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To date, I’ve worked as a Consulting Engineer in roughly 300 different locations. Over the years, I sometimes thought about what I should have done differently in those engagements. Honestly, I couldn’t (and still can’t) think of anything. However, had I been asked what those consulting clients should have done differently, my answer would be quick and quite specific: They should have given me access to management instead of letting me primarily deliver fix-up talks to workers fighting in the trenches, so-to-speak.

To invoke an analogy: A sick child may seek relief for a certain hurt. While the child may be happy with a few pills, two adhesive bandages, and a lollipop, a competent doctor will insist on telling the child’s parents the origin and extent of the illness. As a reliability engineer on a consulting project, though, I have rarely been given access to the higher-ups who could have prevented trench warfare.

After a recent consulting assignment involving issues with fluid machinery, I asked the client to hear me out on issues that need to be addressed in hundreds of HP (hydrocarbon-processing) plants in the U.S. and elsewhere. I know these issues to be universal because I hear from reliability professionals in many parts of the world.

Through various means of communication (and by having attended upwards of 100 technical conferences over several decades) I have been privy to countless timely updates on “the state of matters.” In one way or another, many of the issues they’ve raised seem to persist in industry, I’ve listed some of them below, and included my personal observations on why they’re problematic for HP and other process operations.

1.  The hydrocarbon-processing industry (HPI) struggles with contractor competence issues. If we don’t groom the talent at our plants, what makes us think the contractor (with his lower billing rates) will groom these folks for us?

 2. Issues of systematic training are not addressed. Much training in the HPI is haphazard and unfocused. Training must add value to the enterprise and there needs to be a methodology of checks and balances. There also needs to be accountability. Do you have such systems in place?

3.  At some companies, involved personnel consider both the resolution of technical matters and the pinpointing of human error as “I could lose my job” issues. In the first instance, workers are deprived of desirable overtime; the second instance is seen as pointing fingers at those who should be held accountable. As a result of this thinking, many staffers seem to have little incentive to even understand the merits of carefully considering the “outsider’s” (Consulting Engineer’s) findings. They quickly make up their minds and decide to “dig in and ride this one out.”

4.  There is considerable guessing going on in some quarters regarding field-installed spares. When there’s non-redundant (non-spared) equipment, on-stream (continuous) surveillance may be the most intelligent and cost-effective approach to condition monitoring. When installed equipment is not only non-spared, but also contains prototype-like elements, condition monitoring and automated operating techniques take on special meaning.

5.  There’s often over-dependence on the so-called alliance partner. As an example, issues of single-sourcing mechanical seals can soon deprive one of access to other vendors. Other vendors should be counted among your technology resources. Single sourcing gives one the lowest initial costs, at best. While full-scale changes in one’s seal supplier are rarely justified, we have yet to see a true best-of-class company that does not (selectively) work with one or two additional suppliers. We have reason to believe that some salesmen either do not understand what advantages the competition is able to offer or, if they do know, will not hesitate to misrepresent facts.

Next week, my article for The RAM Review will go into more detail about such issues.TRR

Editor’s Note: Click Here To Download A Full List Of Heinz Bloch’s 24 Books

Heinz Bloch’s long professional career included assignments as Exxon Chemical’s Regional Machinery Specialist for the United States. A recognized subject-matter-expert on plant equipment and failure avoidance, he is the author of numerous books and articles, and continues to present at technical conferences around the world. Bloch holds B.S. and M.S. degrees in Mechanical Engineering and is an ASME Life Fellow. These days, he’s based near Houston, TX. 

Tags: reliability, availability, maintenance, RAM, asset management, professional development, workforce issues