Lubrication Excellence on Tap at MillerCoors Breweries

Paul V. Arnold, Noria Corporation

MillerCoors Breweries

MillerCoors knows more than a thing or two about brewing beer. That comes through a collective 627 years in the brewing industry.

MillerCoors, a joint venture between SABMiller and Molson Coors Brewing Company, brings together the histories of four of the world’s premier brewers. South African Breweries was founded in 1895, while Coors started in 1873, Miller in 1855 and Molson in 1786. The joint venture of Miller and Coors holdings in the U.S. was established in July 2008 after the mergers of SAB and Miller in 2002 and Coors and Molson in 2005.

Each brewer had gained acclaim over the years for plant maintenance performance. The skills and tenure of crafts personnel, blended with proactive maintenance practices, allowed for solid track records in productivity and asset utilization.

“Miller and Coors have worked on reliability improvement strategies for a number of years, of which there have been many close similarities. And, SAB is a company that has traditionally focused on sweating the assets, getting the maximum out of them at the lowest possible cost,” says Leonard Bouwman, the director of asset management for MillerCoors, who has spent five years at Miller in Milwaukee after spending 15 years at SAB in South Africa and Europe. “There were differences between each entity, but the roots were from the same base.”

For all of the history and high points, it wasn’t until recent years that machinery lubrication was emphasized for its role in ensuring reliability and maintaining healthy assets. Today, lubrication is viewed as a mission-critical function at MillerCoors and a pathway to world-class status.

Like the corporate marriage and mergers, this is truly coming together.

Recognizing the Flaws
Prior to coalition building, plant maintenance departments had a laid-back attitude toward machinery lubrication.

“At Miller, you could characterize our past efforts as ‘by exception’ as opposed to ‘by policy’ or ‘by best practice,’” says Steve Erickson, a 26-year veteran of the Miller breweries who today holds the role of MillerCoors’ asset management systems manager. “If a gearbox failed, we might then send a sample off to somebody. We might then do a failure analysis. We might then determine whether the lubricant was a cause of this failure or whether a lack of lubricant was a cause of this failure. We didn’t worry too much about it. Buy a new one if it fails.”

Adds Bouwman, “In the past, the only concern was that the equipment had plenty of lubricant.”

On the SABMiller side, the realization that lubrication wasn’t a strength occurred in late 2003 after analyzing the results of internally conducted asset management audits.

“We identified lubrication as a systemic problem in the organization,” says Erickson.

Bouwman put it in more blunt terms.

“It was pretty clear that we didn’t know what good lubrication was,” he says. “If you over-lubricated, it was OK. If you didn’t lubricate at all, it was OK.

“The score reflected how poorly we were performing from a lubrication perspective. Component failures as a result of poor lubrication practices were a consistent problem, particularly on conveyors. On conveyors, bearing failures and gearbox failures also produced secondary failures of sprockets, shafts and chains. The recognition of poor lubrication practices as identified in the audits drove our lubrication improvement practices.”

Moving Forward
Progress began to occur in late 2004 and early 2005 when:

1) SAB’s practices in South Africa were established as the foundation from which to build. “Best practice began to be defined based off knowledge that we had from SAB,” says Bouwman.

2) Bouwman sent U.S.-based maintenance leaders, including corporate asset management engineer Bill Liddell and brewery asset care engineer Joe Schoultheis, to lubrication training seminars from Noria Corporation.

“Bill was tasked with the challenge of developing a lubrication guideline, training and a lubrication strategy for the company,” says Bouwman. “The first step was to attend Noria training to get current with the latest lubrication thoughts in industry. It certainly opened up the eyes of many in terms of what good looked like and what was possible out there.”

3) A section focused on lubrication was added to the next-generation asset care audit, and accountability was established to address gaps identified by the audit.

