Adhesive materials manufacturer Ritrama finds solutions to a persistent problem using Enterprise Minnesota's Practical Problem Solving program.
They figured out how to repair the coating machine without breaking the bank: from left, Al Siedow, Mike Conklin, Brent Constantini and Nick Mattsson.
Ritrama manufactures miles of bumper sticker-like adhesive materials at its Minneapolis facility, churning out 250 feet per minute -- roughly eight miles of adhesive material per 24-hour period.
Unfortunately, the coating machine that produces all of this was improperly installed when it arrived at Ritrama from its Swiss manufacturer a decade ago. As a result, it has been plagued with many breakdowns, challenging the company's engineers and supervisors and often
putting in jeopardy promises to customers.
Mike Conklin, manufacturing manager, says the $7 million machine's complexity and sheer size (being 100 feet long and two-and-a-half stories tall) made it difficult to pinpoint problem areas. Adding to the challenge were parts nearing the end of their intended life cycles.
"If you have a well-designed piece of equipment, it's more predictable. You know things will wear out, but that it was assembled properly and that good components were used," Conklin says. "If you have a lemon, then you are also troubleshooting things that are way off the
grid. This coater is the Queen Mary's boat anchor ... but I don't have any choice. If this machine doesn't run, we don't exist."
To keep the coater running more frequently, Conklin assembled an eight-person team of engineers and supervisors for an intense Practical Problem Solving session with Enterprise Minnesota. He says the structured method helped to confirm three root problems and uncovered a
The team confirmed that poor wiring, excessive heat and plain wear and tear of coater components nearing the end of their intended life cycles were three main breakdown culprits. It also discovered that portions of the machine were out of balance, causing them to vibrate more
With the root causes pinpointed, the team developed a plan of action. The company will invest in thermal imaging experts and technology to monitor the heat in each section of the coater. It will hire vibration and noise analyzers to determine areas where the machine is out of
balance. Finally, each month it plans to replace one component nearing the end of its life cycle, so it can repair the machine without breaking the bank.
Despite the time commitment required for PPS, Conklin is pleased with the program's problem- solving formula.
"The biggest value for me was being presented a structure to follow ... versus a shotgun approach," Conklin explains. "People invest significant time in problem solving, but sometimes they can get tunnel vision and convince themselves that their solution is right. [PPS]
gets it down to the point where it really doesn't matter whose eyes see it [because] we've proven that X is the problem."
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