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“Machine failed; how do we fix it?” A Consulting Engineer often gets this type of request. Unfortunately, clients sometimes may have neither the time nor the interest in eliciting a Consulting Engineer’s input on anything but the obvious. In too many plants, there seems to be a subconscious fear that part of the blame for a failed machine must be placed on management inadequacies, or that the fault lies with people instead of components and parts.

The following notes are based on what I’ve seen and experienced over the course of my many consulting projects in the hydrocarbon-processing (HCP) sector. But the suggestions I’ve added here and in the first part of this article (see link) should be applicable to any process plant.

Click Here To Read Part 1 Of This Article (Oct. 3, 2021)

As I mentioned in Part 1, based on continuing communication/interaction with individuals working in HCP and other types of process operations, I know the problems documented below still plague industry.

♦   Managers are not always aware of the extent to which “business as usual” attitudes exist at their plants. Perhaps asking some probing questions might give your staff the incentive to do a bit of research and to update their own knowledge base. A manager might ask questions such as my “Top 10,” below:

1.   Did the present seal supplier tell you about the vulnerabilities incurred by gas seals (or, for that matter, conventional commodity-style liquid-lubricated mechanical seals) in certain specific services?

2.   Does your organization know about certain very cost-effective alternatives to some of your existing sealing devices?

3.   Are your reliability engineers and technicians aware of, say, hydraulically mounted coupling hubs?

4.   Do they know about industry experience combining a bi-directional tapered pumping device with API Plan 23? If they do, have they studied its applicability?

5.   Have your reliability professionals cultivated a relationship that elicits engineering input from alternative suppliers?

6.   In some instances, supervisory instrumentation must be connected to shutdown logic. Is that done in your plant? Specifically, is that done on the level monitoring instruments for the suction vessels on your most critical non-spared pumps? Did not one of them run dry recently and did this not incur considerable unexpected repair cost?

7.   Are you aware that oil mist lubrication does double duty as oil mist preservation? What will happen to your little-used installed spare fluid machinery when this “protective blanket” does not exist on a conventionally lubricated standby pump? Will you have to schedule more frequent oil changes? Are you simply taking your chances with an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach?

8.   Are we using the most appropriately configured bearing protector seal at our facility?

9.   Are we favoring “Vendor X” because he offers superior technology or because his representative calls on us often and always brings along an assortment of two dozen doughnuts?

10.  What is our annual consumption of general-purpose pump couplings and how does that compare to a demonstrated best-of-class consumption of three coupling-related components per hundred pumps per year?

♦   Far more effort goes into being defensive, after things have happened, than typically goes into being pro-active, so things don’t happen in the first place. That is a distinguishing issue between average performers and Best-in-Class.

♦   Judge where you stand on the following: Some organizations allow their staff to raise concerns and walk away from the problem. Others insist that professional staff go beyond just raising a concern.

At true Best-of-Class facilities, a professional is a person who expends effort and adds immeasurably more value by defining if a concern is valid or not valid. Here’s an arbitrary example: One of your reliability folks proposes using synthetic lubricants in a certain application. Another joins in the conversation and tells you that synthetic lubes will dissolve certain paints. Instruct him to dig deeper. If he does, he will likely discover that the synthetic oil under consideration attacks acrylics, which are house paints. In that case, you would need to Insist that this individual also seek out the answer to the question of what paint type is used for your gearboxes.

Rest assured that the paint in your gearboxes will likely be compatible with your synthetics. If, on the other hand, you decide not to use synthetics because a concern was raised by someone who merely creates work for others, you may not only adversely affect profits. You may encourage “business-as-usual” attitudes to propagate and accelerate.

♦   Finally, check out the following: Does your organization make it easy for top-notch consultants to have access to your top managers? If not, you’re in good company. Many top managers are too busy to allow this type of access. Conversely, access to only the lowest-level managers at a site will rarely be productive. Those employees typically aren’t empowered to implement change through equipment upgrades.

At this point, we’re left with only access to mid-level managers, which can be unproductive if such individuals are locked in cycles of turf issues. Some of them, on occasion, also use “brinksmanship,” which lets them become heroes by taking chances. They can drive a company to the brink by deferring maintenance, allowing trial-and-error solutions, and frequently being just plain indifferent. Please don’t be that type of manager. Moreover, reconsider what it is that your organization truly wants from Consulting Engineers. Then leverage their expertise accordingly.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