BHP Steel Australia delete downtime

BHP Steel Port Kembla in Port Kembla, Australia, is halfway through a maintenance contract that has reduced costly downtime.

DATE 2023-11-28 AUTHOR Diana Ward

Steel has been manufactured at the Port Kembla steelworks since 1928. In 1935, BHP, a longstanding Australian steel maker, bought the Port Kembla steelworks (about 50 miles south of Sydney). Currently BHP’s steel division is Australia’s largest producer of steel, and BHP Steel Port Kembla, with 5,000 permanent employees and 2,000 contractors, last year produced almost 5 million tons of raw steel for the domestic and export market.

BHP Steel Packaging Products produces tinplate, tin free steel (electrolytic chromium-coated steel) and black plate for both domestic and export sale.

Steel for packaging applications requires close control of chemical analysis during steel manufacture, including control over temperature. The special procedures necessary to produce tinplate, for example, require some 25 heat exchangers across a number of chemical and metal ingredients to heat, cool and maintain chemical and other temperatures.

First downtime

After the first unscheduled downtime at the plant, which occurred in mid-2000, a maintenance strategy was developed and BHP Steel set out to find out what sort of maintenance would be needed. The company’s mechanical equipment coordinator, Glen Glaister, realizing that suppliers of specialized equipment often had the best knowledge of how to maintain the equipment, as well as of the best ways to ensure trouble-free operation of the units, went looking for suitable contract support.

Colin Ellis, Aftersale’s development manager at Alfa Laval in Sydney says: "BHP Steel was prepared to go for a service contract. We initiated a contract and developed an inspection frequency for all the heat exchangers and decided what spares were needed on hand."

Ellis says that Australia, like other countries, is experiencing a reduction in service crews and movement toward contractors. This is reflected in Alfa Laval’s service contract with BHP Steel Port Kembla, which is for lifecycle support – meaning the company has handed over the responsibility for maintaining its heat exchangers to Alfa Laval.

Technical advice included

Ellis says that, in addition to plate heat exchanger maintenance, part of the contract design program is to supply as much technical advice as possible. "There are specific design programs on the engineering side – so if BHP wants to adjust a process, we help fine-tune it," he says.

Glaister’s main concern was further unscheduled downtime due to blocked heat exchangers – an important concern, considering that downtime can cost 1,000 Australian dollars (550 U.S. dollars) a minute. The philosophy behind the contract was to establish how long each heat exchanger took to get blocked, and then to devise a schedule so that each unit could have its plates changed out before they got to a stage where the performance of the units was affected. This work could then be scheduled to fit in with the maintenance shutdowns, which avoided any unscheduled downtime.

Ellis and his team decided that the service contract should include a complete set of spares for BHP Steel alone, so, to save BHP downtime, instead of pulling pieces of equipment apart and cleaning them the same day, Alfa Laval could do a change-out and look after the parts in Sydney.

Labour management

Managing the service contract is a smooth process for BHP Steel. Labour hours are in the contract. In this case 100 hours of Alfa Laval labour are managed by BHP Steel, making management easy and allowing flexibility in the number of parts serviced. This has allowed BHP Steel to add extra plate heat exchangers to the service contract.

Now that the service contract is halfway through at 18 months, BHP Steel has expressed its appreciation that the service contract is very flexible and that the Alfa Laval team is doing its best to save them money – onsite parts that are not in use are used as spares, saving the need to purchase new spares. If spare parts need to be purchased, there is fixed pricing on these parts for the life of the 36- month contract.

The success of the service contract is demonstrated in BHP Steel Port Kembla’s No.3 Electrolytic Tinning Line production record. Since the service contract went into effect and the advent of Alfa Laval’s ongoing maintenance, unscheduled downtime due to blocked plate heat exchangers on No.3 et Line has not occurred at BHP Steel Packaging Products.

Taking service one step further

Strongly improved customer service is a powerful driving force for Alfa Laval.

In Alfa Laval’s world, service is a total concept. It covers everything that ensures optimum performance – from the supply of spare parts to dependable maintenance of machinery and plant.

More sophisticated service demands

Today’s industries are making huge investments in machinery. To get the best possible return on their money, companies must be able to rely on the equipment totally throughout the lifetime of their plant. Production capacity and availability must be optimized.

Every cog on the wheel, however small, must be in perfect condition. If one piece of equipment fails to fulfill its role, the whole operation can be jeopardized. A few hours' loss of production, deterioration of product quality or decreased delivery capacity can be more costly than the equipment itself.

The more sophisticated the plants and the equipment become, the more comprehensive is the service required. Today nobody can risk waiting until problems occur. Service contracts and preventive maintenance are an excellent way to secure smooth and safe operations.

Alfa Laval's Parts & Service program comprises these important elements together with secure spares supply and technical support. It also includes training of personnel, reconditioning, rebuilding, retrofit and efficiency audits. Alfa Laval has a large number of service centers and repair shops all over the world. There are now several ongoing projects inside the Alfa Laval organization aiming at more effective use of these service centers and repair shops.

Networks of Authorized Service Partners are built up and also closer relationships are established between logistics and service in order to further strengthen customer relations.

New and fine-tuned service products

In order to satisfy customers' requests and to ensure the performance of Alfa Laval’s installations in their processes, new service products will be supplied to offer customers added value. These include new service concepts and contracts, 'intelligent monitoring' of machines and systems, Internet services, help-desk functions and training programs that focus on the 'software' of service as well as on product knowledge in the areas of expertise. 

This extended scope of supply is expected to create a solid and comprehensive growth of Alfa Laval’s Parts & Service business. Today the company has a lot of valuable information collected in customer database, the most important tool for sales people and service providers. This database is now being optimized to make it easier to follow up on the status of all Alfa Laval’s customers. Maintaining a regular dialogue strengthens trust and leads to a more fruitful long-term relationship for one and all.