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What If It’s Not What You Think It Is?

Article Appeared in 2nd Edition of World of Drying Magazine

Forty-five days. One month and fifteen days, give or take. Can you imagine if one of the most critical items in your production line went down unexpectedly for forty-five days? Most would feel pinched for an unplanned shutdown spanning a day or several, but forty-five lost production days? This was the reality for a plant that Industrial Kiln & Dryer Group (IKD) helped recently. Calculated at losing ~$500,000/day (Sales), this plant located just on the outskirts of the birthplace of Rock ‘n Roll and the lively Beale Street, parted with an estimated $22,500,000 in missed opportunity due to an unintended shutdown of their rotary dryer. The culprit? Probably not what you would expect.

This plant, which specializes in the production of chemicals, additives, and plastics, contacted IKD in the latter part of 2020 for a gear replacement. IKD provided a bid that was initially more expensive than other bids but included a more holistic approach. Their holistic approach strives to consider underlying cause and provide a Return on Investment (ROI) that exceeds the expectations of the customer. Nevertheless, IKD lost the gear replacement proposal to a company that was local and cheaper in price. Brent Stansell, the Southeast District Manager, admits that conveying to the customer how complete the capabilities of IKD are can be a challenge. “We do on occasion lose bids on price, but sometimes it’s not completely understood the value we have in that price with our teamwork. From our Key Account Specialist, engineering group, crew, and administrative team across five companies…” Stansell mentioned in a recent interview. The wide breadth of ability can be difficult to communicate initially, but customers continually see the worth of the investment in the pre-planning stage, while the IKD crew is onsite working and often long after a job is complete. It’s not uncommon for this value to show up in unexpected ways. This was the case with the chemical operation in Tennessee.

After the gear replacement field service work and the replacement gear itself was lost to the local contractor, the gear failed after only running for one month. Mike Atwell, Lead Engineer at IKD remarked that IKD has seen poorly manufactured gears purchased from other sources that do not meet AGMA standards and lack a consideration for the prevention of pitting and bending over the lifetime of the gear, however, this is not where the trouble came in for this customer. When the gear failed after thirty days, it was rendered useless and production ceased, but not necessarily because of anything the hired contractor did wrong in replacing the gear. The cause was much simpler than a poorly manufactured gear or shotty replacement job. Much simpler, and yet, will inevitably be overlooked when you do not have the experience to recognize how “small,” preventative maintenance efforts keep units running.

When the SOS call came in Stansell said the plant reached out to both him and Ashley Triplett, the Key Account Specialist asking for help. Only a four-and-a-half-hour drive from the district office in Fort Payne, AL, IKD was able to respond quickly to assess the dryer. Stansell invited Tom Zhang of Optimus Solutions, KD’s sister company, to meet him at the plant. It was discovered through inspection and working in cooperation with plant personnel that the gear and the gear components had not been lubricated. The importance of proper lubrication was not discussed with the customer by their contractor and ultimately led to this catastrophic failure. It seems hard to believe that this simple preventative maintenance task could destroy a brand-new gear within a month, but it did. Often, the root cause is overlooked in favor of a solution that appears on the surface to be a cure but is only a band-aid. A flashier, obvious solution may work for a short time, but when someone knowledgeable takes the time to look below the surface and educate, this is where the long-term success begins to flourish. Achieved production goals and excellent Preventative Maintenance programs are born out of a cooperation and relationship between the customer and a company that can guide them toward these ends.

With this continued ascendancy in mind, IKD and Optimus worked with the customer to help get a new gear and a spare on order. Gear manufacturing, especially in the current climate, is not a quick endeavor. However, the gears arrived sooner than expected, putting the customer out only five additional production weeks. Although the plant continued to lose profit until the replacement gear arrived, this was a relatively quick turnaround for this type of part. Once the gears were on order, and the customer understood the benefits of proper lubrication and preventative maintenance, IKD designed a solution for automatic lubrication of their gear and pinion. Together, they determined that the Spray Safe® all-in-one Lubrication Cabinet was a good fit for their plant. The Spray Safe® is an enclosed cabinet that houses a 55-gallon drum of lubrication. Equipped with a custom spray lance and indicators for when lubricant is low or a line is jammed among other features, it takes the guess work out of keeping a gear and gear components adequately lubricated. The customer felt this was a great fit for them and let them focus their energy on other aspects of production, while keeping their new gear lubricated and running well.

The story that played out for this particular plant, although a more extreme example, is not an uncommon occurrence. Illustrated here, it becomes clear how “small things,” become big headaches and how it is beneficial to leverage the experience and resources of a team that specializes in rotary equipment. For IKD, it is all they do. When you encounter an issue, ask yourself if the answer is as obvious as it appears and if the initial smaller price tag of those who are not experts in kilns and dryers is worth it. You may find your $500,000/day problem could have been solved at pennies on the dollar with specialists who are committed to leaving no stone unturned when it comes to your success.