June 2018

Maintenance and Reliability

Simplification reduces risks and cuts costs

A facility’s ability to operate safely is the determining factor in its success or failure.

Bozick, A., Victaulic

A facility’s ability to operate safely is the determining factor in its success or failure. This factor is why maintenance programs are implemented and shutdowns are carried out on a regular basis. Planned shutdowns, or turnarounds (TARs), which are organized to carry out comprehensive maintenance programs, are a standard approach that asset owners use to achieve operational safety and efficiency.

Scheduling annual shutdowns makes good sense, as they provide a structured way to identify potential mechanical and processing issues and address concerns so that costly and dangerous emergency shutdowns can be avoided.

Good management contains costs

Because TARs are complex, expensive and include maintenance work that cannot be carried out while the plant is up and running, they are major events.

Complexity is a byproduct of the broad scope of a planned shutdown, which includes ensuring safety, communicating processes, managing the work scope and scheduling repair operations, coordinating resources, planning, logistics, documenting progress and capturing metrics, all while managing costs.

A typical maintenance program has a loosely defined scope based on past experiences, inspection reports and observations made by operations personnel. While the general scope of the TAR is outlined, the work program is not always fixed; it is modified as issues are uncovered as the inspection advances. Since maintenance needs are added to the scope leading up to a shutdown, the final work plan is often determined very close to the shutdown date.

During execution, every correction is a separate work order, and every shift includes extensive permitting. Each time a shift change occurs, there is a handover of information. Schedules are also updated every time there is a change in personnel, and daily reports track critical work to keep the program on track, with less urgent repairs sometimes scheduled to take place after the facility is back up and running. Often, project schedules are compressed, and, with successive steps on the critical path, these programs tend to extend beyond the originally allocated project schedule.

For most plant owners, the costs associated with a TAR—which also include expenses related to tools, equipment, materials and labor—make up the largest portion of their annual maintenance budgets. Because of the duration and thoroughness, it is not unusual for TARs to cost millions of dollars per day. Executing TARs are demanding, but they are essential to improving asset reliability and availability.

Management throughout the maintenance program timeline is critical to a company’s bottom line. The investment required to execute a TAR is an incentive for making it a success. Even the best managed schedules are costly, since every shutdown results in lost production for the duration of the maintenance event. Ensuring that the project is managed well is critical. If a shutdown is poorly executed, lasts too long or is over budget, the costs could result in a fiscal loss.

Stepping up safety

Cost control is only one of the management objectives in carrying out a TAR. Another is safety during execution. Depending on the size of the plant, there can be dozens to thousands of additional people onsite carrying out all sorts of work. Proper management of workers and/or processes can reduce the risk of accidents.

One of the best ways to avoid introducing risk is to make sure workers have the skills required to carry out the maintenance work. This notion is, often, more easily said than done. A significant challenge faced by plants executing a shutdown is finding staff with the proper skills and training to carry out specialized tasks.

Spending on industrial facilities—including maintenance work—is projected to grow by almost 6% in 2018. In some regions of the US, that growth rate is projected to be as high as 12%.1 Meanwhile, the expected employment growth for maintenance workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is only 6% between 2018 and 2026.2 This dearth creates a dangerous gap in skilled labor to keep pace with demand. It is difficult to get a plant back online quickly and safely without a team with the appropriate knowledge, skills and bandwidth needed for fast and efficient work.

Responsible owners often allocate considerable investment in training programs that ensure that workers safely operate complicated machinery. They are interested in assets that meet or exceed API and ASME standards, and, whenever possible, look for equipment that is not only superior but inherently safe as a way of controlling risk in their facilities.

Accident avoidance is a matter of having the right materials on hand so a dedicated team can rapidly install the necessary equipment. In some cases, the best way to cut costs is to increase the number of modular components that arrive ready to install and that require only simple tools for assembly. This approach eliminates complicated installation processes, which means more workers that are qualified to carry out maintenance tasks. Simplicity in execution reduces the possibility of an error that could cause injury, as well.

Often, achieving efficiencies is as simple as choosing the right components. For example, pipe fitting can be achieved through a variety of methods including welding, threading or mechanical joining. Selecting mechanical joints (e.g., grooved couplings that arrive onsite ready to install) allows for connections using only simple tools. Speed and simplicity of installation means workers without specialized skills can repair critical piping in a fraction of the time needed to weld or thread. Meanwhile, work that requires special tools, equipment and employees with unique training can be carried out concurrently. The ability to mobilize a broader workforce means the entire job can be done more quickly, and no additional time and/or money needs be invested to train teams to maintain equipment. This method has benefits even when a TAR is not being carried out. Routine maintenance is simplified when the components and tools used to carry out repairs are less complex.

Simplified installation methods also reduce the likelihood for error that could result in injuries to workers, or affect reliability when the facility is back up and running. Quick execution helps make up time on the project schedule, allowing the facility to get back online quickly.

Using proven, labor-saving materials and components that have a track record for reliability means equipment is less likely to require service or extensive maintenance between TARs, needing only visual inspection and inline testing to verify integrity and maintenance that often amounts to simple, routine upkeep.

While there is no way to eliminate the need for TARs or the high costs associated with long-term maintenance shutdowns, using durable components that simplify maintenance and repair offers advantages that can shorten installation time and make the best use of the available workforce. Selecting the right product will help get the facility up and running quickly and safely, and has the potential to deliver considerable cost savings during a single TAR, in addition to savings delivered during regular plant operation. HP

Literature Cited

  1. 2018 Industrial Market Outlook Conference, “Industrial Market Outlook,” January 2018.
  2. “Occupational Outlook Handbook,” Bureau of Labor Statistics, US Department of Labor, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/installation-maintenance-and-repair/industrial-machinery-mechanics-and-maintenance-workers-and-millwrights.htm

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