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The following excerpt is taken from material I prepared for the first of 14 chapters of my upcoming book, “Fluid Machines: Improving the Life of Pumps, Gas Compressors and Turbines,” (ISBN 978-3-11-067413-2). Its German publisher, De Gruyter, Berlin (degruyter.com), has been in continuous operation for 270 years. The De Gruyter group now releases more than 1,300 new titles each year. My book has been slated for production in early 2020, with release later in the year.

 



CHAPTER 1:
HOW AND WHY EXTENDING FLUID-MACHINE LIFE
IS AN ESSENTIAL PURSUIT


UPGRADING VINTAGE PROCESS MACHINERY: THE FULL PICTURE
Ideally, the upgrading of pumps, compressors, steam turbines and other fluid machines should start with improved component design. Improved components must be specified by the purchaser, and the specification input must come from informed people.  There are informed technical people whom we will identify as Reliability Professionals.  There are also managers who play an important role and there are, ultimately, top managers whose approval must be sought. 


Reliability Professionals must act on the basis of knowledge, not speculation or “gut feel.” Our entries into the failure statistics database must be structured to identify components that required replacement or repair more frequently than others. However, a data base filled with overly broad entries (“bearing replaced”) renders the statistics almost useless. Only thoughtful entries (e.g., “bearing replaced due to electric current-induced raceway erosion”) allow meaningful remedial action and future failure avoidance.


Quite obviously, components identified as “weak links” (such as bearings with non-optimized cage materials) and work procedures that induce reliability risks (such as uncontrolled heat application to enable ease of mounting bearings on shafts) should be modified or upgraded before they again find their way into a modern plant. In other words, the “weak links” should be designed-out before they end up in whatever new machines we’re about to purchase.  In essence, and for the most part, Reliability Professionals concern themselves with upgrading components in machines that have been in service for decades, but have experienced above-average maintenance frequencies, cost outlays, or even repeat failures.  Repeat failures present unnecessary safety risks; they merit our priority attention. Later in this book, we will discuss upgrades that, once made, were of immediate benefit. Some of these had perhaps been hidden from the eyes of the non-expert or were simply overshadowed by other priorities or experiences. Collectively, however, these upgrade events represent lessons learned.  As these lessons were absorbed and evaluated, they showed how critically important machinery should be specified, designed, constructed, installed, commissioned, operated, and maintained.


The big payoff will materialize in specifying the next machine with upgraded components. A Reliability Professional must make the business case for the incremental cost of specifying, designing, fabricating, installing and maintaining improved machines and/or components.  These professionals must teach, brief, and obtain buy-in from staff members who will later seek the backing of managers or corporate heads without whose approval meaningful improvements would not be funded.


Leading up to 2020, refineries, petrochemical facilities and other process plants became increasingly complex and equipment-intensive; some of these can incorporate more than 100,000 assets. Suppose we are in the business of managing a processing plant, a department within the plant, or we just want to make a difference as individual technical persons, as Reliability Professionals. This clearly implies that we understand the importance of delivering value to our stakeholders for our own good–meaning our sense of self-worth, self-preservation, and for the good of our company. We would quickly realize that upgrading one critical piece of equipment may not always improve the bottom line if another critical piece of equipment in series with the one that was upgraded also has poor availability. Peeling away one layer at a time may be the best that we can do; however, maximizing our use of best available computer-related technology is also important. Doing so will greatly facilitate the process of managing data and information when time is of the essence.  Indeed, time usually plays a hugely important role in delivering results. As we well know, time is money.  


THE PATH FORWARD
The road ahead requires that we will have identified and will have made plans on what needs to be done, and to then establish a priority listing. This text alerts us to improvement options we have never heard about and viewing the text as a listing may facilitate compiling priorities. Listing priorities turns into our schedule for going forward; it allows goal setting with upgrading and sustaining equipment performance in view.  For lack of a better collective term, we call the goal “Operational Excellence,” or OE. Operational excellence might be used by others as a new and sweeping initiative, but for us it’s whatever maximizes long-term profits and safety. That said, it should be no surprise that each of our many upgrade decisions has as its singular and consistent objective the cost-justified maximizing of equipment availability. To be available for production, one must minimize the need for maintenance and eliminate or at least reduce, the risk of random failure.


We keep in mind that best-in-class facilities routinely report onstream factors of 95 percent and higher. In many facilities, loss of production for just one single day can result in over $2 million in lost profits. High production equates to low unit cost of production, which again explains the quest for optimizing equipment reliability. Many of our examples will make that point. See beyond them and, whenever possible, try to embrace the underlying principles.


