Customers will at times ask why manufacturing facilities are shut down. Let's face it; we live in an "I want the product, and I want it NOW world," and no one wants to hear about a shutdown. The following blog will demonstrate what occurs during a shutdown and the main reason for a shutdown which is ultimately “YOU,” the customer.
Doing a quick walk-around your vehicle to inspect the tire pressure, lights, and wipers takes a quick minute and can be done prior to each time the vehicle is driven. However, changing the breaks on your car is preventative maintenance that takes additional time and requires the car to be taken out of service. These both help ensure you achieve the goal of getting where you want to go safely and without interruption.
The same applies to manufacturing. Maintenance, such as checking parts and fluids, etc., is completed on a routine or daily basis. Large-scale improvements which require equipment to be taken out of service must be planned and are vital for any production facility. This process must be timed, monitored, and controlled to ensure that the start-up is on time with minimal disruption to the ongoing supply of products.
When did Shutdowns Originate?
In previous decades, shutdowns were scheduled to coincide with farming operations in the summer as well as the Christmas and New Year holidays falling at the end of the year. There are fewer employees involved with farming operations today vs. previous decades. The summertime shutdown is currently referred to as the Summer “Vacation” Shutdown. It is an opportunity for hard-working parents to enjoy quality time with their families with a much-deserved vacation conveniently timed when the children are not involved with school. Winter or “Holiday” shutdowns again provide an opportunity for families to enjoy much-deserved time with their families while reflecting on a successful year.
There is nothing more critical to an operation than the employees. The unmistakable message here is that the McWane Ductile philosophy centers around the importance of family. Providing opportunities to enrich families while simultaneously scheduling major repairs to a facility is quite simply good business practice. Good business practice equals efficient operations, which in turn equals happy customers ─ happy customers with similar goals to get the job done and maintain a happy family life.
Maintenance = Sustainability
A manufacturer that does not improve and move forward is moving backward and simply will not sustain over time. How often do you hear about a facility that has been in operation for over 100 years? This longevity is extremely rare in society today and quite an accomplishment. Facilities within the McWane family have done just that. One example is a building at one of the McWane Ductile locations called the "hay house," which includes a door in the ceiling where hay was dropped down to the horses. Facilities have gone from horses to computers and automated equipment—all necessary parts of sustaining a quality operation. Planned shutdowns provide the opportunity for the engineering team to complete major maintenance to the foundry equipment.
What Key Equipment Requires Maintenance?
The heart of Ductile iron manufacturing begins with the Cupola. A Cupola is a cylindrical tube where scrap metal and additional materials are loaded from the top and melted as they drop to the bottom. Cupola's melt up to 80 tons of recycled scrap metal per hour with a continuous flow of iron through a hole roughly the size of a regulation softball near the bottom. Imagine over 1,000,000 pounds of scrap recycled every day. An amazing process, to say the least. Videos are available on the McWane Ductile website to describe this process, but guided plant tours are also available upon request to get the "real feel" of the pipe-making operation.
The Cupola is one of the best examples of why the plants must eventually be shut down for repairs. Maintenance items such as refractory repairs are completed daily. Unfortunately, the shell of the Cupola does not last forever and therefore must eventually be replaced. It takes time to safely and efficiently complete the replacement process. Overnight or weekends are not enough time to complete the task. Access to this key equipment, along with other units is usually restricted during routine operations. A planned maintenance shutdown is therefore necessary.
An additional major player in the foundry operation is the Annealing Oven. Like the Cupola, the Annealing Oven is vital to the pipe-making process and allows the hot pipe to cool slowly to remove internal stresses and strengthen it. The pipe is annealed to achieve the proper physical properties of 60-42-10 grade Ductile Iron. Ductile, meaning a flexible conduit yet higher in strength than alternate water products.
Meeting Demand with Upgrades and Improvements
Remember the previous example shared regarding the Hay House and horses? Installation of modern equipment is essential to an operation. McWane Ductile implements a Six Sigma approach to modernize facilities. Teams often include members ranging from the Vice President to an iron pourer. Team members work in an atmosphere designed to relieve them of their daily duties and focus on the task at hand, evaluating where improvements are needed, how they will complete the job, and when the optimal time for completion will be.
New pieces of equipment are installed to improve quality and productivity, keeping up with the demands of the marketplace. Zinc metalizing process equipment is an excellent example of quality improvement. The demand for zinc metalized pipe has increased in recent years. When installed with V-BIO® Enhanced Polyethylene Encasement, zinc metalized pipe may extend the life expectancy of the Ductile iron pipe, particularly in corrosive environments, enhancing the water system's sustainability.
Safety and Environmental – from the Bottom Up
Commitment to safety and the environment is a major focus for the McWane family. Just like daily maintenance on a car, safety checks are completed daily. To go beyond daily checks and to commit resources to improve equipment and the work environment are of the utmost importance. All three McWane Ductile pipe facilities go beyond Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) requirements and have achieved the VPP Star Worksite status. This status requires dedication at all levels. It is vital to maintain and or improve equipment and processes for safety and environmental reasons as well as quality and production purposes. Planned plant shutdowns provide excellent opportunities to make significant improvements. See the following quote by founder J.R. McWane regarding the McWane Way:
“The glory of business is not to make money out of it alone, but to make progress in it, to develop men and methods and products, to improve the state of the art.”
Why Do Shutdowns Matter to the End-Customer?
Shutdowns, whether full or partial, are critical to the success of any manufacturing facility. McWane Ductile strives to ensure safe, smooth shutdowns and rapid, successful startups. Sustainable business practices require a high level of commitment. One cannot simply look at the daily “I want it now” demands. Shutdowns are a necessary part of that commitment with the ultimate goal of providing quality products safely and sufficiently today, tomorrow, and for decades. Our valued customers inevitably use these products for sustainable water systems and share the same commitment to excellence when building Iron Strong utilities for generations.
Need Assistance with Your Waterworks Project?
If you have any questions regarding shutdowns or your water or wastewater project, be sure to reach out to your local McWane Ductile representative. We have team members who've managed small and large water utility systems, served in engineering consulting firms, and bring decades of experience in solving field issues involving pipeline construction and operation. From design to submittal, to installation, we strive to provide education and assistance to water professionals throughout the water and wastewater industry.