Top Plant 2013: A spark of excellence
As with many manufacturing facilities, the machine division’s maintenance department balances its activities among reactive, preventive, and predictive maintenance. “We strive to employ preventive and predictive strategies,” said Mason. “As the work load increases, the reactive level also increases just because when the equipment runs harder, it breaks more often. When business is slow, we can do more preventive and predictive maintenance because we have enough hours to perform the work as well as more access to the equipment.”
Mason and Sterio are also responsible for energy management. “Compressed air is one of our energy conservation areas of focus,” said Mason. “Many engineers don’t understand how expensive compressed air is. Most of the energy required to generate compressed air becomes heat in the equipment room or is lost through air leaks. We’re pretty good at checking our leaks, doing our ultrasonic leak detection, and replacing our hoses because compressed air is so expensive. People just don’t realize the cost behind compressed air.”
General exhaust is another area where the machine division was able to conserve energy. “We have processes that require dust and/or heat removal,” said Mason. “Instead of the upblast roof ventilators, we decided to use specific exhaust. Roof ventilators tend to pull too much heat out of the building in the winter. Specific exhaust is applied at the point source of the dust or heat. Sometimes a ring is constructed around the point source to prevent too much heat from escaping. We didn’t physically remove the upblast fans. We still use them during the summer.”
Using specific exhaust was very effective. “On this campus, our heating load is about half of what it was 8 years ago,” Mason said. “Your exhaust can cost you a lot of money and you won’t even realize it.”
Mason and Sterio also installed a wind turbine at the main Lincoln Electric campus. “We started running the wind turbine in June 2011,” said Mason. “We received money from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. The 2.5 MW machine has accelerometers so we can perform vibration analysis throughout the drivetrain and monitor bearing wear. The turbine is not part of the electrical transmission grid. We feed power from it directly into our plant. Our quiescent load is about 3 MW. There is never a time that the output of the wind turbine is not being used by this campus. In a year’s time, we’ve generated about 6 million kWh. This campus uses a total of about 55 million kWh, so the wind turbine enabled us to shave about 10% of our energy purchase.”
Lincoln Electric recently acquired two large automation companies: Wayne Trail and Tennessee Rand. Wayne Trail designs flexible automated systems used in a variety of metal forming, fabricating, and joining industries. Tennessee Rand provides engineering, machining, and integrated robotic systems, and is an automation integrator with core competencies in advanced welding system design, high-quality weld fixtures, robotic integration, and process automation.
“We just started to put robots into our machining areas,” said Seufer. “We’re also putting robots into our printed circuit board manufacturing areas. We’ve had pick-and-place machines for many years. However, many people don’t think of them as being automation.”
Lincoln Electric is looking into using RFID in its machining areas. “A machining center can have as many as 60 tools in it,” Seufer said. “We want to use RFID to ensure that we have the right tool married to the right machining center position, so that if the machine grabs tool No. 17, it’s not really grabbing tool No. 23. RFID will enable the machine to read each tool as it grabs it.”
Training, workforce development
CNC, Lean, lift truck, safety, and basic print reading are just a few of the many training opportunities that Lincoln Electric provides. “We offer a lot of training,” said Lipnevicius. “We’ve authorized more than 40 different training opportunities this year. We attach deliverables to all the training we do because we want to ensure employees apply that knowledge; otherwise, they’ll lose it. Entry-level employees receive instruction that includes job hazard analysis training and basic skills classes. We’ve been doing this for 20 years, but we revamped it pretty significantly in the last year.”
The maintenance department appears to be a training ground for technical people. “We’re recruiting constantly,” said Mason. “Other departments at the Cleveland campus tend to raid us for technical people—and that’s a good thing. Our department is large enough to teach employees about safety and skilled trades. After we get them trained, they migrate to other groups. The maintenance department is becoming a pipeline into this business.”
Although Lincoln Electric has had no problem hiring good employees, Mason predicts a hiring shortfall ahead. “Unfortunately, manufacturing in general and maintenance specifically is not viewed as a glamorous job. We are working hard with the local colleges to put recruiting programs together and we’re trying to bring a little glamour to the industry,” Mason said.
“We are working with HR to come up with recruitment programs,” said Mason. “We’re visiting universities to find out what they need from us. We’ve talked with students and discovered that these kinds of jobs really aren’t even on their radar. Young people are not being told that these opportunities exist.”