Holcim (US) Inc.: The A-Team

Corporate maintenance and reliability team is cement that holds Holcim plants together

Paul V. Arnold

"If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire ... the A-Team."

Ah, classic TV. Former U.S. Army Special Forces Colonel John "Hannibal" Smith assembles a team of highly skilled, trained and specialized forces to travel the world, taking on missions that right wrongs and help the oppressed.

If you thought the A-Team died along with George Peppard and the career of Mr. T, think again. It's alive and well ... and leading maintenance and reliability improvement at Holcim (US) Inc.

At this producer of cement and mineral components, maintenance and reliability general manager Steve Lindborg has assembled a squad of highly skilled, trained and specialized forces. They travel the nation, taking on missions that right wrongs (turn around inefficient equipment and processes) and help those in need (fellow maintenance professionals at 16 plants).

Colleagues will tell you that Lindborg "insists on getting the top people" for his Maintenance and Reliability Group, one of six teams within the corporate support entity at Holcim (US) known as the Manufacturing Performance Center.

"He demands the best," says one co-worker. "He will wait until he finds the right person. He won't take 'whoever he can get.' His guys know the system inside and out. Those kinds of people can really drive change. They have the credibility, the experience. They know how to get things done."

The 14 men Lindborg hired for his M&R team (listed with their assigned task) are:

  • Dennis Wilken, regional reliability specialist

  • Sam Brubaker, regional reliability specialist

  • Quentin McGahey, regional reliability specialist

  • Mamoun Abulibdeh, senior maintenance and reliability specialist

  • Sidney Hand, condition-based maintenance specialist

  • Les Kellogg, senior maintenance planner

  • Jimmy Lukowski, senior maintenance specialist for mobile equipment and hydraulics

  • Nate Cross, maintenance engineer

  • Mike Ifurung, electrical specialist

  • Kurt Ziegler, mechanical/kiln specialist

  • Ivo Dantas, automation specialist

  • Fred Harding, SAP specialist

  • Brian Mitchell, manager of program integration

  • Al Montoya, manager of process improvement

"Steve demands results. He gets results. Corporate likes that," says Wilken, his long-time right-hand man.


Les Kellogg (left), Jimmy Lukowski, Nate Cross and Sam Brubaker are four members of Holcim's maintenance and reliability A-Team.

Photos by Craig Mahaffey, Sposa Bella Photography

Reliability is imperative in the cement business, where limestone dust and other particulate matter can cake onto (and deposit into) the massive production equipment, corroding parts, contaminating fluids, impacting bearings and gears, and making inspection/detection tasks a challenge.

"This isn't an easy industry; it's hard-rock mining," says Lindborg.

The traditional solution within the industry has been to throw people, time and money at asset-related problems. But success in this market, which grows more competitive each year, requires progressive thinking.

Holcim has a history of progressive thought. For more than a decade, the maintenance and reliability function has been a visible player at the corporate levels of Holcim (US) and its parent company, Switzerland-based Holcim Limited.

Hans Burger, the vice president of maintenance and equipment reliability at Holcim Ltd., set the stage with his pioneering work out of Zurich that culminated in 1997 with the rollout of Maintenance Cement (MaC), a system of work control, and planning and scheduling practices aimed at optimizing resources, lowering maintenance costs, eliminating losses and pursuing world-class manufacturing performance.


The Holly Hill, S.C., plant is located 60 miles northwest of Charleston.

Burger led MaC implementations at Holcim plants around the world. Progress was made, but as Lindborg states, "Once the corporate guys left, sites had a hard time keeping those concepts moving." Without ongoing support and guidance on MaC, focus drifted.

It's a common situation, and one that Wilken illustrates with a spider web diagram that he calls "the deadly spiral" (Figure 1 on Page 8). An ambitious corporate program starts out strong but loses steam as less attention and follow-through occur at the subsequent steps (in order): guiding principles, processes, structure/ organization, tools, training, measurement and continuous improvement.

"If the initiative erodes considerably at each step and you start down the spiral, your project becomes 'flavor of the month'. It's going to die," says Wilken.

Holcim Ltd. moved to bolster corporate initiatives (such as MaC) coming out of Switzerland by creating five regional support organizations whose purpose was to promote implementation, sustainability, community and the standardization of best practices. In 2005, the Manufacturing Performance Center (MPC) became the regional support organization for the Holcim (US) division. Filiberto Ruiz, the division's senior vice president of manufacturing, presides over the center.


Figure 1. This spider web diagram shows the performance over time of a traditional initiative.

