You may have heard the old adage, “Real men don’t read the instructions.” This is often followed by disastrous results – furniture put together incorrectly, hours spent on equipment repairs that could have been solved in minutes, or a family taken wildly off-course on a road trip. As funny as these examples are, manufacturers are susceptible to similar outcomes when it comes to projects like equipment moves.
As a provider of services to the manufacturing segment, we frequently assist our clients in relocating and/or repurposing their equipment to new locations, typically driven by emerging business needs and changes.
At the heart of a machine move is a desire to save money and avoid the higher costs of having to specify, engineer, purchase and install new equipment. However, there can be some unintended negative consequences that sometimes result from a project that attempts to reuse existing machinery if the project is not executed properly.
The consequences of a poorly executed equipment move
At the outset of addressing a business opportunity or challenge, we may see one of our clients investigating how to save money and mitigate competitive pressures by reducing his footprint, overhead costs, labor, etc. while trying to produce the same product output. Relocating equipment from an underutilized location to a different space can create efficiencies and cost savings for a company, but only if managed properly. These financial benefits will only be realized if the equipment in question can be moved, installed, debugged and staffed at the same level of performance that is currently being delivered.
This would appear to be a low risk undertaking that can be reasonably controlled, with an outcome that is thought to be fairly predictable. Unfortunately, we do see these types of projects fail by virtue of the shortcomings of the restart of the line in its new location.
The business case, which assumed a smooth start up and a quick return to nameplate capacity, is built upon the assumption that the project work of dismantling, shipping, reassembling and starting up of the equipment is well understood, and therefore easy to accomplish. A false sense of security (hey, its our line and we know it backwards and forwards) can lead to some unexpected complications. Without proper preparation, a production line that was running just fine, thank you very much, can turn into a complicated series of individual machines that suddenly won’t work together.
Why you need an instruction manual
Complex machine moves are living proof that we really do need to read the proverbial instructions. In order to ensure a low risk relocation, the first step should be to properly document the existing operation, process conditions, state of design, controls software – everything that describes what is needed for the production line to manufacture the client’s products reliably. After all, if we are going to be forced to read the manual, we first have to create it!
You may need to create one first
In many cases, taking the time to thoroughly document the existing production line may turn into an exercise in getting caught up on all of the minor little changes that have occurred, captured in people’s minds or on scattered notes, but never committed to the client’s standard archives, documents, and protocols. Consider updates to machine drawings, control programs, SOPs, CAGs, and a list of current process conditions with control limits noted. This work should be completed BEFORE shutting the line down and starting the dismantlement.
Plan the move
A parallel effort of machine move planning should also be launched. This plan needs to articulate:
- how to shut down and secure the various machine modules
- drain any hazardous fluids safely
- ensure a safe machine state for dismantlement, skidding, and transport
An expectation should be set that the skilled trades workers and technicians will keep a log and document how various pieces are taken apart, what techniques were employed, what replacement parts will be required, and what to expect upon reassembly. The plan should sequence the way the equipment is to be disassembled and moved, so that the efficiency of the move is maximized (or put another way, interference between trades is minimized). This plan should also anticipate the staging and subsequent delivery of the various pieces of the line to the new plant, for the effective recreation of the line in its new home.
The up-to-date mechanical and electrical drawings are of particular value here, as they will be used by the workers to annotate break points in the machine dismantlement and generate tags that help provide markers for match points to enable reassembly. Electrical terminations need to be labeled and recorded for accurate reconnection as well.
Execute the plan using the instructions
Once the line has been reassembled, piped and wired, the equipment is powered up and checked out. If done correctly, according to the provided documentation, this restart should go quickly with few glitches. It all depends on how well the instructions were recorded, and how closely followed by the real men doing the work. When powered up, the loading of the control software, and debugging of the process controls is next; this leads to restoring of correct control parameters. Each of these steps is guided by the thoroughness of the documents that were created during the machine assessment phase, that captured the state of the equipment as it was observed and recorded running well prior to being shut down and moved. The better the instructions, the easier it will be to troubleshoot, correct, and recommission the line.
When dedicated to executing a relocation project in a way that results in positive financial results, be committed to creating the manual of detailed instructions for equipment handling, set up, debug, etc. and then adhering to those instructions diligently. It is the only way we know of that works when our clients choose repurposing and moving their assets in order to achieve their strategic goals.