Ellwood National Crankshaft: Building a Stronger Maintenance Department


“I knew I had a golden opportunity.” That’s how Joe Spess describes the situation he walked into in the summer of 2012, when he took over as Maintenance Manager at Ellwood National Crankshaft (ENC) in rural Irvine, Pennsylvania. Someone else in Joe’s place might not have been so optimistic, especially considering how heavily ENC relies on its maintenance department to service the complex machine tools and expansive facilities that make it the world’s largest manufacturer and remanufacturer of crankshafts.

When pressed further, Joe admits that the situation was a lot more challenging than he had originally expected: “The previous maintenance manager had resigned five years before, and there were no clear reporting relationships. Everyone seemed to be connected to someone else by a dotted line, which made the simplest decisions confusing and time consuming. And, although we had Ashcom Technologies’ MaintiMizer™ computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) in place, it was installed in 2005 and never updated. To be honest, using the system left us no further ahead than if I just handed one of our guys a hand-written note telling him to fix this or that machine. At least with a note, no one felt they were wasting their time with a useless system.”

Joe soon realized that the only way to build a well-functioning and productive maintenance department was to build a more cohesive maintenance team and a better CMMS. He was urged by some to replace MaintiMizer™ with Infor SyteLine, the company’s ERP system, and seriously considered it until he spoke with ENC’s purchasing manager, who was using MaintiMizer™’s inventory control module with great success. To find out what MaintiMizer™ could really do, Joe attended a four-day training session at Ashcom’s corporate headquarters in Ann Arbor, Michigan. For the first time, Joe saw that MaintiMizer™ was capable of doing everything he needed it to. What’s more, he realized that Ashcom’s maintenance management experts could help him solve the problems in his department that went beyond the CMMS. Says Joe, “That was a real a-ha moment for me. I saw the benefits of working with both MaintiMizer™ and Ashcom—I could turn all my ideas for improving the department into real, concrete plans.”


The first step was for Craig Miller, one of Ashcom’s maintenance management experts, to visit Joe at ENC’s facility. Craig spent three days touring the plant, evaluating the maintenance operations, and meeting one on one with all 16 maintenance employees. As Joe says, “Craig’s 40-plus years of maintenance experience uncovered a lot of issues that went well beyond our problems with MaintiMizer™. He saw that I needed to work with our guys to develop a plan for how we wanted the department to function that would work for all of us. He encouraged me to over-communicate, understand everyone’s issues and concerns, and work to build our team.”

Of course, Craig also focused on issues related to MaintiMizer™. Right away, he saw that there were problems with the initial implementation. For example, the drop down menus forced users to choose from five Work Order categories or, if one of the five didn’t fit, to choose the miscellaneous/other category. In reality, about 10 categories were needed, so “miscellaneous” was chosen most of the time. As a result, Joe says, “The data was useless. We couldn’t run meaningful reports and, what’s worse, the uselessness of the data actually reinforced the beliefs that some of our guys had about the uselessness of computers in general.” With Craig’s help, Joe and his team have begun the process of updating MaintiMizer™’s data standards to reflect how things actually work in his department—and how they want them to work in the future.

A few weeks after his initial visit, Craig returned to ENC to help Joe refine the action steps needed before going live with their new version of MaintiMizer™, MaintiMizer™ Web edition. While they worked on creating a general plan, they also hammered out a number of critical details. For example, a source of confusion and frustration in the department involved the ordering of parts—who does the mechanic go to when he needs to place an order? What does he do and how does he do it? As Joe describes it, “Craig helped me put an ordering procedure together and build status codes into the MaintiMizer™ system. Now when a mechanic needs to order something, he changes the part status code to ‘need to order.’ When the order person places the order, he changes the code to ‘ordered.’ With the new procedure, everyone knows when their parts have been ordered, so there’s no more confusion or uncertainty.”

Joe continues, “The problem with parts ordering was an example of an issue that affected everyone. I want to show the guys that I’m here to make the department work for all of us. I believe that when they see that we’re actively pursuing and fixing the issues they have, they’ll have more confidence in the MaintiMizer™ system and in the other things I’m trying to do in the department. I also want to be able to show my superiors some concrete results, and now I’ll be able to put together a report that shows a positive trend in money saved by not ordering duplicate parts. Craig helped me develop meaningful standards and metrics that I can use to drive the department forward.”

Joe is working toward the day when every maintenance employee uses MaintiMizer™ effectively and proactively. He envisions a situation in which an hourly employee sees a MaintiMizer™ record that shows that five pumps have been put on a machine over the past year. Rather than blindly ordering a sixth pump, the employee will proactively ask, what’s up with this machine? What might be a better solution?

In looking to the future, Joe sees his department and his company having a very long and productive relationship with MaintiMizer™, Craig, and the Ashcom team: “We intend to take advantage of all the resources Ashcom offers: tech support, software updates, and Craig’s years of experience. I look forward to showing everyone here what we’ve done and what we can do.”

Joe’s plans reach beyond ENC’s maintenance department. He notes that ENC is just one of several companies in the Ellwood corporate family, and he’d like his department to be a model for the rest.

Joe concludes with some words of advice for other maintenance managers using MaintiMizer™: “A lot of people in my position might be too proud to admit that they can’t do everything on their own, or they might think that buying the software and attending four days of training is enough. I know from experience that it’s not. If you really want to get everything you can out of your investment in MaintiMizer™, you have to start with the most useful system possible. Craig’s time in helping you do that is time well spent. Then, with a solid system in place, you’ll be ready to take advantage of whatever opportunities come your way.”

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