In developing the MPC, it was not surprising that the six key components included focus areas such as:

  • Process and quality
  • Environmental
  • Capital expenditures
  • Performance planning
  • Training

But the other component, maintenance and reliability, is something you don't find in most "corporate centers of excellence". M&R is usually tucked away as a subset of production/operations or engineering, if it's included at all.

"If the maintenance organization isn't visible and seen as a key factor, it's vulnerable to arbitrary cuts in budget and manpower at any time," says Wilken.

Burger saw to it that M&R had a place of honor inside the MPC and in the other regional support organizations being formed around the world.

"For maintenance and reliability to be successful, you can't put it down somewhere in the basement," says Lindborg. "It has to be at a level commensurate with the things that we are trying to accomplish as a company."

The keystone was placed at Holcim (US) with the hiring of Lindborg, who was leading similar initiatives in the States and in Europe for Chemical Lime, a subsidiary of Belgium's Lhoist Group. A 25-year maintenance veteran, Lindborg was a devotee of Alumax's John Day and came to Holcim with a reputation as a "maintenance entrepreneur" and "turnaround expert".

"Steve wouldn't have come here if the organization wasn't seen as critical to the company," says Wilken.

Lindborg went on to assembly his crew, hiring all-stars such as:

  • Wilken, his institutionalization and standardization ace from Chemical Lime; he has 40 years of maintenance experience.

  • Kellogg, a former group maintenance manager and reliability leader who worked 10 years at Anheuser-Busch and 22 years in the paper industry.

  • Hand, a preventive/predictive maintenance pro at Koke Cellulose (another past employer of Lindborg) who had 20 years of experience in the chemical industry.

  • Lukowski, an operator and manager for 27 years in the heavy construction industry in New York and New Jersey.

  • Brubaker, a rising maintenance engineering star at Holcim sites in the U.S. and Europe.

  • Cross, a recent engineering school graduate and whiz kid from the University of Michigan who had served an internship at Geocycle, a waste management firm owned by Holcim (US).

"I didn't want people who were legends in their own mind," says Lindborg. "They had to work well with others. They needed good people skills. They had to have the ability to go into a facility and show that they could add value. I also wanted outstanding technical skills and practical, real-life experience."

The team-building process was quite impressive.

"When I interviewed, this sounded like the A-Team," says Lukowski. "When the company puts that much emphasis on bringing in the best, that's an enviable position to be in. It's amazing how you can bring people from all different parts of the world and different areas of expertise and get them together for a common purpose."

Besides filling the roles on his team, Lindborg continually worked to emphasize the importance and benefits of maintenance and reliability to Holcim (US) president and CEO Patrick Dolberg. Those efforts bore fruit six months into Lindborg's tenure when, during a manufacturing meeting, Dolberg stated that safety and reliability were the company's top priorities.

"He promised me that this was how it was going to be," says Lindborg. "It was that kind of commitment from the CEO that was the difference. It was the tipping point for reliability in the company."

Executives also gave Lindborg carte blanche to pursue reliability as he saw fit.

"Few companies allow you this kind of freedom to just go at it," says Lindborg. "I have been supported on everything that we have decided to do. Filiberto Ruiz has enabled this. He has backed the work of the M&R Group, as well as the five other focus groups."

Holcim rightfully believes now that plants that are more reliable, high in quality, well-trained and true environmental stewards will be more cost-effective and efficient.


Les Kellogg serves as the senior maintenance planner.

The M&R Group laid the foundation by creating a mission and vision for maintenance and reliability at the company. Holcim had a history of principle statements, but none ever had been formulated for M&R. The end results were as follows:

The M&R vision: Drive plant performance to reliability and availability targets at the lowest sustainable cost.

The M&R mission: Provide ongoing support that will provide direct, measurable, value-added benefits at the plant level, through the utilization of technical expertise (real-time, on-call) and maintenance systems (long-term, sustainable improvement). Also, provide the means for personnel exchange to assist in professional growth and development within Holcim (US).

Strategies were developed to enable the M&R Group's mission from technical support, maintenance systems and personnel exchange perspectives (see sidebar).

Just like TV's A-Team, missions don't occur in some oak-paneled boardroom. Teammates go where the action is. To that end, M&R Group members aren't stationed together at Holcim's headquarters building in Waltham, Mass. They are spread out among the large, main plants. For example, Lindborg and four others have cubicles at the Holly Hill, S.C., site. Not that those cubicles get much use, though. Between 50 and 75 percent of team members' time is spent on the road at plant locations. "That's where we're adding value," says Lindborg.