4) A methodology coined World-Class Manufacturing ushered in autonomous maintenance (a.k.a. Total Productive Maintenance or operator-based maintenance). SABMiller defines World-Class Manufacturing (WCM) as “a holistic approach to performance improvement which is focused on the elimination of all forms of waste in the organization by involving the complete workforce in continuous improvement activities.”

MillerCoors’ manufacturing site in Milwaukee is the company’s second-largest in terms of employment.

You’ve Been Drafted
Within the framework of WCM, maintenance and operations have come together to jointly handle machinery lubrication.

Operators received one week of training on lubrication basics as part of an eight-week WCM training program. Asset management engineers from the plant and corporate levels spent the next three years continually working with individual operators to expand their knowledge and skills.

Company: MillerCoors LLC, a joint venture between SABMiller and Molson Coors. The joint venture was finalized on July 1, 2008.
Plants: Facilities in the United States include six former SABMiller breweries and two former Molson Coors breweries. Plants are located in Milwaukee; Golden, Colo.; Albany, Ga.; Eden, N.C.; Fort Worth, Texas; Elkton, Va.; Trenton, Ohio; and Irwindale, Calif.
Employment: The company directly employs approximately 4,000 people, including 800 in plant maintenance organization roles. The Golden (1,000 workers) and Milwaukee (500) sites are the largest in terms of employment.

Products: MillerCoors produces many of America’s most recognizable beer brands, including Miller Lite, Coors Light, Miller Genuine Draft, Coors Banquet, Miller High Life and Keystone Light. It also brews a host of craft beers (Jacob Leinenkugel, Blue Moon and Blitz-Weinhard) and imports brands such as Peroni, Grolsch, Pilsner Urquell and Molson Canadian.

FYI: MillerCoors is the No. 2 brewer in the United States, holding approximately a 30 percent market share. Anheuser-Busch holds about a 50 percent market share.

“They learned about why we use different lubricants, how they are identified and how to apply them,” says asset management engineer Mike Du Mont. “They learned that over-lubricating was just as damaging as under-lubricating.”

Trainers subsequently signed off that a given operator had the ability to perform certain lubrication tasks.

Today, operators are responsible for 65 to 70 percent of all lubrication tasks.

“That includes greasing, oiling, oil changes and monitoring,” says Du Mont.

In the majority of the breweries, the operators perform all of the lubrication tasks on the conveyors, including the topping-up of gearboxes when necessary, oil changes, oil sampling and bearing lubrication. This means maintaining their own lubrication carts and transport containers. Operators normally maintain the lubrication reservoirs on major pieces of equipment. In addition, they do the functionality inspections on the automatic lubrication systems as well as replacing broken grease lines, zerks, etc.

“In short, they are accountable for lubrication in their area of responsibility,” says Bouwman.

The company does not have a firm dividing line between operator- and maintenance-performed lube tasks; however, hydraulic systems and automatic lubrication systems are generally reserved for maintenance technicians.

“We are careful as to what operators are actually servicing, and we make certain they have the knowledge to do it,” says Du Mont.

In large part, operators and technicians have welcomed the changes. With most of the small-scale lube issues off of their plate, maintenance professionals are able to focus on higher-order, more complex tasks. And, operators feel that they are empowered and now have ownership of the equipment.

WCM formalized that “ownership” by transferring the responsibility of asset care to the operations group. The maintenance organization is classified as “a resource to asset care.”

“It used to be that if you had a problem, you called somebody. Now, if you have a problem, it’s your problem. You own the asset,” says corporate asset engineer Jim Swisshelm. “There’s a totally different culture established once you transfer ownership to operations and operations accepts that ownership. Now, it’s not a matter of finger-pointing or saying, ‘Why did this break down?’ Now, operations says, ‘We’ve had a failure. Let’s analyze it. Let’s look at the probability of failure and the consequence of failure. Is this a once-in-25-year event? What is the probability and the consequence of failure? If it’s high enough, do we need to put preventive measures in place.’ All of those discussions happen on a daily basis, and those conversations are driven by operations.”

