The following abbreviated
sequence of correspondence is real, although we quite
obviously had to hide some names. Still, it is quite
typical of many discourses our editors carry on with
readers or conference participants over a year.
It started with an e-mail
from XYZ, a mid-level technical employee with Central
Refining Industries (CRI) we
had first met decades ago. He asked:
My question is how
often our vibration group should be doing their routes
on every piece of equipment. We collect data on all
fans, gearboxes, pumps and motors monthly. I believe
this is too frequent for most machines, but thought I
would get your opinion before I stuck my head out too
far. I have read a lot of articles and see that no one
agrees. We seem to be in the paralysis by
analysis mode of doing business.
We answered XYZ by
affirming that many reliability managers are
unaware of the main reason for gathering vibration
data: to get the operators out of the control room. We
claimed, somewhat tongue-in cheek, that operators will
not leave their control room if:
a) Ambient temperatures climb above +75°F;
operators fear the risk of heat stroke
b) Temperature drops below +66°F; theres
the real fear of frostbite
c) Wind speed exceeds 4 mph; understandably, they
fear being blown off their bicycles.
Who collects the data.
refineries use a good portable data collector (Fig. 1)
to check if and when operators leave their control
rooms. For them, vibration monitoring, is often of
secondary importance. We explained to XYZ that
best-of-class refineries ask experienced vibration
analysts to limit their involvement to interpreting
out-of-limit data. The operators do the data collecting
for the reasons mentioned above. Assigning both the
collecting and analyzing of data to a highly trained
vibration technician is a rare practice.
1. In addition to warning of
deterioration, state-of-art data
serve as monitoring tools to
scheduled field presence by
At best-of-class companies, experienced reliability
professionals will also examine
in-house records of failure frequency, repair cost and
downtime risk. In oil refineries, considerable judgment
is required and equipment criticality is important.
Data collection frequency is based on this criticality
and can vary from monthly to twice yearly.
Our mid-level technical
I forwarded this
message to our maintenance manager who, by
the way, never had anything to do with maintenance in a
refinery until four years
ago. He is in his late 30s and most of his staff are
fresh out of college. However, the maintenance manager often
mentions operator involvement in reliability, about
which he had heard at a conference.
CRI was not involving its
operators in reliability stewardship. To be successful,
such an involvement presupposes a well-structured
training and technical education program; implementing
such a program requires time, competence, monetary
resources and continuity of effort. It represents an
investment in the future and cannot ever be a
flavor of the month thing.
To again quote XYZ:
All or most of our unit
supervisors are on too much of a good buddy
relationship with their operators to make them get out
of the control rooms so as to look, feel and listen to
their equipment. They operate by alarms, so to speak.
Just recently we lost 4 boiler feedwater pumps out of a
total of 7.
We were certain that CRI
had never measured the width and concentricity of its
slinger rings. They had probably purchased them from
the lowest bidder, who probably had skipped the
important annealing step. In the future, CRI will have
to budget the right price for oil rings that dont
It was again confirmed that
best-of-class plants get their exceptional (9.4 years)
pump MTBF by systematically upgrading and paying
attention to every detail. As always, we appreciated
the discourse with CRI because it updated us on the
state of affairs in small and mid-size refineries. Some
of these refineries become progressively less
profitable and the root causes of their problems and
issues are often both cumulative and elusive. Putting
it more bluntly, the correspondence with CRI filled in
the picture, and the picture is not pretty.
Bloch, H. P., Pump
Wisdom: Problem Solving for Operators and
Specialists, John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken, New
H. P. Bloch is
Editor. A practicing consulting engineer with
close to 50 years of applicable experience,
he advises process plants worldwide on
failure analysis, reliability improvement and
avoidance topics. He has authored or
co-authored 18 textbooks on machinery reliability
improvement and over 490 papers or articles
dealing with related subjects.