Each regional reliability specialist covers plants in a region of the country. They communicate with maintenance managers at those plants and serve as a reference point, a provider of technical and process support, and a teacher and trainer.

"You have to have your finger on the pulse of everything going on at all of the sites within your region," says Brubaker.

Says Wilken, "Regional specialists are the carriers of the banners, the torch bearers for the processes and for MaC. They coordinate activities and keep things going in the right direction."

They are also a sounding board.

One plant had an issue with its multi-cyclone and electrostatic precipitator. The estimate to change the whole system out was $1.3 million. The site called to make sure it was going down the right path. A regional leader got information on how other plants addressed just such a situation and offered up a low-cost way of solving the problem.

Specialists in areas such as CBM, mobile equipment, SAP, automation, electrical equipment, mechanical equipment and kilns cover all of the U.S. plants. They:

  • perform assessments and subsequent gap analyses
  • oversee major equipment and process installation projects
  • lead root cause failure analysis and failure modes and effects analysis activities
  • troubleshoot pressing issues

"We don't just go in and say, 'This is what I found. This is my recommendation. See ya,'" says Lukowski. "We all stay at the plant. 'This is what I found. All right. We are going to sit here together and work it out.' The key is to stay there and help them establish, say, the proper preventive maintenance routines. 'Here's how it's done.' If you stay there and help them out and show them that you are willing to help and get dirty, it makes a big difference."

Besides making the rounds in person, team members communicate with plant maintenance personnel through monthly conference calls and e-mails, and regular Webinars and intranet site postings. CBM specialist Sidney Hand escalated this approach by developing Roundtable, a network in which plant vibration analysts share ideas and offer technical support.

Vigilant support and guidance helps the new and improved Maintenance Cement to stay on the outer edge of the spider diagram and avoid "the deadly spiral."

"Initially, the members of the M&R Group were seen as corporate guys, but because of the amount of time they put in on the plant floor, they are now seen more as plant employees," says Lindborg.


Holcim plants manufacture more than 14 million metric tons of cement and related materials each year.

The mantra of M&R team activities is assessment and standardization.

"Plants had been approaching maintenance and reliability from different angles and going in different directions," says Brubaker. "If you're going at it on your own, you don't know whether you are winning or losing. We wanted to move in a specific direction and use the full power of our plants working together."

The M&R Group rolled out the Maintenance Assessment Block, a revamped, streamlined version of the MaC pyramid. This was done by Burger's group in Switzerland. The diagram includes 20 elements (10 foundational, 10 advanced) that serve as the core of plant maintenance department systems, techniques, tools and practices; and, as the basis for department assessment.

Foundational elements include concepts such as establishing maintenance training and requirements, creating an asset numbering system, and performing Level 1 preventive maintenance. Advanced elements include concepts such as forming an equipment history system, CMMS optimization, utilization of root cause analysis, and developing a maintenance cost report and analysis. Background questions serve as the basis for satisfying the requirements of a block.

Wilken performed assessments at 13 Holcim (US) sites in 2007 to determine each plant's maintenance department maturity on an individual and composite block perspective and to get an overall baseline of where the company stood in terms of maintenance and reliability.

"This told us that we're not where we can be and that we're consistent across our plant sites," says Wilken. "The problems are generic across the plants."

Included in the list of common problems were maintenance activities that weren't adding value, and a general lack of consistency and commonality.

Five main recommendations that came out of the exercise were:

  • Manage resources aggressively

  • Better understand the condition of equipment

  • Document processes and institutionalize

  • Provide better, more applicable, more useful training

  • Manage the business of maintenance

To address resource management, business management and the pursuit of value-added activities, M&R leaders developed a standardized suite of risk analysis exercises, equipment history/trending tasks and Excel documents to help a plant determine a true equipment ranking based on criticality.

Criticality determines how to allocate resources, give machines the proper focus and attention, and formulate overall strategy for a piece of equipment (preventive maintenance, predictive maintenance or run to failure; as well as repair, rebuild or replace options).

The concept of using data to make the best decisions was elevated with the creation (by Nate Cross and others) of a condition monitoring document that blends criticality ranking with condition status (low, medium and high based on a variety of inspection techniques - visual, oil change, oil sampling, vibration analysis, thermography, non-destructive testing, etc.) to give a color-coded look at a plant's most pressing maintenance issues. That ties into a reliability map developed by Wilken that provides a one-page look at reliability throughout a plant's value chain.

"This is something that a plant manager or maintenance manager could hand to the CEO and display the most significant reliability issues that the plant has today, what the plant is doing about those issues, and what it's reliability forecasts are for the future based on the work being done," says Wilken.

