Titan reduces downtime from 75 hours to 4.5 hours per week, with Wheelabrator Plus


A new, sophisticated approach to maintenance has made Titan Europe plc’s UK subsidiary the most productive in the group. Supplying the big names in the sector, including Caterpillar, Volvo and Liebherr, Titan Steel Wheels manufactures wheels for the global ‘off-highway’ vehicle industry. It exports them to the Americas, the Pacific Rim and mainland Europe to be fitted onto earthmovers, mobile cranes and other construction vehicles.

Company Profile

At its UK manufacturing facilities in Kidderminster, the production process includes shot blasting of the wheels before welding and painting. Four shot blast machines carry out this work – two Tilghmans and two Spencer Halsteads. The oldest was installed in 1958; the most recent in 2005. Every single part has to pass through one of these four machines, with any downtime impacting immediately and significantly on overall productivity.


Reactive maintenance: a vicious circle

As production increased over the years, less time was available to carry out maintenance work on the equipment or to fit new wear parts. And while the team at Titan made production run like clockwork to meet outputs, it became increasingly difficult to stay on top of machine performance and maintenance.

Jake Higley, Lean Manufacturing Manager at Titan, explains: “Especially in our market, the world is a smaller place these days and we simply have to work smarter in the UK. When we embarked on our lean journey about two years ago, we started implementing lean processes, only to discover that maintenance and machine breakdowns can ruin even the leanest operation. So we analyzed all our machines and ranked them by downtime per week. The four shot blast machines came out worst – with a staggering 75 hours lost production per week. So we knew we needed to get that sorted.”

By 2013, in-house maintenance staff were working overtime or on weekends to keep shot blast equipment running and catch up on the 4000 hours of lost production. A sub-contract service engineer was occasionally called in for service and maintenance work.

Jake continues: “Still the culture in the team at the time was that shot blast machines self-destruct no matter what, and there really is no point trying to change that. So the challenge for me was to prove them wrong and show them that shot blast equipment can be kept in check.”

When matters came to a head in early 2014, and both external engineer and parts supplier were unable to meet the turnaround time required to fix a pressing problem with the equipment, Jake used the opportunity to call in blast machine experts from Wheelabrator Plus to have a thorough look at the machines.


Intensive TLC

Tilghman and Spencer Halstead are Wheelabrator legacy brands, so Wheelabrator Plus had occasionally supplied rare spare parts, and were of course familiar with the equipment. The team around Mark Abley serviced and fixed the four machines – and discussed the ongoing issues with the equipment with Jake.

Mark looks back on the initial meetings with Titan: “Jake and his team knew there had to be a better way of keeping their shot blast equipment on track. They also had a vision of how it might work, but were lacking the partner who could deliver it with them. Not every generalist service engineer knows his way around a blast machine, yet understanding the equipment inside out is key to pro-active maintenance. That’s what Wheelabrator Plus brought to the table – what we took away was a unique partnership approach, made possible by a customer with a very sophisticated attitude to maintenance.”

Together with Jake’s team, Wheelabrator Plus developed a preventative maintenance programme that went on to revolutionise operations at Titan. But first, they had to convince the production and maintenance teams, says Jake: “When we knew what needed doing, we needed to find the time to do it. Luckily, the fact that we were able to quantify the losses helped in convincing maintenance and production. We struck a deal: if they could give me one day to let the Wheelabrator Plus guys service and fix the machines, they would get 75 hours additional uptime in exchange. That convinced them.”

Delivered to a set schedule by two Wheelabrator engineers, the programme gives intensive attention  to all four machines, in rotation. Each machine is inspected every four weeks on a Saturday, and then serviced three weeks later by the same engineer, who has the right parts to hand to complete the job. While one engineer is servicing, the other is inspecting another machine. Both hold some parts in stock to attend any ad-hoc issues.

Mark adds: “Jake, as well as Dave Herbert and Geoff Hickman from the maintenance team, have given us invaluable input and keep pushing us to further develop the programme. It’s a very collaborative approach, underpinned by a longer-term contract that makes commercial sense for Titan.”


Planning for productivity

The programme has been running for over a year now and is reviewed every six months to adjust the arrangement as needed. The results are impressive. Lost production on shot blast equipment has fallen drastically - from 75 hours per week in 2013 to 6.5 hours per week in 2014 and 4.5 hours in 2015. From running the machines around the clock to meet outputs and paying staff overtime, Titan can now comfortably meet production targets in under two shifts and on five-day weeks. This has freed up time at the end of a shift to reclaim abrasive for reuse and clean up, as well as reducing overtime to a minimum.

The regular contact means the teams can plan well ahead and fit additional work or bigger upgrade projects around Titan’s production schedules. The common goal is to prevent the unexpected, and meet scheduled production times. Besides keeping production going, Wheelabrator Plus can also advise on process and technology improvements to increase productivity.

Robert Morris is purchasing manager at Titan Steel Wheels and can see the overall impact of the new approach: “From an operational perspective, the predictability we’ve now got is hard to beat. We know who’s coming in and when; we always know where we’re at with each machine and the regular visits from Wheelabrator Plus are a safety net that has restored our confidence in our own production timescales. We’ve never had this level of reliability with our blast machines, and major disruptions to production were a constant possibility. The programme we’ve developed with Wheelabrator Plus represents a very grown-up approach to maintenance, removing uncertainties and risk from our operations and putting us back in control. Our shot blast operation now is the most efficient and has the highest productivity in the Titan Europe group!”

Jake concludes: “We’ve definitely changed the mindset of the team here, too. When I ask about the shot blast equipment these days, the guys say they don’t even notice the machines anymore.”

“Looking back, I think what makes the difference is to gather data to know how you’re performing. For example, we ask the production team to log lost time, which we then track centrally. It allows us to show how we’re improving and demonstrate to our customers that we’re running lean.”