When he’s not casting from his fishing boat at midnight on Smith Mountain Lake, Brian McDonaldson is likely monitoring operations at one of Rockingham County’s largest manufacturing plants – from his smart device. McDonaldson is the reliability manager at WhiteWave Foods, makers of Horizon Organic milk, Silk Soy milk, International Delight coffee creamers and other well-known dairy products.
McDonaldson came to WhiteWave after spending 19 years as a controls operator at DuPont. Over the course of nine years at WhiteWave, he’s worked in several roles – from controls technician to project manager to reliability manager, his current position.
When McDonaldson came on board WhiteWave — formerly Shenandoah’s Pride – the company had about 150 employees; today that number is well over 500.
One of the fundamental roles of a reliability engineer is to track the production losses and abnormally high maintenance cost assets and find solutions to lessen those costs. Part of McDonaldson’s job also is to prevent and manage life-cycle failure risk of plant equipment.
“When I got here, [the plant] was behind the times. The Ethernet cables were from Walmart,” said McDonaldson over lunch at a local Mexican restaurant recently. Right away, McDonaldson’s vision became modernization and standardization, specifically getting Ethernet, lighting and utilities all up to code.
WhiteWave hasn’t experienced a plant failure for more than an hour in over three years. This is partially due to McDonaldson’s foresight into establishing a plan for the plant. In conjunction with Rockwell and Williams Supply, he ordered a parts management agreement (PMA) to evaluate and determine critical spares. As a result of the PMA, which is similar to an installed base evaluation (IBE), WhiteWave maintains the appropriate stock of the most critical products on site.
Over the course of the past four years, and with the help of a third-party integrator, McDonaldson has switched out 23 PLCs to ControlLogix. There are only two left that need an upgrade.
“The original PLCs were working, but it’s more about what the CL can do,” he said. “The reliability of the data is more powerful than the days of charting every 12 hours. The convenience helped to sell it for me,” said McDonaldson.
Instead of legacy systems working as silos with a limited amount of data, ControlLogix is a modular system capable of integrating the entire plant floor. This is an ideal setup for plants choosing a progressive approach to smart manufacturing.
Then of course there’s the issue of funding. When it comes to requesting money for upgrades, McDonaldson said the process of financial approval for projects can take anywhere from 90 days to a year, depending on the request. The typical protocol requires the reliability manager to write out the project in detail and in conjunction with the plant manager. The project is then presented to the corporate engineering department, who generally has a specific amount of capital dog-eared for projects.
As part of WhiteWave’s modernization efforts, three years ago McDonaldson and his team installed a new computer maintenance management system (CMMS). The benefit of the new system is its ability to pull data in terms of run hours versus a set timeframe of, for example, every two years.
“The CMMS is pulling a timer which is reset every 6,000 hours. This way we get actual run-time for PM basis instead of doing a standard PM based on time when in reality the machine might not have been used,” he said.
When asked about smart manufacturing, McDonaldson said he sees the revolution happening within five to 10 years. He admitted to being “middle of the road” when it comes between assessing risk and investing in shiny new technology.
I can foresee our maintenance guys with iPads, scanning barcodes. There’s no more manual entering of data,” he said, adding “I am able to sit on my dock at Smith Mountain Lake and watch the plant from my phone. I will always be pushing technology.”
WhiteWave uses 50 percent of the water supply in Rockingham County. The plant uses 1.1-1.4 million gallons every 24 hours. They have to give the county two weeks’ notice if a shut-down is planned.
WhiteWave works with local community colleges to train control technicians at an early stage. “My philosophy is if I help to build their resumes then I won’t get the 3 a.m. phone calls. They will see that I’m investing in them,” said McDonaldson.