Posted November 22, 2010
“If you have the right training, the right equipment and the right knowledge, IT will do whatever you want it to do, easily.”
- Mario Arseneault, Human Resources, Chaleur Sawmills
Chaleur Sawmills in Belledune, New Brunswick, is one of Canada’s largest sawmills, employing 175 workers and producing over 150-million board feet of lumber annually.
The key to the company’s success is efficiency. And in the world of cutting and refining wood, efficiency is all about reducing your downtime to a minimum. The mill runs seven days per week, on two twelve-hour shifts from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.. Only one week per month does the mill not run a night shift, from 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. – they reserve that time for regular maintenance work.
“Preventative maintenance is a huge reason why we’re so productive,” said Mario Arseneault, Director of Human Resources for Chaleur Sawmills. “I’m not going to say we never have breakages, but it’s very rare that we need to stop production because of something mechanical or electrical. Usually we find it before it breaks.”
In order to keep this rigourous schedule sustainable, Chaleur Sawmills has developed an extremely comprehensive preventative maintenance system. And until August of this year, this system involved a worker spending well over 10 to 12 hours per week manually scheduling and assigning maintenance tasks among the mill’s employees.
“It includes everything from checking bearings, tightening chains, aligning pulleys and belts, anything,” Arseneault said. “If a chain is being tightened three times a week, something is wrong. So preventative maintenance is all about asking what we do with that chain – is it a problem with the chain, the bearing, the belt in behind, the conveyor?”
The maintenance worker used to begin assigning all these various tasks to the mill’s employees Friday after work, and spend his entire weekend until Sunday night completing the task. Then the sawmill considered bringing in an ICT solution to help reduce the strain, and essentially automate what had become an extremely labour-intensive managerial process.
“We realized that our maintenance coordinator was taking at least 10 to 12 hours to run his regular schedule of tasks for all of his 14 millwrights,” Arseneault said. “We realized that he was starting on the Friday afternoon, continuing on Saturday, and finishing on the Sunday from home, to make sure all the tasks would be in for Monday.”
In February of this year, Chaleur Sawmills started looking into potential ICT solutions for how to make this process more efficient. They turned to local New Brunswick business IT solutions company, PLC Info, and by June, they had agreed to purchase and implement a software program designed to automate the mill’s preventative maintenance system.
“They came up with a program that could do all the tasks automatically, week after week after week,” Arseneault said. “All we need to do now is have the names and numbers of all our guys in a file, and it automatically distributes all the tasks to everybody. And now it takes about an hour and a half instead of 10 to 12 hours. So it’s more than a success story, it’s absolutely amazing what it’s done for us and our maintenance guy.”
The mill invested $25,000 into the software program, which was implemented in August, 2010. But what seems like a substantial investment upfront is already paying dividends. The mill estimates that it saves about $500 per week with the new system in place. At that rate, the investment will be completely paid off in only 50 weeks – less than one year.
Arseneault said it wasn’t an easy decision to invest in the program – it took months of development, then another 10 days or so to decide whether to buy once PLC Info had submitted their final proposal. He said in the end, it came down to thoroughly researching the opportunity, and being sure they had all the elements in place to best utilize the system.
“[Investing in ICT] certainly works, but you need to have the right stuff for it to work,” he said. “The biggest problem for anybody who wants to invest in IT is that they probably don’t understand what it can do for them. If you have the right training, the right equipment and the right knowledge, IT will do whatever you want it to do, easily.”
As for the mill’s maintenance coordinator, he’s just happy to have his weekends back.