sites for GP.

GP also relies on third-party expertise to help optimize reliability when needed. This includes partnerships with strategic vendors, in large part to see all the possibilities and help the team understand any issues it may not adequately comprehend. GP then makes the final decision on what technologies to implement and from where to source them based on the best information available at the time.

In closing, Carter cautioned that technology is the easy part; organizational change is much harder. While talent continues to be a challenge for GP, he does not believe it to be insurmountable. The biggest challenge now is taking the world-class “firefighting” organization GP was previously, to one that embraces reliability.

A passion for reliability
Carter is passionate about reliability and how it can be achieved at GP and beyond. His recommendations for other industrial organizations include:

  • Leverage skilled talent and adjust work assignments accordingly to apply the individual’s skill level to the task. Training is an essential component of this strategy, as a thorough understanding of new tools and how to use them are critical to success.
  • Becoming proactive requires technology. Sensors and software that were once expensive are now affordable enabling installation of monitoring devices in greater numbers. The ability to converge separate system data into a single view can provide the power to reveal the unknown.
  • Sustaining a culture of reliability is the most challenging issue for most organizations. It must be consistently reinforced by leadership at all levels of the organization until it has become ingrained in everyday practices so that prevention of failure is the norm.
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