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Expect adversity, but plan for success

07.01.2013  |  Bloch, H. P.,  Hydrocarbon Processing Staff, 

Keywords: [pumps] [oil mist] [cleaning] [construction] [maintenance] [shutdown]

Consider that a major oil refinery was planning a substantial modernization project in 2008. Energy efficiency gains and the ability to process a more readily available crude slate were key motivating factors. With the 2008 economic downturn, field erection stopped due to the usual financial considerations.

Unfortunately, in late 2008, much of the new equipment was either on its way or had just arrived at the field staging area. There was no budget for state-of-the-art equipment protection and preservation as successfully practiced in the 1960s and that is often described in books and articles, as shown in Fig. 1.1 Equipment stored without the best available protection invites problems. Without protection, plant staff should expect adversity.

  Fig. 1. Pumps and motors in an outdoor
  oil mist preservation (staging) yard.
  Source: Lubrication Systems Division
  of Colfax Industries, Houston, Texas. 

Protecting assets in the field

Contrast such risky unprotected storage with the decades-old best-available practice of protection with oil mist. Filling or “blanketing” all internal equipment spaces with oil mist was effective and economical. Both indoor and outdoor storage were applied on hundreds of process pumps in many plants beginning about 1965.2 Staging yards similar to the one shown in Fig. 1 used the same oil-mist consoles, which would later serve hundreds of pumps in their designated process units.

Combining project management and maintenance/reliability wisdom as a planning style has proved eminently successful for over 40 years. At one facility, in 1979, equipment mortality of machines kept in an oil-mist staging yard was kept well below 3%. In stark contrast, the 2013 probable failure rate upon startup after 18 months of unprotected storage at another facility is estimated at 30%.

Startup of equipment stored without first implementing proactive remedial steps can be costly. To have 30% of 200 process pumps fail upon startup is unacceptable. Assuming a cost of $20,000 per pump, over a million dollars would be spent on repairing improperly stored equipment plus the costs for lost production time. Evasive action and risk reduction is needed on equipment that has not been optimally preserved.

Preservation provides profits

Fluid machinery left in the open without full protection for more than six months should not be expected to run flawlessly. Bearings and mechanical seals are likely to fail before they reach the end of their respective design lives. Accordingly, reasonable risk reduction steps should be pursued:

  • The cleaning and dismantling of equipment or replacement parts should be prioritized by criticality.
  • The dismantling and reassembly of critical machines should be entrusted to highly competent individuals. Deliverables and accountabilities should be defined in writing. With these definitions, carefully scrutinize vendor responses in the bid evaluations and seek qualified vendors. The lowest bidders are rarely the most qualified vendors.
  • Designate an “owner” for each piece of equipment that is being dismantled. Use conscientious and experienced individuals to act as “owners” during the equipment inspection and rebuilding process.
  • Give the “owner” a checklist of points or items to ascertain. The list should include items that are often overlooked, as shown in Fig. 2. The “owner” must certify that elusive failure causes have been addressed.
  • Require the “owner” to be present when the equipment is first started up. On all machines that have been stored with inadequate protection, and irrespective of criticality, let a designated “owner” take vibration and thermal imaging readings during the startup process and daily thereafter. An “owner” can handle 6–8 machines; this level of involvement can be discontinued once the operating staff can take over their routine monitoring duties.

  Fig. 2.  A risky pump bearing housing with
  areas that could bring on seemingly elusive failures.3

Pay now or pay later

Belatedly implementing these failure-reducing action steps will not be cheap. The monetary outlay ranks somewhere between oil-mist preservation (approximately $200,000 in 2007) and having 60 near-catastrophic failure events if nothing is done. From an organizational viewpoint, reliability thinking and equipment preservation issues should always be presented to management at an early stage.

Inadequately stored equipment will be risky to operate; accordingly, monies spent on suitable up-front preservation will pay dividends over the long term. A refinery should expect adversity in the short run and plan for long-term success. For hydrocarbon processing facilities, the company and site philosophy should be safety, quality and unity every day in all ways. This guide drives steps needed to achieve these commendable goals.

While safety and quality are self-explanatory, unity begs a definition. Unity denotes that all employees should be of one mind when it comes to implementing whatever is the safest and represents lasting value. While dissent is permitted, unity means that those who question the pathways to safety and quality by declining to allocate needed resources must accept two obligations: 1) list their dissenting views in writing, and 2) accept accountability for actions and funds withheld.

Yet, some large companies are hurt by listening to opinions instead of insisting on informed cost justifications that are based on facts. There are strong incentives to involve bright subject-matter experts on new projects. HP


1 Bloch, H. P. and A. Shamim, Oil Mist Lubrication: Practical Applications, The Fairmont Press, Lilburn, Georgia, 1998, pp. 143–154.
2 Budris, A., Pump Users Handbook: Life Extension, 3rd Ed., The Fairmont Press, Lilburn, Georgia, 2010, pp. 279–304.
3 Bloch, H. P., Pump Wisdom, John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken, New Jersey, 2011, pg. 16.

The author
 Heinz P. Bloch resides in Westminster, Colorado. His professional career commenced in 1962 and included long-term assignments as Exxon Chemical’s regional machinery specialist for the US. He has authored over 520 publications, among them 18 comprehensive books on practical machinery management, failure analysis, failure avoidance, compressors, steam turbines, pumps, oil-mist lubrication and practical lubrication for industry. Mr. Bloch holds BS and MS degrees in mechanical engineering. He is an ASME Life Fellow and maintains registration as a Professional Engineer in New Jersey and Texas.

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