Mike Du Mont is an asset management engineer based in Milwaukee.


Share the Wealth

The “come together” theme expanded following the joint venture agreement with Molson Coors. A host of avenues allow “the six and the two” – MillerCoors vernacular for the six SABMiller breweries in the U.S. and the two Coors breweries in the U.S. – to regularly share lubrication best practices.


Every sector of industry has its challenges, but MillerCoors personnel will tell you: Breweries are a tough place to maintain healthy assets.

“Water ingress is one of the big issues,” says asset management engineer Mike Du Mont. “Some of the gearboxes on the filler line are almost under water. There is water cascading over these gearboxes all of the time. We are challenged from a seal design standpoint. Some of our fillers are 20 to 30 years old. Seal design back then wasn’t as robust as it is right now.”

“We have to provide sterile conditions in filling applications,” says brewery asset care engineer Joe Schoultheis. “We flood those rooms with chlorine. So not only do we have a lot of water, but also chlorine attacking all of our steel. We also apply steam cleaning and high-pressure hot water in certain applications.”

“Also, when we clean the sterile room, we use caustic chemicals,” says asset management systems manager Steve Erickson. “We give it the worst environment that you can possibly imagine.”

  • The Corporate Asset Care Group, a 10-person maintenance and reliability leadership team headed up in Milwaukee by Bouwman, hosts asset management technical forums twice per year for around 50 plant representatives. The breweries rotate to host the 3.5-day sharing sessions.

  • Each plant has a lubrication steering committee that oversees the performance and standardization of its lube practices. Committee members are assigned action items related to the gap analysis generated from the asset care audits. Committees share what they are doing with those at other plants.

  • MillerCoors holds an annual Brewery of the Year competition among its plants. One criteria that earns points for a plant is the amount of “shared learnings” that it provides to sister breweries. A considerable amount of points was earned in last year’s competition for sharing and implementing lubrication ideas.

Tools You Can Use
Individual brewing companies have aligned. Maintenance and operations have meshed. Plants share. All sides have come together to develop best practices and procedures for lubrication. What follows is a sampling of what has worked at MillerCoors:

Visual management tools: In lube storage rooms, on bulletin boards and on individual machine components, you will find an array of colors, shapes and symbols displayed. These visual aids are designed to ensure that the right lubricants, in the right amount, are used in the right application. For example, a laminated card marked with a blue rectangle denotes that this zerk takes only Mobil XHP 222 high-performance lithium-complex grease.

“We make everything as simple as possible to avoid cross-contamination and performance issues,” says Du Mont.

Work instructions: Similar to the previous example, this is also about simplicity.

“All of our tasks are written in a very specific, deliberate manner,” says Du Mont. “If you are going to hand-grease a bearing, it tells you how many shots of grease to put in the bearing or motor. That way it’s not left up to the person to make decisions that may or may not be correct.”

Knowledge capture: The company has a long-tenured and highly skilled crafts workforce. Bouwman estimates that two-thirds of maintenance technicians have between 25 and 30 years of experience with the company and could retire in the next two to three years. To combat brain drain and avoid a significant drop in momentum for lubrication and other initiatives, sites are vigorously working to have crafts personnel document information into CMMS databases and skills-based intranet sites.

“It preserves their legacy and allows us to better transition new hires as our people retire,” says Erickson.

Chemical managers: Bouwman’s group decided early on that it wasn’t going to tackle lubrication excellence alone. It settled on Noria for training and how-to. It outsourced oil analysis to Signum (ExxonMobil), Insight Services and Lubriplate. And, it hired two companies – Haas TCM and Sirius Chemical Group – to serve chemical management roles at the breweries. Those latter two firms manage the overall on-site chemical supply (including lubricants). They negotiate pricing and procure lubricants. They manage inventory quantities and usages. And, they perform standardization activities to reduce the number of lubricants (brands, products, etc.). Haas and Sirius representatives attended Noria lubrication and certification courses.