This is all about managing by fact and data vs. opinion and guesswork. This also displays how maintenance can become a visible, mission-critical player at the corporate level and avoid some of the arbitrary funding cuts that hamper reliability improvement efforts.

"The map shows, 'If you aren't going to fund that with manpower or dollars, there's the risk. If I can't do that, the risk is this and the impact will be this,'" says Wilken. "If you are a maintenance manager and have this tool in place, life is good. 'You can tell me you're going to cut the maintenance budget by 10 percent. This is what I'm not going to do from my rank ordering, and this is the risk. If that's OK with you, it's OK with me.' This gets everything related to dollars and cents. Real data justifies the budget and the requirements and the decisions. If you can show that data to corporate, you get the money. If you can't, you won't."


Holcim (US) has 16 cement plants, including this one in Holly Hill, S.C.

The M&R Group pursues consistency and commonality between the plants (everyone headed in the same direction) not only through these tools, but through a host of standardization efforts.

Standard best practices: Based on the group's collective experience and its knowledge of Holcim processes taking place in plants around the world, it serves to determine what is indeed best practice.

"We mentor facilities to help them understand, 'Here are the best practices. Here is the direction - our standard way for organizing, for planning and scheduling, for work control,'" says Wilken. "The facility takes it and makes sure it fits, because you can't cookie-cutter everything. So, we push standardization, but allow for individual plant ownership."

Standard equipment: "When you have quality equipment and standardize so that you can support it easier, that makes a huge difference," says Lindborg. "Our group in the States in conjunction with Hans Burger in Europe have worked hard on this concept."

This applies in areas such as predictive maintenance. For instance, when Hand decided that the plants' vibration analysis equipment was "weak", he assembled a team to evaluate and pick a new system. They standardized on Emerson Process CSI equipment for the plants.

It also applies to capital equipment.

"We have said, 'If you are going to buy a variable frequency drive, it will be one of these three; if you are going to buy a roller mill, it's this,'" Lindborg says. "That helps for support and spares and tooling and having the right equipment."

Design for maintainability is also stressed for any new capital equipment purchase.

Standard nomenclature: In an effort to improve its maintenance information in the corporate-wide SAP system, the group embarked on an item standardization project.

"The company grew through acquisitions, and different plants had their own vernacular for spare parts and other items," says Lindborg. "We now call everything by a specific name, so that when we look in SAP, we know exactly what it is."

This is helping to optimize inventory - especially for critical, big-money spares - improve work order planning, and increase the specificity of work order tasks.

Standard work control: There are a host of examples here. Here are two:

Within the MPC, the M&R Group is responsible for SAP training. Focused efforts by Fred Harding and Les Kellogg, members of Brian Mitchell's team, have established not only which reports are necessary, but have given users the knowledge to create those reports.

Also, Kellogg drew upon his background to create a standard work order template as well as adopt standard user status terms for the work order database. By cleaning up the process, more planning and scheduling gets done.

Standard skills: The group is developing a certification program for hourly and salary workers. This currently includes vibration technicians, lubrication technicians and reliability engineers, but as Lindborg states, "We believe that every position should have some form of certification." The goal is that if a maintenance worker goes from one Holcim plant to another one, no matter what size, the skill requirements and performance expectations will be the same.

Tied to this, Lindborg has stressed the importance of maintenance leaders earning the Certified Maintenance & Reliability Professional designation from the Society for Maintenance & Reliability Professionals. Every member of his A-Team, plus every Holcim (US) maintenance manager, has attained CMRP status.

"We aren't looking for five-year programs or anything like that," he says. "We want people to get training, apply it, get training, apply it. We want to see value quickly; otherwise, it's a waste of time."


Figure 2. This spider web diagram shows the performance of a truly sustainable initiative.


In the A-Team TV show, one of "Hannibal" Smith's most used catchphrases was "I love it when a plan comes together."

For the maintenance and reliability A-Team at Holcim (US), its plan to optimize resources, lower maintenance costs, eliminate losses and pursue world-class manufacturing performance is coming together.

It's way too soon to say mission accomplished. Hand says the cement maker rates a 6 on a scale of 1 to 10 in the area of reliability excellence. Lindborg says, "It's a big difference from what it was. We have built a solid foundation, but we have a long way to go. Our success is measured by the plants' success. The true work and ownership must reside there for continuous and sustainable growth in reliability."

But, the group is cementing its legacy and status.

"Not surprisingly, maintenance and reliability has the reputation within the company as an organization that gets things done," says Wilken.


Holcim (US) employs more than 2,400 people around the country.

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