TURNING VISIONS INTO ACTIONS
Turning visions into action requires knowledge. We cannot acquire the needed knowledge by listening to anecdotes, or by over-emphasizing on-the job training. We must read, we must acquire the ability to ask intelligent questions and acting on facts, not opinions. Achieving high equipment reliability implies that we understand the condition of our equipment, the damage mechanisms and failure modes, and the risk of continued operation without regard to early manifestations of deviations from normal. We must learn the details of applying the proper level of maintenance and scheduling of such maintenance. 


Optimizing the expense in maintaining equipment requires the judicious stocking of spare parts. Sometimes the spare better be an upgraded part, a pre-engineered improved component. Therefore, spending maintenance dollars in a way that drives the reliability and availability of equipment requires forethought. In other words, the next spare part should be an upgraded version which wedesigned, or which wespecified to be different from the part that failed.  We must view every maintenance intervention as an opportunity to upgrade if upgrading is both feasible and cost-justified. We justify the upgrade by estimating its value. There clearly is value in enhanced safety to people and equipment. We realize that safety is directly influenced by equipment reliability, which is totally dependent on design, installation details, conscientious maintenance, and as-intended operation of the equipment.  If we gain added safety in any of these areas, we will have improved the facility. It should then become be easy to make the business case for improved safety.


As we move toward meeting our upgrade objectives, we must spell out specific practices that translate our vision into action.  The focus will remain on achieving operational excellence—creating a safe and profitable workplace.  More often than not, we will have to transform company cultures and mold individuals into organizations that support these objectives.  Starting at the top levels of a company, there must be active commitment towards driving excellence. We, the reliability professionals, must actively help our managers to become visionaries and leaders in fostering a supportive culture across all departments and having an organizational structure that can confidently execute the work that needs to be done. And we must sometimes nudge them in that direction with tact and patience, avoiding impatience, and without ever applying blunt force. It’s always best to remember and practice the three Cs —Communication, Cooperation, Consideration—on every step of the journey.


To make a vision materialize, we must maintain a workforce that is highly trained, has the right tools, and is both skilled and motivated to achieve the desired results. Because the soul of a company is its people, the notion that one can always hire contractors or consultants is deeply flawed. Therefore, our hiring and retention practices must attract the best people. These people must have mentoring from both within and from outside the company and respond favorably to becoming highly trained technically. As they progress towards becoming the future leaders of the company, they must develop the right skills in using the tools required to maintaining the facility. They must be given responsibility and be held accountable for results. Good performance must be recognized and rewarded to provide the motivation for continual success. 


It follows that we always need to know the condition of our equipment.  The figurative pinch points where allowing deviations from normal or anticipated conditions will cause unacceptable failure risk must be identified.  Having the software tools to collect and analyze relevant equipment information and data is important.  With these tools one can gain or capture the knowledge needed for making smart business decisions; these are the decisions for upgrading and suitably maintaining one’s equipment.  Computer technology has enabled industry to manage large amounts of data and information in support of the above objectives. But proving the cost-effectiveness of using the best available technology for design and upgrading of processing equipment will be needed.  Reliability professionals cannot wait for disasters to be jolted into action.  Their main charter and roles are to describe what needs to be done to steer clear of accumulating deviations at a figurative pinch point.  Deviations at pinch points will almost certainly lead to performance deficiencies and distress. Certain types of distress become disasters.


Be proactive. Being proactive is one of the overarching roles of Reliability Professionals. As they proactively seek out, cost-justify and implement steps towards improving fluid machines, they will not simply go with the lowest bidder for parts, machines, contract services and the like. Instead, these professionals support management by identifying the best assets or—in the case of contract service providers—the most qualified ones, and let them demonstrate how, in the past, these contract service providers have gained the approval of their key clients. Never fall for claims that everything is highly proprietary, and nothing can ever be disclosed. Make “Trust but Verify” your motto. Seek out facts and advise management why not to make commitments based on opinions.


Chapter 1 continues with a discussion on where to logically begin the journey toward reliability. Subsequent chapters cover a variety of reliability-focused topics, including, among others: improvements made by highly profitable user companies to specific compressors or API-compliant pumps and turbines; sample-cost justifications for improved lubrication; and use of advanced Perfluoro-Alkoxy Carbon-Filled Polymers.TRR


EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information on this upcoming book, email heinzpbloch@gmail.com, or visit the publisher’s website, degruyter.com.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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. Email him directly at heinzpbloch@gmail.com.

Tags: fluid handling,  pumps, compressors, turbines, reliability, availability, maintnance