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Things to know and do before starting new initiatives

07.01.2014  |  Bloch, H. P.,  Hydrocarbon Processing Staff, 

Keywords: [reliability] [asset management] [training] [equipment] [safety]

HP editors frequently attend technical conferences to keep informed on the many factors impacting the hydrocarbon processing industry (HPI). The focus of these conferences often differs. However, one particular conference on failure analysis stands out. No exhibitors were present at the event; the majority of the presenters were users or beneficiaries of best-of-class (BOC) root-cause failure analysis methods. The core of the program concentrated on two or three best root-cause failure analysis methods available.

Accidents remain an issue

The HPI still struggles with accidents according to a Chemical Safety Board (CSB) statistic. In the report, the CSB noted the “considerable frequency of significant and deadly incidents at refineries over the last decade.” In 2012 alone, the CSB tracked 125 significant incidents at US petroleum refineries.1 These are disappointing findings. One solution is encouraging HPI management to invest more in training budgets such as technical conferences and workshops. Failure avoidance and safety are inseparable. The mix is a key ingredient to responsibly achieving and sustaining profitability.

Continuing education

HP editors also attend reliability-focused forums. These conferences offer different programs. A recent conference incorporated about 80 vendor-exhibitors. A high percentage of the event presentations were closely associated with the exhibitors. Impressive products on view included compact accelerometers and underwater velocity sensors. These and other components have migrated from the aerospace industry to the process and manufacturing industries. Much of this technology transfer will benefit the HPI. More importantly, there are an impressive number of new companies and consultancies now entering the reliability field.


Exhibitors often use attention-getting terms in their quest to attract clients. The old “lean and mean” mantra has run its course. A number of exhibitors now select company names or designations that promise “optimization,” “detection,” “compliance,” “management,” “reliability ecosystems,” “automated” and so forth. There is a market for collective, as well as detailed reliability-focused, programs.

Vendors want to sell “new” initiatives that are really older products or programs with updated names. Using an admittedly sweeping generalization, we characterize these companies as upbeat purveyors of implementation strategies for unrealistically optimistic clients. Both purveyors and clients obviously desire low-budget fixes for persistent problems. But to the experienced and informed, the clients’ problems are often very deeply rooted in past indifference and neglect—which begs the question: Who will do the uprooting?

An observation

Some conferences give much visibility to newly formed consultancies. These companies offer expertise in operational excellence (OE), a close cousin to asset management. There is nothing wrong with parties seeking, and offering, such visibility. Yet, the existing and potential OE consumer-clients will make progress only if they finally start to address the more fundamental issues. These companies should implement well-focused efforts to learn and become more fully informed.

The word “learning” prompts another key point on OE—be fully aware of your conditions that will shape the final outcome. There are a few solid prerequisites to developing meaningful and sustainable OE programs. Prerequisites to successful initiatives and pursuits are never optional; they are unalterable and non-negotiable requirements. These prerequisite requirements involve hiring, grooming, empowering, compensating, retaining and rewarding the right people. The men and women who will move entire facilities from being average to becoming BOC performers have to be ethical, competent and highly motivated. Such employees and their managers must make important contributions before either project content or monetary appropriations are finalized. These employees will ensure that the projects include safety and reliability and are solidly based on the cost of reliable equipment, and not just on the lowest initial bid. In other words, the cost-estimating manuals at the core of such projects must reflect pricing for a reliable plant—especially reliable machinery.

A realistic project budget estimate must also include the cost of machinery quality assessments (MQAs).2 Remember: You get what you inspect, not what you expect. Implementing and conducting MQAs will typically require a 5% addition to the as-purchased cost for reliable machines. This incremental outlay will often be retrieved within a year.

Initiative success

When examining reliability improvement and failure avoidance needs for an HPI facility, let’s be sure of one fact: The next “initiative”—by any name or acronym—can be successful only if and when the stated prerequisites are in place. These prerequisites involve intelligent hiring, nurturing, empowering, compensating, retaining and rewarding the right people. The managers authorizing the prerequisites mentioned above must give guidance by demonstrating personal ethics, competence and persistently high motivation.

Every one of these commendable attributes is required from the top to bottom layers for a successful organization. Because people with these attributes cannot be acquired or trained on short notice, each prerequisite is a highly tangible long-range action step. Companies and management must stop looking for the “magic bullet,” and organizations must cultivate a new environment for OE and reliability. Unfortunately, there will still be those managers who still seek out a “magic bullet” solution. In truth, there really is no cheap implementation route. There are no effective, yet previously unknown, quick-fix initiatives.

Back to basics

To achieve effective results, HPI companies must use only the best available investigation and root-cause failure analysis (RCFA) processes. No one single RCFA process suits all situations. Organizations must discover and report the root causes of failures, whether they are equipment or process related. Once uncovered, do not rest until the sources of these root causes are eliminated. Modify the management strategy and steer training dollars to the right direction.

Hard look

This editorial is critical of how certain issues are now addressed by HPI companies. The purpose is not to gloss over misdirected efforts, especially when addressing safety. Caution is warranted. To always seek salvation in new initiatives will have a price in wasted time and money. Irrespective of names, designations and code letters, any initiative whatsoever will succeed only if it is tightly interwoven with highly motivated and competent employees. Because these men and women are the prerequisites to success, our industry must continue sending young engineers to technical conferences that teach both incident investigation and incident avoidance.

Advice for event organizers

Finally, an important suggestion to organizers of reliability-focused conferences: When selecting motivational speakers, pick the ones who can lay out the full story. At two recent conferences, the keynote speakers spoke about our shrinking world and the marvels of building the latest-generation passenger plane. The speakers reminded their respective audiences that suppliers from 17 nations around the globe provided major components and subassemblies for the new plane. Glitches with onboard batteries were solved in less than one year by competent contributors stepping up to whiteboards and doing sketches for ease of visualization. “Yes, but,” some of us mumbled; it is also known that the new-generation passenger plane experienced years of delivery delays. Neither that fact nor its underlying causes were mentioned, and, more importantly, learning opportunities were missed at these conferences. Most conference attendees want to hear the full story and nothing less will do. HP


1 “Investigation shines new light on fatal 2010 Tesoro refinery explosion,” Hydrocarbon Processing, March 2014, pp. 12–14.
2 Bloch, H. P. and F. K. Geitner, Compressors: How to achieve high reliability and availability, McGraw-Hill Publishing, New York, New York, 2012.

The author
Heinz P. Bloch is the Reliability/Equipment editor of HP. He has authored 18 textbooks and over 570 papers or articles and was a senior engineering associate for Exxon Chemicals. He is in his 52nd year as a reliability professional, and continues to advise process plants worldwide on reliability improvement, failure avoidance and maintenance cost reduction opportunities. He holds BS and MS degrees from the New Jersey Institute of Technology

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I believe the above article is one of the best articles I have ever read about companies and organizations search for success. The author made it clear to attain success you have to have ethical, competent, and highly motivated personal to achieve that success. An incident that happened at one of a Technology Engineering College (Oil & Gas Focused Institution) without mentioning its name, the President of the College in a general meeting for the Faculty and Staff says and I am quoting exactly what he Said " I don't care of you are the Best Researcher and I do not care if you are the BEST Ph.Ds., I do not need you. I still can carry a stick and show you the door. I am happy to get a Preparatory School Teachers and High School Teachers to do the Job for me" unquote. That was his approach for "the quick-fix" and for hiring and retaining and rewarding the right people.

Thank you for such an article and thank you to spell it out "the road to success" very clear for the management of any organization.

Please make my comments "ANONYMOUS" because I still would like to work for a couple of more years.

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