Design-out lubrication-related maintenance: Similarly, MillerCoors works with its power transmission vendors to find ways to design-out the need to lubricate and check oil levels in many applications, thereby reducing the risk of induced failures due to over-lubrication and possible contamination ingress.

“We standardized on a different bearing type which reduces the requirement for lubrication,” says Bouwman. “In many cases, these are bearings that are lubed for life. We also have standardized on a specific gearbox type manufactured by Stober that is maintenance-free for the first five years. We do basic vibration and temperature readings to make sure that things are still in check, but it’s not like the other gearboxes where we have to check oil levels and do oil sampling.”

Leonard Bouwman is the company’s director of asset management

Raise a Glass to Success
As a result of all this work and focus, things definitely have come together in the area of machinery lubrication.

Progress is seen through comments.

“When we started the journey, if you had opened up a motor, you probably had a one-in-five chance that it was full of grease. Some of these motors were probably lubricated once per week,” says Swisshelm. “Now, there’s a better understanding of proper lubrication practices. You walk around and talk with folks – operators and crafts – about what’s proper lubrication for a motor. Anyone who does the task will be able to tell you exactly what type of grease to use and how often; most could probably give you a dissertation on what the motor looks like inside.”

Says Schoultheis, “It used to be something I wasn’t too proud of. Now, I can confidently tell people, ‘This is a journey that I am on.’”

Adds Du Mont, “You no longer hear, ‘Well, that is just the way it is.’”

Progress is seen through numbers.

Bouwman rates MillerCoors as a six on a scale of 1 to 10 for lubrication excellence. On the lubrication evaluation portion of the asset care audit, he believes that a company-wide goal of 80 percent is achievable in the short term.

“In five years, we’ve seen approximately a 25 percent improvement in machine efficiency, which translates into millions of dollars in savings since we’re operating closer to installed capacity without the need to build additional capacity,” says Bouwman. “As our equipment performs more reliably, we have had a tremendous downturn in product recalls and our consumer complaints have dropped off. That all translates into dollars.”

Progress is seen through support.

“Today, I don’t think anyone questions that proper lubrication techniques are an absolute must. They are the foundation of our asset care strategy,” says Erickson. “Nobody questions anymore what value there is in using proper techniques. It is part of the process.”

Adds Bouwman, “Upper management supports our various programs. The confidence is there that what we are focusing on is right for the business.”

Laminated cards with colors and symbols (such as the blue rectangle shown above) ensure that the right lubricants, in the right amount, are used in the right application.

What’s Brewing?
What lies ahead for lubrication at MillerCoors?

The company has, to date, focused heavily on improvements in its packaging areas, but will work to raise the bar in its utilities and brewing facilities.

It will spend a considerable amount of time addressing the issue of water ingress in its filler gearboxes. It is partnering with SKF and Stober to formulate solutions.

It will address lube rationalization and the propensity for OEMs to specify lubricants for their equipment, thus forcing MillerCoors to add lubricants or void warranties and increase the risk of contamination with these boutique lubricants.

“The journey is a never-ending one,” says Bouwman. “I’d like us to get to the point where we are a lubrication leader, like Toyota or Eli Lilly. That would be special.”

MillerCoors is a big believer in the power of training and education. To that end, it has emphasized the importance of professional certification to its employees.
As of mid-February 2009, the company had 24 members who had obtained the Certified Maintenance & Reliability Professional designation through the Society for Maintenance & Reliability Professionals. An additional 20 employees were certified through the International Council on Machinery Lubrication. Eleven earned the Machine Lubrication Technician Level I certification, eight earned the Machine Lubricant Analyst Level I certification and one earned Machine Lubricant Analyst Level II status. Each plant now has at least one ICML-certified person on staff. Outside of professional organizations, MillerCoors has used Sachs Salvaterra & Associates to train crafts personnel in understanding the principles of root cause analysis and component failure and Stober to train workers in the correct way to install gearboxes and ensure maximum life of components.

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