By Michelle Segrest – Contributing Editor

Bill Myers spearheads an electrical maintenance program that adds safety and reliability to the more than 2,000 valves, pumps, and other pieces of facility equipment at AstraZeneca’s two-building 550,000-square-foot pharmaceutical manufacturing plant in West Chester, Ohio.

Myers’ electrical career began in 1998 when he worked as an apprentice installing wall receptacles at a small elementary-school project. Throughout the past two decades, his career has evolved into developing critical strategies that help identify issues with technical equipment and planning the downtime needed for repair. 

Along with a team of five technicians, he uses technologies such as infrared thermography, precision alignment, ultrasound, and vibration analysis to keep the facilities thousands of assets running effectively and reliably.

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Electrical Maintenance Program Prevents Critical Equipment Failures

About 13 years ago, there was an incident in which a small mistake with an electrical connection turned into a big issue. In hindsight, Myers believes it could have been prevented with a proper strategy in place. Knowing this, he did something about it by creating the company’s Electrical Maintenance Program. 

“In this line of work, mistakes are dangerous,” Myers said. “You must learn from them, and quickly. The incident that occurred was a bad connection, but we learned that we could have found it and prevented it if we had a well-organized, efficient program in place.”

Myers found inspiration from a Winston Churchill quote. “All men make mistakes, but only wise men learn from their mistakes.”

The 45-year-old Myers entered the electrical field after serving in the Marine Corps. “A high school friend was working as an electrician at a local union,” he said. “I was very interested in the electrical fi eld and in learning more about how electricity works. After an apprenticeship, I was inspired to learn more about reliability when I saw several electrical issues causing unnecessary downtime.”

Now, with more than two decades of experience, he can see the difference a focus on reliability can make for a manufacturing plant.

“I like the fact that I work with many different systems and equipment at our facility,” he said. “Each has its own unique characteristics. This helps to keep the work new and interesting.”

He began creating and implementing the Electrical Maintenance Program that includes data collection and visual and infrared inspection in connection with all valves, pumps and critical equipment at the plant.

“This program has been instrumental in identifying electrical issues that would have impacted the facility,” Myers explained. “Early detection provides the time needed to make repairs well in advance of a breakdown.”

The criticality of the products produced at this plant make reliability even more crucial. The main product produced at this AstraZeneca facility is used to treat patients with Type 2 Diabetes.

“Within the different elements, there are many, many details that must be considered to make a safe electrical program,” Myers said.

Developing the program took a few years from start to finish and was fully in place by 2013. “It has evolved and now we use it very effectively,” he said. “We now dictate to the machine instead of the machine dictating to us.”

Making regular voltage, amperage, and resistance measurements and then entering the data into the Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS) is the core of the program, which also includes visual inspections and thermal imaging. The program was applied to all critical electrical distribution systems, as well and valves and pumps and other critical equipment used to support manufacturing efforts. He said that many issues have been discovered and resolved solely because of this program.

While creating the program, the Facilities Engineering Team worked together to establish a vibration analysis program. The strategic programs have created significant improvements in the department’s ability to provide uninterrupted utilities to manufacturing, identifying motor issues, and making repairs before a catastrophic failure happens. It also helps to identify equipment that may require precision alignment to improve efficiency and increase reliability.

Electrical readings are taken for panels and motors, including high-voltage readings. “One thing we look for is voltage unbalance,” Myers said. “The industry standard is 3% unbalance. This is significant enough to cause additional heat and reduce the life of a motor. We track these readings. If unbalance is found, further investigation is performed to determine the root cause.”

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Creating Reliable Electrical Programs for Manufacturing Equipment

Myers’ electrical reliability involvement does not end there. He also works with the company’s Electrical Steering Committee. The goal of the committee is to ensure that procedures are in place to maintain electrical safety, such as ensuring an arc-flash analysis is completed and posted at the equipment, reviewing energized electrical work permits, and drafting or revising any electrical related standard operating procedures. 

“Several years ago, it was evident that there was a need to better manage electrical safety,” Myers said. “At AstraZeneca, we regularly evaluate electrical safety and constantly make an effort to update how we manage it. The current Safety Health and Environment (SHE) director created the team and asked me to be a member. Shortly after that, I took on a very large task, to build a custom electrical test board and design a test that all technicians that work on electric equipment in their departments would have to take.”

Designed to comply with NFPA 70E regulations, the test determines if an employee is electrically qualified. As a result, the site has had no electrical injuries.

Myers also serves on the Electrical Improvements Team, which was formed to reduce any impact on manufacturing caused by the electrical system. An example of one effort was a project to ensure the panel schedules match the fi eld tags, and that when the breaker is turned off it actually goes to the appropriate equipment.

“You would be surprised how many discrepancies are found during this process,” he said. “The team also looks to increase its robustness and reliability by ensuring electrical feeds come from different switchgears when it makes sense. A couple of examples would be that we have many environmental chambers that house product and samples of product. They are very critical to the site. Some of the critical units have two feeds—a primary and a secondary. It was discovered that both feeds came from the same panel. This was identified as an issue because electrical maintenance is performed on switch-gears every three to five years. When the switchgear would have been de-energized for maintenance, power to the chambers would have been lost, potentially putting all that product at risk.”

To resolve the issue, a plan was engineered to change the secondary feed to a panel from a different switchgear. This solved the problem and has provided redundancy for the system. The team has experienced issues where redundant feeds were not an option to the equipment.

“We found this on our freezer that houses very critical contents,” he explained. “To resolve this issue, I came up with a plan to install an ATS (automatic transfer switch). This switch uses the original feed as the primary feed. A secondary feed was provided from a different panel that was also from a different switchgear. This has given the site confidence in the electrical system.”

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Maintenance Best Practices and Equipment Reliability Tips

Striving to be proactive and predictive is at the heart of Myers’ overall maintenance and reliability philosophy. He uses the ‘Five Whys’ technique to determine failure, data collection, CMMS use, and when to use predictive maintenance technologies. “It is important to ask as many ‘Whys’ as possible until you get to the root of the problem with your critical valves, pumps, and other factory equipment,” he emphasized.

Myers focuses on a team strategy, utilizing skilled people with individual talents and experience. His team of five includes specialists in electrical, mechanical, HVAC, and boiler operation, along with a lead technician. “Most issues require some combination of people and their skills to quickly solve each problem the first time,” he said.

He has five tips for producing a program with effective reliability:

1. Collect data.
2. Lubricate properly.
3. Keep your equipment clean.
4. Train employees.
5. Make a commitment to your programs, and stick with it.

He offers sound advice to other end users. 

“Collect the data and implement routine inspections,” he advised. “Without the data, the health of the equipment cannot be accurately assessed. Without routine inspections, you will never know when a problem may be emerging—until it is too late.”

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