SKF strengthens forestry sector footprint by increasing uptime for leading Limpopo lumber mill customer

A prominent lumber mill in Limpopo is reporting increased and consistent production since SKF installed state-of-the-art software to allow for better control of maintenance and lubrication procedures, thus preventing component failures and subsequent unplanned and costly plant stoppages.

According to Eddie Martens, Product Manager – MaPro, at SKF, the lumber mill had been facing frequent breakdowns for some time and the use of alternatives rather than a tried-and-tested brand name was clearly not the solution. “As the manager at the lumber mill was familiar with the quality of the SKF brand, having worked with our products in the past, he believed that SKF was best equipped to provide a sustainable solution.”

SKF implemented GoPlant software for better control maintenance and lubrication procedures at the lumber mill

Following a site visit from SKF, it was determined that the underlying cause of regular bearing failures was lubrication related. “The situation was being compounded by inadequate maintenance management practices; the customer was not able to track the maintenance being performed on equipment nor to correctly allocate costs to these non-conformance issues,” notes SKF Territory Sales Engineer, Reinhardt Joubert, who was instrumental in securing the lumber mill as a new SKF customer. “We explained to the customer that lubrication is the ‘life blood’ of the plant and ensuring a clean, healthy ‘blood stream’ will reduce component failures, enhance equipment availability and boost plant performance. The customer realised that the fitment of a quality brand of replacement parts was fundamental to achieving these objectives. Thus our relationship with mill management and maintenance staff was forged and further evolving this new relationship, we suggested that we perform a Client Needs Analysis (CNA).”

SKF conducted the in-depth three-day CNA-Lube in early March 2021, focusing on lubrication practices and management in order to gain a better understanding of the problems faced by the lumber mill. Martens and Joubert explain that SKF’s CNA firstly looks at how the work is currently done compared to the global industry benchmark. “The CNA-Lube involves a plant walk-through and highlights the areas of most concern in the lubrication cycle with the emphasis on lubrication storage, processes and procedures. When you consider that 50% of all bearing failures can be attributed to incorrect lubrication or contamination, it makes sound business sense to ensure that this process is being correctly performed.”

On completion of the audit, SKF presented a comprehensive report to the customer to assist him in making informed decisions regarding lubrication policies and procedures going forward. SKF’s recommendations included the implementation of GoPlant, a task management software system and a personalised PULSE/IDC kit to monitor critical equipment and to ensure that the correct tooling is utilised in their workshops.

GoPlant is a mobile-based asset inspection and data collection solution used in industrial applications to better control maintenance and lubrication procedures. SKF acquired the US-based software development start-up company that developed GoPlant, Form Automation Solutions (FAS), and is integrating this technology into its existing mobile solutions and Rotating Equipment Performance offerings. This digital inspection and task tool works through an App on a smart device, reducing the need for manual data recording and allowing easy assimilation into other systems. “GoPlant modernises and improves rounds sheets, checklists and inspection processes by using rugged, large-screen tablet computers (such as IPADs) or smart phones rather than paper forms,” explains SKF Remote Diagnostic Centre Manager, Zulfikar Umar. “Insightful reports and charts are available from any WAN-connected desktop browser and email/text message alerts are issued upon triggering events in the field. GoPlant works both online and off, eliminating the need for a site-wide wireless network. The system can serve a single facility or can be scaled up to serve multiple plants in a generation fleet.”

The PULSE/IDC Kit incorporates basic SKF condition monitoring and maintenance products which are matched to the customer’s requirements. “Alongside two pieces of standard equipment, the customer can choose from a variety of other Maintenance Tools to complete his Pulse Kit. This provides for easy implementation of an entry level condition monitoring program while also allowing limited Remote Diagnostic Centre support.

According to Martens, the lubrication store is the beginning of the lubrication life cycle because if the lubricants are not stored and correctly dispensed, the complete life cycle can be compromised. SKF consequently offered to design a lubrication store to suit the lumber mill’s exact requirements and a complete redesign and build of the lubrication store is currently in progress. “Our scope of work includes assistance with an optimum layout of the store to ensure correct utilisation of the lubrication while also ensuring that contamination is kept to an absolute minimum, the ultimate goal being zero contamination.”

Moving to the important topic of customer training, Umar affirms that SKF’s Mark Dunn, Product Line Manager – Software & Apps, Connected Technologies Product Management (USA), and his team of engineers will be assisting and supporting the South African team with GoPlant roll-out, implementation and training. “We will provide the lumber mill with 4 x 8 hours training sessions to ensure their intimate understanding of the software and subsequently maximise the value for their operation. The training can be broken down to enable the customer to optimise his work force and ensure the continued running of the plant during the training sessions.”

By implementing the SKF recommendations, in the short term, the lumber mill customer will see an increase in equipment uptime, will be better able to manage planned maintenance of critical equipment and, armed with the correct tools on hand, will be able to carry out maintenance correctly. “In short, our solutions will ultimately ensure enhanced production and subsequent profitability for our customer,” conclude Joubert, Martens and Umar.

SKF has had long-term relationships with leading players in the forestry segment for many years, providing solutions such as the Smart Supplier Program, routine handheld condition monitoring services with RDC support and predictive maintenance services like alignment and balancing. SKF has now further strengthened its footprint in this sector with the establishment of a three-year partnership with the lumber mill.

Post Covid-19 (2020) lockdown, forestry was one of the fastest growing segments in South Africa, contributing approximately 1% to the country’s GDP. The forestry sector employs around 165 900 workers, provides about 62 700 direct and 30 000 indirect jobs and affords livelihood support to 652 000 people in the country’s rural population. The pulp and paper industry provides about 13 200 direct and 11 000 indirect employment opportunities. Some 20 000 workers are employed in sawmilling, 6 000 in the timber board and 2 200 in the mining timber industries, while a further 11 000 workers are employed in miscellaneous jobs in forestry. The approximate 1,27 million ha forested area makes up roughly (1%) of the country’s total land area.

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