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
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.
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
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
- 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
68 machines; this level of involvement can be
discontinued once the operating staff can take over their
routine monitoring duties.
2. A risky pump bearing housing with
areas that could bring on seemingly elusive
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
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. 143154.
2 Budris, A., Pump Users Handbook: Life
Extension, 3rd Ed., The Fairmont Press, Lilburn, Georgia,
2010, pp. 279304.
3 Bloch, H. P., Pump Wisdom, John Wiley
& Sons, Hoboken, New Jersey, 2011, pg. 16.
Heinz P. Bloch resides in
Westminster, Colorado. His professional career
commenced in 1962 and included long-term assignments
as Exxon Chemicals 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.