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Where credit is due


When business achievement awards are given out next year I hope someone makes note of the effort by all AbitibiBowater employees to keep the business afloat especially in Grand Falls-Windsor. When mills and machines are closing across the country employees here have found a way to increase overall efficiency, reduce costs and generally keep the ship above water in the midst of the worst storm on record. This is quite an accomplishment by all employees for now at least. The local mill and its workforce have patched old equipment, installed used equipment and found ways to do things differently like never before and the employees, both management and unionized, should be recognized for that effort. Services Manager Gerald Dawe and the maintenance team have worked tirelessly to keep the machines running. That's not to say everything is great as there are still many challenges that could sink the ship. But a concentrated effort is being made to move the mill forward in these difficult times. Let me give you an example.

When business achievement awards are given out next year I hope someone makes note of the effort by all AbitibiBowater employees to keep the business afloat especially in Grand Falls-Windsor. When mills and machines are closing across the country employees here have found a way to increase overall efficiency, reduce costs and generally keep the ship above water in the midst of the worst storm on record. This is quite an accomplishment by all employees for now at least.

The local mill and its workforce have patched old equipment, installed used equipment and found ways to do things differently like never before and the employees, both management and unionized, should be recognized for that effort. Services Manager Gerald Dawe and the maintenance team have worked tirelessly to keep the machines running. That's not to say everything is great as there are still many challenges that could sink the ship. But a concentrated effort is being made to move the mill forward in these difficult times. Let me give you an example.

Just recently the mill installed an upgraded paper machine drive on No. 3 paper machine. A paper machine drive is a complicated set of electrical and delicate electronic components that keep the paper machine running smoothly. The replaced drive on No. 3 machine was over 50 years old and although it had been rebuilt and upgraded several times was outdated, unreliable and expensive to maintain. That's what happens when you keep running old equipment. Imagine trying to find spare parts for a 1967 Ford Mustang.

This new drive, which came from the defunct Stephenville machine, will allow No. 3 machine to speed up probably 400-500 feet per minute, while increasing production and reducing costs. I'm told transferring a drive and modifying it to fit a different machine is not an easy task. Albert Boyle and his team of electrical specialists should be congratulated for this innovative work. Darren Pelley and the operations team of papermakers will now enjoy the challenge of making it all perform.

As I have mentioned many times, out of the box thinking is needed to guarantee a long term future for the Grand Falls-Windsor mill. But along with this out of the box thinking, this has to be coupled with conventional wisdom about improving and expanding electrical generating systems. Maintaining and expanding the mill's hydro advantage as an edge by keeping systems modern is vital to the mills existence. Keeping the mill modern, in difficult times, is always the right thing to do.

One only has to remember the old penstocks, 50 cycle power, the old converter station in back of the mill and the sad state of the dam at Millertown. It wasn't many years ago that these were all huge liabilities to the Grand Falls operation. Back then Wilmore Eddy took up the challenge of fixing all of that. Today 50 cycle power is gone, the mill has a power canal thanks to Mill Manager Dave Kerr and both power stations in Bishop's Falls and Grand Falls have been modernized thanks to the efforts of Gord Oldford and his management team. And to boot the mill has the Beeton Unit and Star Lake. Without those major investments my guess is that the manufacturing plant would be closed by now.

The Grand Falls mill still needs big investments - we all know that but that's not something that's going to happen overnight. In the meantime Abitibi's employees have to buy time with innovative projects that can improve production and reduce costs. The Continuous Improvement efforts led by Don Brain and Tony Sceviour, supported by Ron Smith, George Mac-Donald , Paul Lane and the union membership, are vital to improved performance. Abitibi employees will always be on the radar screen with these novel approaches to improving performance as they wait for better times when the company can afford investment.

There are many unsung heroes that have maintained and increased production, the important hydro advantage and the vast woodlands operations. These employees have bought critical time during the industry's perfect storm. Abitibi employees have maintained a strong economic base for all the citizens of the region to build on. That's why for now at least they should all be given credit.

(Roger Pike writes from Grand Falls-Windsor. He can be reached at Roger.Pike@nf.sympatico.ca)

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