Like most industries, the papermaking industry is highly competitive, requiring maximum equipment reliability and minimum unplanned downtown. Since many mills are one- or two-line operations with equipment operating in series, even one unscheduled bearing failure can halt production for an extended period of time.

Kimberly-Clark is no exception. At its Flint operations in North Wales, UK, chronic and persistent equipment failure reduced the operation equipment efficiency to just 75 percent at its Coleshill mill. The situation was even worse at the Delyn mill, with an operation equipment efficiency of 63 percent, which translated to only 82 percent equipment availability.

Like most mills, Kimberly-Clark turned to vibration analysis in the early 1990s, to bolster a lackluster and ailing oil analysis program. Although the vibration analysis program proved an effective addition, providing vital early warning signs of impending machine failure, it still did not increase equipment availability to the levels sought by management. So, in the mid-1990s after attending a series of training courses on oil analysis and proactive lubrication management, Mark Penton at Kimberly-Clark decided to implement a detailed review and revamp of the mill’s lubrication program.

Like most fundamental changes, there were some growing pains with the new initiatives. However, Mark’s drive and ambition allowed the whole organization to overcome these hurdles, to the extent that both mills now enjoy more than 90 percent equipment availability. This is how Mark and Kimberly-Clark achieved this lifestyle change.

The Status Quo
Prior to the introduction of the lubrication management program, oil was treated like any other consumable, to be purchased at the best price and used as necessary to keep equipment running. Part of the lube contract included a certain number of free oil samples provided by the lube supplier. However, Kimberly-Clark didn’t perceive much value in this service because it hadn’t proved its worth.

The Incentive to Change
This changed in the mid-90s when free analysis was dropped from the lube contract and Kimberly-Clark was forced to pay for this service. Suddenly, oil analysis became an operating cost, and serious questions were asked about its value, and if there was a smarter way to do things.

Armed with the knowledge gained from several training classes, Mark saw this as an opportunity to make significant changes. He knew that if the mill could do a better job of keeping the oil clean, dry and in good condition, it would improve overall equipment reliability. He persuaded the mill to invest some of the money that would have been spent sending oil samples to the outside lab on purchasing onsite test equipment, including a particle counter, a moisture tester, a viscometer and a ferrous density instrument. At the same time, Mark organized his test slate so that the onsite test equipment could be used to routinely screen oil samples, allowing exception samples to be sent offsite to a commercial lab, whose expertise would be invaluable in diagnosing exception conditions.

The Payback
This simple act of bringing oil analysis onsite proved to be the catalyst for lasting change at Kimberly-Clark. All of a sudden, the whole lubrication team was thirsting for information, eager to participate in the growing lubrication revolution. Nothing more clearly illustrates the fundamental change in mindset than the day Steven Evans, one of lube technicians at the Coleshill Plant, started thinking about the filter on the tissue machines’ circulatory bearing lubrication system.

Due to high levels of contamination, these filters typically plugged off within three days. Prior to the lubrication revolution, this was considered as just another cost of doing business. However, with their newfound knowledge and skills, Steven and the rest of the team knew better. So they began looking at fundamental ways to keep the oil cleaner, such as ensuring that tank hatches remain closed, upgrading breathers and using off-line filtration to keep the oil cleaner.

Just a few minor changes resulted in an increase in filter life from just three days, to more than six months, and all because somebody performed an onsite particle count, indicating that the system was dirtier than it should have been. To celebrate their success, the team calculated the payback extending filter life produced. To their amazement, this simple lifestyle change resulted in an annual payback of more than £10,000 (approximately $15,000), or close to the cost of purchasing one particle counter. Imagine the impact that similar initiatives could have elsewhere in the mill!

Team Buy-in
Word soon got out about the lube team’s successes, and everyone else wanted a piece of the pie! The lubricant supplier provided a service engineer to help Kimberly-Clark improve its lubricant storage facility and to help consolidate lube suppliers. The results: another £10,000 ($15,000) savings from reduced lube purchases and consumption.

The filter supplier provided a mill-wide audit to ensure that filter performance held up to Kimberly-Clark’s stated goals for fluid cleanliness and equipment life extension.

By integrating the oil analysis data into a new mill-wide computerized maintenance management (CMMS) system, everyone involved, from the lube technicians, to supervisors and managers could draw on the data and expertise that was slowly building. Even purchasing got involved. Now, whenever a purchasing decision is made, it is based not just on economics, but also on reliability engineering goals. In fact, Kimberly-Clark’s program has become so successful that it has become the benchmark for performance in the UK paper manufacturing industry and the mill is sometimes used to field-test new concepts and initiatives from suppliers.

The simple act of taking control of oil analysis and lubrication management has catapulted Kimberly-Clark’s Flint mills from just another inefficient mill to a champion of lubrication excellence. All because of the drive and ambition shown by Mark Penton and the rest of the Kimberly-Clark team.